The “Sadness” Tank

a dramatic display of sorrow

Dear Seafarer,

Sadness is a curious thing. Have you ever had days where you were trooping along just fine one minute, and then suddenly you’re struck by an overwhelming urge to cry ? Despite factoring out severe depression or bipolar cases, you would probably be forgiven if you suspected that you were a little less than normal, and a little beyond blue.

Today was such a day for me.

I am currently reliving the metaphor of having a “heavy heart”. It feels like someone poured a bag of gravel into my heart, and it is weighing it down so much that it feels hard to breathe, to talk, to smile. It feels like every muscle on my face is bearing the weight of a thousand kilograms, and I’m straining hard to force them into a smile. I’m pushing. I’m really pushing. My eyebrows go the wrong way. My eyes look tired. There is no hiding it. This is sadness. I recognize it. I’m allowing it to sink into my soul. I embrace it, and I stop trying.

I think that somewhere in me, someone installed a “tank of sorrows.” Every now and then it overflows, releasing with it a floodgate of emotions. The overflow happens mostly due to an accumulation of things I have temporarily buried within my subconscious, and then there’s always that one isolated event which acts as a trigger. It could be anything from realizing that my eggs have gone bad, to something much more serious, such as rejection.

I’ll demonstrate. Today I found out that I didn’t get a post I was vying for. The next thing I knew, I was moving from analyzing what went wrong to dealing with rapidly plummeting self-esteem. I was questioning myself, doubting my capabilities, and feeling completely inadequate. Then I began thinking about previous events which were similarly discouraging (though on a smaller scale), such as experiencing difficulty in dealing with sponsors. This of course lead to me recalling an entire movie reel of several other events in which I had experienced failure, or that I could have done X or Y but didn’t, and other instances where I fell short of my goals. Somewhere along the way, existential issues, social anxiety, catastrophizing about the future, internal angst, loneliness, heartbreak, guilt, that one time I said something stupid five years ago…everything came bubbling to the surface. It was a chain reaction. A domino effect. A snowball of melancholy. It had been unleashed, and it was just getting bigger and bigger and there was no stopping it.

My “tank of sorrows” had reached its absolute threshold. I had previously suspected that there would be an impending thunderstorm within the weather forecast of my emotional stability, so it didn’t exactly come as a surprise. I was in a state of emotional distress, and I needed release.

Here are a few things I did in attempt to cheer myself up:

(1) I treated myself to a can of chilled multi-grain dessert. It was sweet (random; got it for I.50 AUD from the Asian Grocer at Indooroopilly and 10/10 would recommend!) and had a slightly thick, congee texture to it. It was 2 minutes of pleasure, and looked like this:

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(2) Resorted to alcohol. No illustration, but it was basically a sweet, citrusy sake that I received for a birthday gift. I downed a glass, then decided that I should probably find something else to do.

(3) Gave myself a makeover. I did not think I would have room to think of anything else if I was meticulously applying eyeliner. I was wrong. And I subsequently found out that I could not fake a smile if I was feeling absolutely horrible about things on the inside. I ended up feeling ugly and pretentious. However I did take some shots which were fun to edit.

(4) Made a gif. As demonstrated above in the first picture. I had an urge to animate tears running down my face (dramatic stuff), and perhaps have the teardrops bloom into flowers or birds. However that was evidently too effortful for a short burst of creativity, and I ended up doing a much simpler animation, the outcome of which you see now.

(5) Spoke to God/Universe/Higher Being. I did, I really tried. I sat on the floor and attempted to verbalise my emotions. Perhaps my thoughts would make sense if I could hear them. Perhaps I would feel better if I spoke as if someone was listening to me. I propped myself, cross-legged, onto the floor. The electric fan was whirring. I began explaining my fears, my doubts, my anxieties. How I felt small. How I felt unready for the world. How I had no idea what I was doing, where I was going. The guilt. The shame. Everything. And suddenly, I was in tears. The thunderstorm had arrived. I poured my heart out, and everything poured along with it, like a bursting dam. The “tank of sorrows” was purging. I spent a good 5 minutes freaking out by myself, in an empty house, alone on the floor, and I was unapologetically hysterical. 

I felt better after that. It didn’t resolve anything, but just the act of allowing myself to cry was healing in itself.  I found myself a little exhausted, but relieved.

(6) Sleep. As a friend once shared with me, “when in emotional turmoil, sleep on it.” It was nearing 2 am when I was done with my little purging session. I showered, had a short Skype call with my parents and my sister (where I possibly cried a little more and felt absolutely terrible), and then I decided I would call it a night. I think that physical tiredness is a factor most people underestimate, especially in instances of emotional vulnerability. It is extremely difficult to be calm and rational and upbeat when your brain is shutting down on you. I was done. There was nothing more I could do, but sleep. I turned off the lights, crawled into bed, and my mind finally went quiet.

So that was basically how I got through a night of emotional turbulence. My “tank of sorrows” is sufficiently empty for now, and I am hoping for a good season of emotional stability before the next thunderstorm hits. However, that being said, even if it comes sooner than expected, I think I’ll be alright. I won’t be unscathed, and it’s not going to be pretty. Sadness isn’t something to romanticize, but it is a very human condition. I will allow myself to grieve. But crucially, I cannot allow grief to paralyze progress.

I can’t change what the future or my environment or circumstances will bring, but I can change how I deal with it. Perhaps it will get easier and easier, as I go along in life, and develop stronger coping mechanisms. Perhaps one day I’ll come to a state where I’m completely able to detach myself from recurring destructive thoughts, and watch them slip past me, like leaves-on-a-stream.

After all, you gotta ride with the waves to move forward in the ocean.

Yeah. That’s enough drama for now. I think I’ll call it a night.

Take care, Seafarer.

I will see you again soon.