I could feel it starting to sneak up on me. Just a heaviness that seemed to be stalking my every move, hiding behind corners whenever I turned around to see who’s there.
“Maybe I’m imagining it,” I’d tell myself. (I wasn’t.)
“You’re definitely imagining it.” (No… I really wasn’t.)
“Yup, you’re making a mountain out of a mole hill.”
That’s when it pounced. What started as a relaxing Friday of cooking turned into a night of drowning my anxiety and a sudden wave of sadness in chocolate ice cream and Meg Ryan movies from the 90s.
Sometimes it’s easy to identify why you’re feeling sad. It could be a bad week, a breakup, or the death of a loved one. Sadness, for me, usually comes in two forms: an overwhelming sharp pain in my gut accompanied by a stream of tears on my pillow, or a dull feeling inside without an identifiable cause. I’ve dealt with both generally sad situations and periods of depression in the past. I like to know why I’m sad. It’s frustrating to not feel like there is a root cause or an easy-to-identify issue to fix. This particular time (my Meg Ryan 90s movie binge) was different than my normal sadness. It was like my self conscious identified impending doom and forced me to get my sadness out early. (The situation that actually caused the feeling of sadness happened shortly after I’d spent two weeks feeling anxious to the point of tears.) This seemingly new defense mechanism I’ve developed was confusing at first, but made a sad situation easier to deal with in the long-run. I was already mostly cried out by the time the thing I was crying about actually happened, and it didn’t feel quite as bad.
Everyone has different ways of dealing with sadness: listening to a sad soundtrack, watching a movie that makes you cry, eating ice cream, or going out drinking, etc. Most of them feel very cliche at this point. When I start feeling an uncontrollable wave of sadness hit me, my auto-response is to do my personal checklist of signs I’m slipping into a cycle of depression. Once I’ve identified that my sadness is a reaction to a particular situation, I like to allow myself time to wallow in it a bit, feel my sadness, get it out of my system, and move on. Being sad at this point doesn’t identify who I am as a person, and I know that things will feel better again someday. But not all sadness can be cured with a bottle of wine and a good friend.
Is It still okay to be sad when you have nothing to be sad about?
I’ve talked about my experiences with depression before. Sometimes a certain life situation can trigger depression in me (such as when I don’t have the ability to deal with stress through exercise or overwhelming life changes like culture-shock or reverse culture-shock.) Sometimes I’m sad for absolutely zero reason at all. This often sparks a period of research on other people’s experiences with depression. That’s how I came across the concept of High Functioning Depression. As I was reading articles and watching fun animated YouTube videos about mental health, a lightbulb went off in my head: “Oh no… is that me?”
High Functioning Depression doesn’t look like what people normally think of when they picture depression: an inability to get out of bed or constant crying. People with High Functioning Depression can go through their day giving little to no sign to the outside world that they are, indeed, depressed. There are a few signs of High Functioning Depression that really resonated with me: Hyper self-criticism, seeking perfection, an inability to slow down, self doubt, and feelings of guilt (to name a few). I won’t go into too much detail but will list a few helpful resources (in the side bar) if you want to know more about High Functioning Depression. I’d like to take a moment to say that I do not indorse self-diagnosing from something you read on the internet, but if you find that the symptoms resonate with you, it’s always beneficial to talk to a therapist about it.
Do I actually have High Functioning Depression? I don’t know. Sometimes I think it’s possible and other times I feel like I have too many periods of happiness to have High Functioning Depression. It’s something I think I’ll keep an eye on though and explore with my therapist just in case. One of the things that has always helped me when I’m going through depression is doubling down on going through the motions of life as if I wasn’t feeling sad and sticking to a routine. High Functioning Depression isn’t something you can necessarily will yourself out of, so I don’t know if that’s me.
Ether way, it’s still okay to be sad. You don’t have to be able to identify why or have a straightforward thing to be sad about. Sadness has a purpose in life (as we all learned from watching Disney’s Inside Out.) I think the important thing is being able to identify and acknowledge what you are feeling. If you’re feeling sad for no particular reason, identifying that is the first step towards not being sad. For me, when sadness make life feel like everything is totally out of my control, or unfair, or overwhelming, being able to identify what I’m feeling and going through steps to fix it—generally with help from a licensed therapist—is one thing I can to that let’s me feel like I’m taking back control over my life and living it the way I want to live: happy.