Why can’t I stop feeling so sad?

I recall a conversation I had with a divorced man I’ll call Mike. He had been married over twenty years. After the youngest child had finished high school and was on her own (with parental financial support) in college, Mike’s wife had come to him one day to suddenly announce that she was weary of trying to do most of the work in keeping their marriage together. She just couldn’t do it anymore! Mike claimed he still had no real idea of what that claim exactly meant, but at the time his first response was that he thought that they could work it out somehow. His wife told him that if he didn’t understand what their problem was by now, she could not explain it to him. Within a week, she had moved out of their home and into an apartment. Mike felt devastated by this “bolt out of the blue” and the subsequent “no faul€’ divorce. Initially, he had hoped that somehow they could reconcile after “some time apad’. Mike said his main feeling these days seemed to be one of profound sadness over his life suddenly taking such a devastating and, for him, unforeseen turn of events. He now felt completely drained of energy to get on with his life. He could barely drag himself to work, somehow get through the day, and return to his now coldly empty house.

Most, if not all, people who are struggling to come to terms with the painful end of a marriage in divorce, especially if it was sudden and unexpected, experience a feeling of deep sadness. This feeling is part of the natural process of grieving such a sudden and profound loss. At times, this feeling can be almost overwhelming! But this feeling of intense sadness is similar to any other intense feeling, such as anger or joy. Any feeling of ours, intense or otherwise, is not something we purposely cause. Rather a feeling is something we discover within ourselves as it wells up within us. And, just as we cannot directly cause any feeling, so we cannot directly “get over” or get rid of any feeling.

So, how does one deal with a feeling of intense sadness? Even intense feelings usually diminish over time due to our natural human tendency, unless blocked somehow, to tend toward healing. First of all, it is better and healthier to honestly acknowledge the intense feeling rather than to try to deny its existence or the effect it is having on one’s life. One can try to deny an intense feeling (by claiming one is net sad when it is clear to any neutral observer that one is sad) or (by “shouldinS’ on ourselves by claiming that one shouldn’t feel so sad, or by claiming that one should be beyond feeling so sad by now)! One’s decision to acknowledge a feeling of intense sadness frees one to bring what internal strength one has to making positive life-decisions, one step at a time. In spite of a feeling of intense sadness, one need not be paralyzed from acting positively as one goes through the day. If one j: reduced to paralysis of action over a significant period of time, then it is time to seek help, like talking with a close friend whose judgment one trusts, or to a counselor who may be able to help break the emotionally paralyzing ‘log jam” preventing one from fully engaging in life’s important daily tasks. (Some readers of this account why a priest such as I wouldn’t recommend first taking the whole thing to God in prayer. Some people may find that course of action helpful, but many others just aren’t “there” in their spiritual life journey.) The important things is that one recognizes psychological and/or emotional paralysis as a cry for help from one’s inner self. The next thing is to begin seeking out, perhaps with the help and encouragement of others, options for dealing with the paralysis.

Mike told me he had always prided himself on his ability to solve his own problems but he just couldn’t seem to get a grip on his intense and lengthy sadness. He said he might be open to seeking a counselor to help him sort out his situation. He realized that, in the end, he was the only one who could decide how to actually move forward rather than any counselor trying to provide him with a “magic” solution to his “problem”. I told Mike that I believed that his taking this step, as difficult as it seemed right now, might well be a helpful beginning in his seeking a healthy way forward into the rest of his life.