I got sad the other day and it felt great. Obviously, the juxtaposition of these sentiments is counterintuitive and, I suppose, although it’s always trickier to say for sure, ironic. What it is not, though, is paradoxical. Let me explain.
One of the symptoms of depression is what’s called “flat affect.” It actually comes in a few flavors, according to its severity: flat, blunted, and constricted. But what it basically means is that the subject doesn’t express emotion and this is because she’s not feeling anything. I suppose we have to give room for variance in symptoms and personal experience, because many people do feel what they perceive as extreme sadness while depressed, but for me, flatness is one of the defining features of my illness. When a depressive phase hits me hard, I feel hopeless, I hate myself, and I don’t care enough about anything at all to even brush my teeth. What I don’t feel is sad. I don’t feel anything at all. And so, because I’ve recently been correctly diagnosed and am finally getting some effective treatment, emotional experience is coming back to me.
It’s striking how foreign such a fundamental component of the human experience can seem after a prolonged absence. In fact, it took me several hours to realize what was happening and when I did, I felt a small surge of glee. It was a small thing that led to the sadness and I think that was fortuitous inasmuch as I might not have handled something more intense very well. This little sadness was just right for a reintroduction to to emotion. I wasn’t thrilled to be sad, don’t get me wrong, but man, it was fantastic to feel something again.
And that is how, in the glorious, mad, turbid swirl of being, I got sad the other day, and it felt great!