it’s okay to feel sad sometimes

Last week, for whatever reason, I found myself in a bit of a funk.

I typically wake up feeling excited to face the day, raring to go on my projects. I typically feel focused and motivated about my daily tasks. I typically look at the clock and can’t believe how late it’s gotten. Where did the day go? Is it time to start dinner already?

But last week, I was dragging. Last week, I felt stuck. I felt lonely and restless and, most of all… sad.

And I couldn’t pinpoint the reason. Everything was the same as it had always been.

It makes me feel vulnerable to write these words to you right now. It scares me a bit, to admit to feeling sad. Especially because I know that I have so very much to be grateful for. I used to feel guilty anytime feelings of sadness crept in. Like I wasn’t allowed to ever feel anything less than joyful and blessed. I wanted to be strong and self-reliant and cheerful, always. I wanted to comfort other people and never need comfort myself. I liked to think of myself as a giver, not someone who needed to cheering up.

But I realized that pretending to never feel sad is simply another way of building a wall around myself, pretending to be something I’m not, refusing to let people truly see me. I was trying to be “perfect” instead of trying to live wholeheartedly and authentically. I can be grateful for all the bounty and beauty in my life, and still have hard days and still feel down sometimes. I can hold both gratitude and sadness in my heart at the same time. And, I realized that never wanting to need anyone else is just another way of never wanting to be vulnerable. I like being able to give comfort to others. I need to trust that others like being able to give comfort to me sometimes.

Last week, I cried more than I’ve cried in the last six months put together. It seemed anything could set off the tears. Listening to a podcast about an empty-nest couple, the bittersweet pride in their voices as they talked about their youngest child heading off to college. Thinking about Mr. Murray, sleeping on the rug by the front door, and wishing that I lived in the same town as my parents, that I could walk right in and surprise him with a ginormous hug. That commercial with the ostrich who learns to fly, Elton John’s “Rocket Man” playing in the background. It was like I walked around with this constant lump in my throat, just waiting to see what would cause the tears to spill forth.

It was so weird. It was so not the version of myself I have come to believe in over the past three decades. I have never been a crier.

One afternoon my brother called to say hi—a routine thing for us—and after a few minutes of talking, I started crying. Like, ugly crying, the kind when you can’t fully catch your breath, and you stay quiet on the line because you know as soon as you try to talk your voice will break again.

My brother was so great, as he always is. He sat on a bench outside the bar where he was meeting some friends for happy hour, and he patiently stayed on the line and talked to me for a little while until I was ready to hang up. He didn’t sound alarmed by my weepiness. He didn’t rattle off a list of things I should do to feel better. He didn’t tell me all the reasons I shouldn’t be feeling the way I was feeling—all the reasons I should only feel joyful in my wonderful life. Instead, he told me that it was okay to feel sad sometimes. He told me to let myself feel what I was feeling. He reminded me that, even though I was feeling genuine sadness in that moment, that the sadness wasn’t going to last forever. That I would begin to feel better soon. And, in the meantime, he told me how much he loved me. He said that multiple times, and each time he said it I began to cry again—but out of gratitude and love for him more than sadness. When we hung up the phone, I still felt sad, but I felt so much better than I had before he called me.

My wish for everyone reading this is that you have a friend in your life like I have my brother. Someone who knows you, at times, better than you know yourself. Someone who isn’t afraid of your ugly crying. Someone who says exactly what you need to hear, exactly when you need to hear it.

{This photo was taken shortly after another time I cried with Greg, when I was visiting him in NYC. It was shortly after Celine died and I was hit with a huge wave of missing her.}

One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I don’t tend to get angry or annoyed or frustrated very easily. I don’t yell or snap at people very often. When I get tired, I don’t get crabby. I get sad.

Growing up, when I would feel weepy, my mom would say gently, “Dallas, honey. Go to sleep. You’re tired. You’ll feel so much better when you wake up.”

She was pretty much always right. I would feel better after a nice nap.

So that’s what I still do, if it’s a possibility, when I notice myself feeling “off.” I take a nap, or I sleep in late, or I go to bed early. And I do usually feel a bit better when I open my eyes again. Like the gray film over the world has been swept away. The light seems a little clearer, a little more sparkly.

Other things that made me feel a bit better last week: reading for pleasure; drinking tea and eating dark chocolate; texting with family and friends and Allyn; doing some yoga; going for a walk outside; working on my novel and surprising myself with the story; watching silly videos online; going to the dentist {I was worried I had a cavity, but I didn’t!}

This week, I’m back to feeling much more like myself. The waves of sadness I felt last week seem almost like a strange dream. But I know they’ll be back at some point, because that sadness is a part of me just as happiness is. My varied emotions are all puzzle pieces that fit together into the beautiful, complex mess of being human. As Brooke Castillo reminds us in many of her podcasts, life is about contrast. We wouldn’t have light without darkness. We wouldn’t have happiness without sadness.

In order to embrace my deepest, truest self, I have to be brave enough to acknowledge all of my emotions, not just the ones that make me feel strong and comfortable. I’m learning that embracing my sadness does not give it power over me, as I once thought it would. Just the opposite: only by opening up about feeling down—to myself as well as to others—am I able to move through the discomfort, and, eventually, to move past it.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and use the following questions to spur on some “free-writing”:

  • When was the last time you felt sad, or angry, or frustrated, or “off” in some way? Was there a certain reason, or was it harder to pin down?
  • What helps you feel better when you’re feeling down?
  • What advice would you give a friend who calls you feeling upset? What might happen if you shared those same gentle words and generous spirit with your own self and your own heart?
  • What is an emotion that makes you uncomfortable? How might you take small baby steps to embrace this emotion in your life?

happy birthday céline

roomie party

My dear friend Céline would have been 27 today. It’s such a strange occasion, the first birthday since her death, because it’s like my brain is still used to May 4th being a joyous day of celebration, and I keep feeling bowled over by these waves of sadness. I miss her a lot.

My friend Trish from church, who has been meeting with me every so often to talk about Céline, recommended that I do something special to commemorate today. She said grieving can often be more difficult if special occasions are just experienced as “a normal day.” So I brainstormed things I could do to honor and celebrate Céline. Here’s what I came up with:

  • A morning phone date with Holly. I wish we could be together today, and in the future we hope to make it a priority to be together on Céline’s birthday — it just wasn’t possible this year. Being together on the phone was the next-best thing.

celine me holly

  • Baking cupcakes! Specifically, funfetti cupcakes with cream-cheese frosting and rainbow sprinkles. These are what I would make for Céline if we were together celebrating her birthday today. She always made the best birthday cakes and cream-cheese frosting was a favorite of our apartment in college. We actually referred to our place as “The Cream-Cheese Frosting” when we would have parties!

cupcakes

  • I packed a picnic lunch and met up with Allyn for a walk around the Lafayette Reservoir, one of my favorite places in the Bay Area to soak up nature. I haven’t been hiking since my leg injury in January, so it was be exciting to be back out there on the trails. The Reservoir is somewhere I would have loved to take Céline if she had visited me here.

Lafayette Reservoir

  • I wore the beautiful bangle bracelets that were hers, that her mom gave me after Céline’s funeral.

celines bracelets

  • Tonight my aunt Annie and cousin Arianna sweetly took me out to dinner. They have been so great at listening to me talk and tell stories about Céline. Annie lost her best friend to cancer five years ago, and she has been very understanding and has given me advice about what has helped her grieve, and also keep her friend’s memory alive.

annie arianna my bday

  • I was extra gentle to myself today, taking time to journal, read, listen to music, look at pictures, and go through some of our old emails and messages to each other. My family was also wonderfully supportive, sending me loving text messages and notes throughout the day.

I want to end by sharing a poem my brother sent me written by John O’Donohue. This verse has been so comforting for me, especially today:

“As the embrace of the earth
Welcomes all we call death,
Taking deep into itself
The tight solitude of a seed,
Allowing it time
To shed the grip of former form
And give way to a deeper generosity
That will one day send it forth,
A tree into springtime.”

Happy birthday, dear Céline. I will try to honor your memory not just today, but every single day, with the compassion and kindness and joy that you embodied each day of your much-too-short life.

We miss you. We love you. Always.

Celebrating your 21st birthday... what a fun night that was!

Celebrating your 21st birthday… what a fun night that was!

goals + recipes for the week of 2/8

Hi there, friends. It’s been a beautifully rainy weekend around here… always SO grateful for rain in our drought-stricken California! This weekend I spent some lovely hours reading, cozied up in my bed, listening to the rain patter outside. Right now I’m reading Molly Anterpol’s stunning short story collection The Un-Americans and I highly recommend it.

Something I was reminded of this past week was how much better all-around I feel when I fuel my body with real, whole foods. In the wake of Celine’s death, I really didn’t feel like eating much at all. When I did eat, it was a lot of bread and cookies and even one-too-many “screw it I’m sad” Starburst that gave me a canker sore.

Then, earlier this week, my body was practically screaming out for veggies. I didn’t know it was possible to experience an intense craving for spinach, but I felt it! So I stopped by the grocery store on my way home from tutoring and filled my hand-basket with cucumbers, bell peppers, celery, carrots, frozen berries… and, yes, a ginormous tub of organic spinach that it is now my mission to use up. I’ve been making scrambled eggs that are actually more spinach than eggs:

spinach eggs

I’ve also been throwing spinach into morning smoothies, and I’ve been having lots of fresh spinach salads. Plus I just can’t get enough raw veggies… plates of sliced up carrots, celery, cucumbers, and bell peppers have been my go-to snacks.

raw veggies

Anyway, this is all to say that I’ve been reminded, yet again, how much what I eat effects my mood, energy, and general sense of well-being. When terrible things happen, when I’m feeling down, when everything looks gloomy, it is even more important to feed my body good things. Bring on the veggies!

weekly goals

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– write 10 new pages
– compile tutoring worksheets
– finish reading The Un-Americans
– schedule doctor’s appointment
– begin process to renew passport
– connect with two friends

And here are some recipes I’m drooling over this week:
creamy zuppa tuscana soup via Two Happy Bellies
all of these Valentine’s Day desserts via Two Peas and Their Pod
get your greens salad via Two Peas and Their Pod
triple bean veggie burgers via Peas & Crayons & It’s Progression
dark chocolate double-coconut macaroons via The Pajama Chef
– my own red velvet crinkle cookies {perfect for Valentine’s Day!}

Questions of the day:

  • What are your goals for this upcoming week?
  • What recipes are you drooling over this week?
  • Do you have any Valentine’s Day plans? {Check out my post from last year with some thoughtful, simple gift ideas for the loved ones in your life!}

MPM-Winter
This post is featured on Menu Plan Monday!

year of kindness challenge: week 46

year of kindness button

Hi, friends! It is a cozy rainy day up here in northern California. I’m a little behind on the week, still catching up from my whirlwind weekend at home. Today feels so much like Monday to me! I’m hoping to have a productive afternoon “tcb-ing” as my brother says {an acronym he uses for “taking care of business!”} Tomorrow morning, I’ll be heading out again … I’m going to Mexico for a week with my mom’s side of the family to celebrate an early Thanksgiving! We are all super excited.

Last week’s kindness challenge, in honor of Veteran’s Day, was to do something kind for a veteran to show them how much they are appreciated. I’m planning to visit a veteran’s home in the future, but since it was a busy week at home I didn’t have time. Instead, I spent time with my Gramps and thanked some veterans in my church congregation at home.

The Week 46 Kindness Challenge is to reach out to someone who is going through a tough time and just listen. Just be there for them. Often my first impulse is to try to “fix” things, but when we’re sad sometimes the best medicine is a kind listening ear.

As always, blog about your experiences and include your links in the comments section below, or feel free to send me an email at dallaswoodburn AT gmail DOT com.

Have a marvelous week!
– Dallas

P.S.: Head on over to this Year of Kindness Challenge page to see all the archived posts from the previous 45 weeks!

Question of the day:

  • What kindnesses happened in your life this past week?

review of “the fault in our stars” by john green

The book for the March Peanut Butter Fingers Book Club was The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I’ve read and loved previous John Green novels, so I was eager to read this one. And I was not disappointed! This is a beautiful, heartbreaking, honest, incredibly moving book about love, loss, and the bittersweet ephemeral quality of life.

This was one of those books I could not put down but simultaneously did not want to end. The characters felt like real people. I was entirely invested in their lives and their emotions. I’ll warn you, this book is sad — the main character is a teenage girl with terminal cancer — but I was surprised by the many moments of humor and hope. This is a heartbreaking, but ultimately joyous and uplifting, read.

Instead of a traditional review, I decided to pull some of my favorite quotes from the book to share with you:

  • “I started scrolling through the pictures on my phone, a backward flip-book of the last few months, beginning with him and Isaac outside of Monica’s house and ending with the first picture I’d taken of him, on the drive to Funky Bones. It seemed like forever ago, like we’d had this brief but still infinite forever. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.” -pg. 233
  • “I would probably never again see the ocean from thirty thousand feet above, so far up that you can’t make out the waves or any boats, so that the ocean is a great and endless monolith. I could imagine it. I could remember it. But I couldn’t see it again, and it occurred to me that the voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again.” – pg. 305
  • “She is so beautiful. You don’t get tired of looking at her. You never worry if she is smarter than you: You know she is. She is funny without ever being mean. I love her. I am so lucky to love her, Van Houten. You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers.” -pg. 313

Read this book. {Maybe not on a plane or public bus, as you will likely weep while reading, if you are anything like me.} But yes, read this book! You will be glad you did.

Till soon,
Dallas

previous book club posts:
– Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
– The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

saturday upsides, christmas chili & les mis

Happy weekend, everyone! We made it back to southern California safe & sound tonight after visiting my extended family up north. It was a quick but jam-packed visit, filled with fun family time, delicious home-cooked food, and lots of laughter. Here is a pic of my brother and me with our Grandma & Grandpap {on our mom’s side}:

with gparents

One recipe I forgot to share with you earlier this week is my Christmas chili! It’s the same as my California chicken chili recipe, only I added red and white kidney beans, regular chili powder instead of the “white chicken” kind, AND festive red and green bell pepper. {Which is why I call it my “Christmas chili”!} The reason I used the regular chili powder is that I couldn’t find the white chicken chili kind out here in California … but it turned out to be one of those serendipitous things, because I think this is my best chili yet!

christmas chili

I don’t know about you, but around this time of year I nearly always battle the post-holiday blues. It’s true: I love Christmas! I love the joy and excitement of the season of giving. I love being home with my family. I love not having to worry about the normal day-to-day stresses of school and work. I love baking cookies and special holiday treats. I love watching Christmas movies with my Gramps. I love small things, like the special flavors of Hershey’s kisses and chai lattes at Starbucks. {Greg snapped a picture of me on his smartphone at Starbucks, enjoying a gingerbread chai … mmmmm.}

gingerbread chai

I always get a little sad when the holidays are over. Does anyone else feel the same?

Then I went to see “Les Miserables” with my mom, aunts and cousin Arianna yesterday afternoon. I had never seen the musical before and did not know the story at all. It was beautiful. I loved the music and thought the film was very well-done. {Best supporting actress: Anne Hathaway gets my vote!}

And my goodness, what an emotional story that really makes you feel grateful for what you have. I am SO lucky to have a roof over my head, enough food to eat, a warm bed, a loving and healthy family. Those are my Saturday Upsides every week!

saturdayupsidesbutton

And another upside? Having people to miss is a blessing because it means you have people to love!

What are your upsides this weekend?