Excerpt from Depression Anonymous, The Big Book on Depression Addiction (Ortman): Sadness, The Pain of Living
SADNESS, THE PAIN OF LIVINGBecause we live in bodies which constantly change and interact with the world, we have feelings. We naturally have emotional reactions to what happens to us. Unpleasant experiences repulse us, moving us to withdraw to protect ourselves. Pleasant experiences energize us to seek more of what we desire. In our ever-changing world, we naturally feel joy as new life unfolds and sadness as the old and familiar passes away.
Our sadness and sorrow are natural reactions that serve survival purposes. In fact, they are signs of intelligence. Animals live by their instincts, only in the present moment. Because we are conscious, we humans are aware of the passage of time, alert to loss and gain. We are aware of changes around us and their consequences on our wellbeing, and so we make adjustments. Hardwired into our brains is a built-in threat protection and safety-seeking system. In the experience of loss, sadness prepares us to let go of the past and prepare for a new future.
When we feel sadness, sorrow, or grief, we tend to withdraw into ourselves for protection. We hibernate for a time to conserve our energies to adjust to the change. If we lose someone or something that is important to us, like a loved one, our job, or our self-esteem, we need to feel the pain before we can let go. Pain motivates the letting go.
In our sad mood, we become contemplatives who search for the meaning in the loss. We look for some larger perspective to make sense of it. Through this natural grieving process, we give up our personal investment in what passed and prepare to shift our energy to the new life that emerges. We come to accept the loss to free us for something new. That is the cycle of nature. Dying leads to new life. We consciously engage in this process through our painful, life-renewing grief.
If we embrace our sadness from this larger perspective, we can avoid becoming bitter at the inevitable losses in life. In fact, we gain wisdom that comes only from the suffering of loss. Our sadness makes us aware of the impermanence of life. Everything passes. Nothing remains. We learn to let go of what we cannot change, and we learn humility in the process. The pain of loss makes us release our attachment to persons and things we falsely believe will provide lasting happiness. In our pain, we also sense our deep longing for what can last. We search for some firm ground on which to stand in our free-fall life. We open our hearts to receive a gift of permanence we cannot create for ourselves.
Sadness also makes our hearts tender. If we manage to avoid self-pity, we realize that all of us are in the same boat. We all suffer the pain of countless losses and long for happiness. Sadness plants seeds of empathy and compassion in our hearts, enabling us to stand in the shoes of those who suffer. We appreciate more fully the tragic life we all share. This heartfelt awareness can further motivate us to help relieve suffering in the world, and not contribute to its pain.
Imagine a world without sadness or sorrow. Would it be heaven or hell? In your depressed mood, you imagine a paradise with unbounded bliss. But think again. To wish for such a world is avoidance of the real world of continual change, of loss and gain, of death and new life. Such a world would be static, without life. Change signals newness and life, but also includes loss. We feel sadness naturally at losing what we care for. Our sadness manifests what we hold dear. A world without sadness or sorrow would be a dead place without compassion. It would be a world without heart.
For many, the normal sadness, sorrow, and grief of life become a living hell. When the sad mood persists, deepens, and becomes overwhelming, you suffer clinical depression. The following are sketches of sadness in excess, called depressive disorders.
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