“You aren’t who you are all the time.”
At least that’s the case according to Lisa Feldman Barrett, professor of Psychology at Northern University. She goes on to say, “you have a vocabulary of the self, a range of people who you become.”
This idea seems familiar and comforting to me, like an NPR-ish way of saying what Paul does in Romans 7:
It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge (v21-23, MSG).
I find that I often write from a certain disposition; it’s the observant, insightful, idealistic, convicted of a greater good/hope/purpose “self” that cranks out most of the essays. Interspersed between city drama and heartfelt narratives is the funny/snarky “self," and then we have the dormant chef "self" with an occasional recipe to share. That last one hasn’t surfaced in a while, mainly because it’s summer and we’ve been surviving on a steady diet of sandwiches, processed carbohydrates, and chicken nuggets. Lord have mercy on our digestive tracts.
But the melancholy part of me, the one who recently told my husband, “my problem is that I feel like a failure from the moment I get up in the morning and it just goes downhill from there”....that one doesn’t write much.
“I think that’s called depression,” he responded.
I think he’s probably right. And depression wants to run away and hide. It loves isolation, so naturally, it doesn’t have a voice. Or pen many essays.
I’m not sure when it happened in our society, but sadness became “negative” and uncomfortable. It doesn’t jive well with perky status updates, 140 character one-liners, or pretty pictures of home decor and flowers, although I’ve deliberately tried to juxtapose the two. The fact is, no one likes a Debbie Downer, and deep down, everyone wants to be liked.
I think what make sadness so uncomfortable is we don’t know what to do with it, especially if the person has no obvious reason for feeling sad. Then, it’s just...awkward. Sometimes, there are no bandages or platitudes or commiserating that will help. It just is what it is.
Sunshine helps. Talking to people helps. Getting enough sleep helps. So does laughing.
But the thing about being sad? It’s okay.
It’s okay to be sad. The reality is, the world we live in is not all rainbows and unicorns, unless your world is a Starbucks frappachino. Or a bag of skittles.
It’s also okay to not know what to say to someone who’s sad. It’s okay to not have all the answers or know how to fix it. Believe it or not, that was never in our job description. I don’t know that people long to be fixed so much as they long to be heard and loved, and that goes for any emotion or situation.
As much as I’d love to be the encouraging person who’s noticing the many footprints of God in my mundane daily life, the truth of the matter is I’m also the person who wakes up and feels like I’m failing at all aspects of life before I’ve even had a cup of coffee, and there’s simply no encouragement to give. But sadness doesn’t negate the presence of God, even if He’s a little harder to see, and I’m realizing that maybe this other part of me should write.
That maybe, she has something to say, too.
I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?
The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. (Romans 7:24-25, MSG)