Just Sad

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We didn’t say fireflies
but lightning bugs.
We didn’t say carousel
but merry-go-round.
Not seesaw,
teeter-totter
not lollipop,
sucker.
We didn’t say pasta, but
spaghetti, macaroni, noodles:
the three kinds.
We didn’t get angry:
we got mad.
And we never felt depressed
dismayed, disappointed
disheartened, discouraged
disillusioned or anything,
even unhappy:
just sad.
~Sally Fisher “Where I Come From”  from Good Question.

 

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I felt sadness in that moment because, having been raised in a certain culture, I learned long ago that “sadness” is something that may occur when certain bodily feelings coincide with terrible loss. Using bits and pieces of past experience, such as my knowledge of shootings and my previous sadness about them, my brain rapidly predicted what my body should do to cope with such tragedy. Its predictions caused my thumping heart, my flushed face, and the knots in my stomach. They directed me to cry, an action that would calm my nervous system. And they made the resulting sensations meaningful as an instance of sadness. In this manner, my brain constructed my experience of emotion.

…if you could distinguish finer meanings within “Awesome” (happy, content, thrilled, relaxed, joyful, hopeful, inspired, prideful, adoring, grateful, blissful.. .), and fifty shades of “Crappy” (angry, aggravated, alarmed, spiteful, grumpy, remorseful, gloomy, mortified, uneasy, dread-ridden, resentful, afraid, envious, woeful, melancholy.. .), your brain would have many more options for predicting, categorizing, and perceiving emotion, providing you with the tools for more flexible and functional responses.
~Lisa Feldman Barrett from How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain

 

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Emotions are fleeting. But they are unavoidable and they are the most human of all things. They are not universals; they are arbitrary. But if we feel them deeply and we share them with others, nothing in this life is more real.
~Eric Barker on his blog Barking Up the Wrong Tree

 

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If there is anything I’ve come to understand over the decades I’ve been a physician, it is that human beings have emotions that make them uncomfortable and that makes them more difficult to share with others.  Sometimes those feelings become so locked up that they leak out of our cells as physical symptoms: headaches, muscle tightness, stomach upset, hypertension.  Other times they are so overwhelming we can no longer function in a day to day way – labeled as rage, panic, mood disorder, depression, self-destructive, suicidal.

Somehow we’ve lost the ability to be just sad.  Just sad.  Sad happens and it happens to us all, some longer than others, some worse than others, some deeper than others.  What makes sad more real and more manageable is if we can say it out loud — whatever ‘sad’ means to us on a given day and to describe the feeling in detail can categorize and manage it — and explain it to others who can listen and help.

Strong emotions don’t always need a “fix”, particularly chemical,  but that is why I’m usually consulted.  Alcohol, marijuana and other drugs tend to be the temporary self-medicated anesthesia that people seek to stop feeling anything at all but it only rages stronger later.

Sometimes an overwhelming feeling just needs an outlet so it no longer is locked up, unspoken and silent, threatening to leak out in ways that tear us up and pull us apart.

Just tell me where you come from, who you are and who you are becoming and then, only then, we might be able to understand why you feel what you do today.  Then, armed with that understanding and how you might respond in a different way,  tomorrow may well feel a bit better.

 

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Now and Now and Now

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And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment … a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present…
~Wendell Berry from Hannah Coulter

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My clinic days are filled with anxious people, one after another after another.  They sit at the edge of their seat, eyes brimming, voice shaky. fingers gripping the arms of the chair.

Each moment, each breath, each rapid heart beat overwhelmed by fear-filled questions:  will there be another breath?  must there be another breath?   Must this life go on like this in panic of not knowing what the next moment will bring?

The only thing more frightening than the unknown is the known that the next moment will be just like the last.

It seems a serious deficit of acknowledgment of NOW, no recognition of a moment just passed that can never be retrieved and relived.  There is only fear of the next and the next so that the now and the now is lost forever.

Such worry and angst is more contagious than the flu virus rampant in the waiting room.
I mask up and wash my hands of it throughout the day.
I wish a vaccination could protect us all from our unnamed fears.

I want to say to them and myself:
Stop wishing away your life.
Stop wanting this moment, this feeling, to vanish.
Stop expecting some one, some thing or some drug must fix it.
Stop being blind and deaf to the gift of each breath.

Just stop this moment in time
And simply be.

I want to say to them and myself:
this moment is ours,
this moment of weeping and sharing
and breath and pulse and light
and yes, sometimes despair.

Shout for joy in it.
Celebrate it for what it is.
Be thankful for tears that can flow over grateful lips.

Stop me before I write
out of my own anxiety,
yet another prescription
you probably do not need.

Just be–
and be blessed–
in the now and now and now.

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In the Driver’s Seat

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I heard an old man speak once,
someone who had been sober for fifty years,
a very prominent doctor.
He said that he’d finally figured out a few years ago
that his profound sense of control,
in the world and over his life,
is another addiction and a total illusion.
He said that when he sees little kids sitting in the back seat of cars,
in those car seats that have steering wheels,
with grim expressions of concentration on their faces,
clearly convinced that their efforts are causing the car
to do whatever it is doing,
he thinks of himself
and his relationship with God:
God who drives along silently,
gently amused,
in the real driver’s seat.

~Anne Lamott from Operating Instructions

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I pray because I can’t help myself.
I pray because I’m helpless.
I pray because the need flows out of me all the time — waking and sleeping.
It doesn’t change God — it changes me.
~C.S. Lewis

 

We want to steer life in the way we want it to go:
our plans, our timing, our chosen destination,
our hopes and dreams matter first and foremost.

And then life happens and suddenly the road ceases to look familiar and we don’t seem to be going the direction we intended.

Who is driving anyway?

In my work in a University Health Center, I am see an epidemic of an illusion of control:
a tremendous lack of resiliency, an inability to ride the roller coaster of life without panic. One of the most common responses to the unexpected is uncontrollable anxiety that interferes with eating, sleeping, working, studying. A common response to anxiety is to self medicate in any way easily accessible: video games, social media, alcohol, marijuana, nicotine, sex, a friend’s prescription drugs. A little isn’t working so a lot might be better. The anxiety is only compounded and becomes deepening depression.

The sadness and hopelessness, even anger stems from discouragement over our lack of control of circumstances, feeling there is no way out and being unable to find another path to a different future. This leads all too frequently to thoughts of ending one’s life as it seems too painful and pointless to continue, and thankfully more rarely, taking others’ lives at the same time in an attempt to make sure everyone else understands the depth of the pain.

There is an epidemic of hopelessness and helplessness among our society’s young people that I’ve never before seen to this extent in my thirty five years of clinical work. To them, their debts seem too great, their reserves too limited, their foundations too shaky, their hope nonexistent, their future too dim.

Relinquishing control by giving up the driver’s seat is not in our nature. We want to be seen as competent and feel as though we are prepared to be the captain of our fate.

Instead we need to give up our carefully planned-out life to the God who created us and has it all planned for us.

We turn over the steering wheel saying: may it be to me as you say.

May it be.
Your plans, Your purpose, Your promise.
Let it be.

Even if it may pierce my soul as with a sword:
You are there to plug the bleeding hole.

And I will follow wherever you steer me.

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Now and Now and Now

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And so you have a life that you are living only now,
now and now and now,
gone before you can speak of it,
and you must be thankful for living day by day,
moment by moment …
a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present…

~Wendell Berry

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My days are filled with anxious people, one after another after another.  They sit at the edge of their seat, struggling to hold back the flood from brimming eyes, fingers gripping the arms of the chair, legs jiggling.   Each moment, each breath, each rapid heart beat overwhelmed by panic-filled questions:  will there be another breath?  must there be another breath?   Must this life go on like this in fear of what the next moment will bring?

The only thing more frightening than the unknown is the knowledge that the next moment will be just like the last.  There is a serious gratitude deficiency going on here, a lack of recognition of a moment just passed that can never be retrieved and relived.   There is only fear of the next and the next so that the now and now and now is lost forever.

Their worry and angst is contagious as the flu.
I mask up and wash my hands of it throughout the day.
I wish a simple vaccination could protect us all from unnamed fears.

I want to say to them and myself:
Stop.  Stop this.  Stop this moment in time. Stop and stop and stop.
Stop expecting some one, some thing or some drug must fix this feeling.
Stop being blind and deaf to the gift of each breath.
Just stop.
And simply be.

I want to say:
this moment is ours,
this moment of weeping and sharing
and breath and pulse and light.
Shout for joy in it.
Celebrate it.
Be thankful for tears that can flow over grateful lips
and stop holding them back.

Stop me before I write,
out of my own anxiety,
yet another prescription
you don’t really need.

Just be–
and be blessed–
in the now and now and now.

 

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Known Before We Know

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Before Jeremiah knew God, God knew Jeremiah:
“Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you.”
This turns everything we ever thought about God around.
We think that God is an object about which we have questions.
We are curious about God.
We make inquiries about God.
We read books about God.
We get into late-night bull sessions about God.
We drop into church from time to time to see what is going on with God.
We indulge in an occasional sunset or symphony
to cultivate a feeling of reverence about God.

But that is not the reality of our lives with God.
Long before we ever got around to asking questions about God,
God had been questioning us.
Long before we got interested in the subject of God,
God subjected us to the most intensive and searching knowledge.
Before it ever crossed our minds that God might be important,
God singled us out as important.
Before we were formed in the womb,
God knew us.
We are known before we know.

This realization has a practical result:
no longer do we run here and there,
panicked and anxious,
searching for the answers to life.
Our lives are not puzzles to be figured out.
Rather, we come to God,
who knows us and reveals to us the truth of our lives.
The fundamental mistake
is to begin with ourselves
and not God.
God is the center from which all life develops.

~Eugene Peterson from Run With the Horses

My clinic days are full of people panicked and anxious,
too unsure to know themselves,
too unsure to know those around them,
too unsure of knowing which road to choose,
too unsure of whether to take a next breath.

I want to say:
this isn’t about you.
This isn’t about what you know
and what you don’t know or
whether you are sure of where you are headed
or hopelessly lost.
This is about being known
far before you came to be.

This is all you have to know:
You are known.
And the road to choose
is the one that leads
straight to Him who knows you
and the next breath you take
has come straight from Him.

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