By John English
In the course of a few days some time ago, I learned that a family member was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and that a friend had suddenly died of a massive heart attack.
I also learned fairly recently that an elderly neighbour had died while in long term care, and that one of my children was separating from their partner. All of this bad news came as the people of Ukraine began to experience unimaginable suffering, and as the world continued to teeter on the edge of climate catastrophe.
Sometimes it feels that everything is falling apart. The sadness and anxiety cause me to blame my government or the World Order, accuse Fate of dealing me a bad hand, or have multiple G and Ts and two large slices of cheesecake at the end of the day. It’s easy to find a scapegoat or soporific if I try hard enough.
Sadness is like a predator, always looking for the vulnerable. It is a most human feeling, and those of us who are sensitive, caring and engaged with the world around us fall prey quickly. It is not a feeling I like, but nor is it a feeling I can easily turn off or escape.
But I can manage it. I can start by first acknowledging that I feel sadness because I care enough about the world and about my own experiences that I react in this particular way. It is beneficial to get some “distance” from the source of sadness, perhaps by taking a walk, feeling the strength and resilience of my body and focusing on how my senses are stimulated by nature. I can think with gratitude about my loved one or my friend, what they meant to me, how they enriched my life and how I can share their goodness with others. I can consider ways to contribute to the welfare of those who may be suffering, perhaps by donating to or working in my local food bank, or working for an organization that helps refugees. These strategies enable me to feel a sense of control, and help alleviate anxiety by strengthening my agency.
Accepting limitations as a human being is difficult, but letting go of some of the heaviness of responsibility is necessary if I am to feel balanced and mentally healthy. I cannot fully ameliorate all the sadness I encounter in my daily life, much less in the wide world. But I do not have to bear it like Sisyphus, whose fate was to roll a boulder uphill, only to have it roll back down as he reached the top, and start the never-ending cycle all over again.
As the late Queen said in one of her broadcasts, “Never give up. Never despair. While we may have more still to endure, better days will return.”