By Ammi Midstokke
When the sadness hits, I know it. It’s different from other kinds of sadness; it’s a kind of tender response to the humdrum of everyday life, when suddenly I tear up writing text messages, in grocery aisles picking out crackers or when someone tells me a story about their pet. I mourn a thousand losses that haven’t happened yet and histories I have not experienced.
While I know it is there, I refuse to use words like “usually” or “in January” or “depressed,” because every year I optimistically thrust myself into winter with a laundry list of all the mitigating factors of my life: Vitamin D, leafy greens, tea and somewhere around 40 hours of exercise a week. I read books about hygge (the Danish art of joyful living, which is just like the Dalai Llama’s Art of Happiness only with more pottery, pillows and candles).
I cry out “Self Care!” I book massages. I say “no” to the social obligations that overwhelm. Like the rest of the population, I focus on recommitting to my New Year’s resolutions. (Remember this year’s? Happiness.) I implement mindful practices, chewing damn raisins for 30 bites, only to discover raisins get really gross after a while, then panic about dental damage, then panic about going to the dentist. I read about the compassion of others, empathy and the science of how soup kitchen volunteers have more joy in their lives.
It is not inevitable or even a geographical mandate. I cannot recall if it has happened every year. I read the research and bury myself in the shame of not having absolute control over my own brain. Then I cry a little more because people who suffer from depression have to wade through this crap for years, or lifetimes, and apparently that empathy bit is starting to stick.
There’s something else I’m learning along the way — something about the way that all things are ever-changing and dynamic. Today cannot be just like tomorrow. Whether better or worse, it will surely be different. The sun rises a little earlier, sets a little later. The coffee might be a little stronger. A friend might make me laugh.
What I have learned is to at least let go of a sense of urgency. I have learned to accept that this will change like all things change: in time. Relinquishing control is also freeing. It allows us to move into, rather than resist. Rent Bridges of Madison County instead of Mama Mia! Why not just wrap ourselves in a weighted blanket of the feelings and let them course through our veins along with all the others for a bit?
It is not necessary for us to be happy in order to have value, to function or be productive. I would argue that my worry about not being happy is far more disturbing than the actual lack of general bippity-boppity joy. It is also true that these darker times tend to bring forth new understanding or at least some Hemingway-esque creative flurry — minus the alcoholism and suicide — though I am somehow not surprised that he lived his final days in Idaho.
While March and April tend to offer reprieve, so do cups of coffee and long naps, beautiful books and snow days, silk knitting yarn and children reading poetry. The Buddhists talk about how being in the moment allows us to bring small joys to profoundly sad experiences. They also refer to a slice of bread as “the ambassador of the cosmos,” so we know that their ability to extract the extraordinary from, well, anything, is remarkable.
Most important, when we can understand that the minutiae of our lives, tiny and wonderful, can coexist with our mental state of the moment, it takes away the power of that sadness, redirects it to the tangible. It reminds us that we are indeed surrounded by reasons for joy all day, every day. I know, because I cried all the way through a piece of avocado toast today and it was still delicious.
Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at [email protected]
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