This article first appeared on SHE'SAID' and has been republished with permission.
“Wow, Kass, you’ve really got an amazing life. I’m so jealous,” an old friend exclaimed over coffee recently.
I couldn’t help but smile and nod.
After all, I have an amazing job getting paid to go to red carpet events and try out the Kardashian clan’s latest fashion obsessions while I pursue my passion of writing. My friends are fantastic and supportive, and my family and I have never been on better terms. I have a beautiful Pinterest-worthy home and a kickass social calendar. For an outsider looking in, I honestly have it pretty freakin’ good.
But, an hour before rushing out the door to meet said gushy friend for our catch-up, I was hysterically crying into a pillow on my bed, my heart absolutely breaking, and, honestly, not seeing the point in ever leaving my bedroom ever again.
Because, even though it’s completely invisible to everyone else, I have high-functioning depression and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, which means my internal monologue is a lot darker than most people would ever imagine. The only reason I can pull myself out of bed each day and live my life, is because of the regular sessions of complete and utter devastation I allow myself to feel.
I call them pity parties.
I hunker down in bed, wrap myself up like a blanket burrito, and just sulk.
Sometimes I cry for hours, sometimes I scream, sometimes I melodramatically play sad music and sing along between heavy sobs. And as paradoxical as it may sound, it makes me happy.
Having these regular sulking sessions lets me confront and process the negative emotions I’d otherwise stifle, in a controlled way, and that makes room for me to maintain my sanity and happiness the rest of the time.
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We live in a world which frowns upon negative emotions and dictates we should always be cheerful. Crying is looked upon negatively, being in a bad mood is definitely not on, and if someone even dares to try and wallow in self-pity for a while, we tell them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get right back to smiling, Champ.
But life isn’t all roses and good times, so expecting people to be okay all the time is not only unrealistic, but potentially dangerous.
When someone feels pressured to be happy all the time, if they’re not, they’ll feel like they’re defective; a failure – I say this from personal experience.
I’ve had depression on and off since I was a teenager, but it wasn’t until after I was sexually assaulted by my abusive partner that I really fell into a deep and dark place I couldn’t pull myself out of. My initial reaction was to completely withdraw from the world. I was going to regular therapy sessions, and I told my counselor about my internal struggle and how I felt I had to ignore it in order to appear happy and not be ‘broken’.
She was worried about me; holding everything inside, especially such toxic, negative feelings, is unsustainable. She told me if I continued to fake a happy smile and pretend everything was all well and good, I’d end up having a mental breakdown. I told her I couldn’t allow myself to feel my deepest, darkest thoughts, because I was afraid I’d never be able to snap out of it once I opened the lid on my emotional Pandora’s Box. So she introduced me to the idea of pity parties: guilt-free appointments with my internal demons, set to a time limit; a form of controled crying therapy, if you will.
At my first appointment with myself, I set my phone timer to one hour, put on my comfiest pajama pants and oversized sweater, stocked up with chocolate, and cried my way through three boxes of tissues. When the alarm on my phone rang out, I got up, washed my mascara-strewn face, had a shower, changed back into my everyday clothes, and went to meet friends.
I felt 10 pounds lighter.
It was then that I began to really appreciate and embrace the idea of getting in touch with my negative feelings. I gave myself permission to cry myself into a sadness-induced nap if I wanted to. I wrote all of my worst thoughts and feelings in my diary, or sometimes just unloaded all of them on my cat. Whatever I felt compelled to do to vent, was the right course of action at the time.
It was my party, I could do whatever I wanted.
But not forever.
Nowadays, if I have a particularly bad bout of the blues, I still give myself a good solid hour to wallow in the pain, but I always pick myself up and slowly return to my life when my time limit’s up.
It’s not without effort. I have to open the blinds, force myself to jump in the shower and wash away my tears. I have to get out of the house to go meet a friend for coffee, or call my mother, or go on with a distracting project. Because while it’s important to feel sad and wallow through your emotions, it’s also important not to lose yourself in the darkness.
To all of the people reading this and thinking I’m being melodramatic, self-indulgent or unnecessarily melancholic when I have ‘everything to live for’, I postulate this: it’s not possible to appreciate true joy until you’ve embraced your sadness.
Having regular pity parties has helped my mental health more than anything else ever has, because I don’t have to hide my emotions.
For me, it’s absolutely vital I experience both ends of the emotional spectrum. My sulk sessions provide me with an allocated amount of time I can use to process how I feel and what happened to me, but also something to look forward to when it’s time to leave the bedroom, chocolate bar and sweatpants behind.
It’s better than pretending I’m always okay and then having a mental breakdown at my desk at work – something I can also attest to from personal experience.
Having regular pity parties has helped my mental health more than anything else ever has, because I don’t have to hide my emotions. I’ve gone through something extremely traumatic, and the scars from that experience won’t heal quickly – they may never fully disappear – and so I probably won’t stop hurting or having feelings about it, either.
So I’ll cry.
But after I cry, I’ll laugh and smile. Hell, I’ll even nod along when a friend comments on how good I’m looking lately, or how great my life seems. She may not know what goes on when I pull the curtains shut for an appointment with my inner demons, but she’s not entirely wrong – life is great.
But you’ve got to wander into the darkness first to see just how pretty it looks when you’re standing in the light.
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