When sadness strikes out of the blue: or how to deal with a case of the pre-emptive blues

teddy-bears-1936200_1280When my son was very little and didn’t have much awareness about his surroundings, he wasn’t afraid of going to the doctor. That was before the age of, say, one.

This is not to say that in his first twelve months of life he wasn’t feeling scared in certain environments or of certain people – he was!

I don’t know how he could tell, but he could – that some people are safe and others are not; or that some environments are charged with “ikky energy” or anger or… whatever my interpretation of them was… because I could only explain his reaction based on my own perception.

In any case…

Back to the doctor.

I am talking about his pediatrician here: a lovely lady with four kids of her own, who always speaks in a soothing voice and knows just what to say. So he likes her. A lot. But he doesn’t like all the “doctor-y stuff”.

As soon as he understood what was happening in that doctor’s office, he kept his cool for the first five minutes while we chatted.

Then, he started crying as soon as we left home.

It didn’t matter that she did NOT hurt him – there were no shots involved (well, one but we saw her much more often than that). She simply listened to his heart or his lungs with her stethoscope, or checked his throat or ears. All painless.

But he hated it so much that even before we got to her office he started to scream.

When he was around two, we went on vacation in France. He got a bad cold so I had to take him to the doctor. As soon as he saw the stethoscope, more screaming.

“Why are you crying, darling?” asked the good doctor, who was as kindly and gentle as anyone can imagine.

“It’s preventive!” I explained.

He burst into laughter – but I was serious.

My son was crying preventively.

It was a “Don’t hurt me!” blanket statement, directed at anything or anyone that might come up.

It is only recently that he has started to calm down. He is three and a half and has finally begun to actually get what is happening with that stethoscope.

His pediatrician gives him one of her spares and he now delights in listening to his own foot… or tummy… or his toy cars.

He is not scared anymore.

I told you this story to illustrate a similar process that happens with some adults who suffer from sadness (of different intensities, from depression to PTSD etc.), myself included: there are childhood scares and “issues” that never quite evolve, so they emanate… a sort of preventive blues, as I call it. We learn to get sad before “life” can strike us with “more sadness”.

I was struck with “great sadness” early on in life, before I knew how to make sense of it – and the “adults” around me didn’t know how to do that either (for themselves, let alone for me!).

I suffered from depression and anxiety for many, many years. I consider myself healed nowadays, though there are still moments… or even days… when those childhood scares “emanate”.

They sort of impose their own pattern on reality – or try to.

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In the middle of last week I woke up one morning on the brink of tears.

Things are fine, great even (which can be scary in and of itself… but that’s another story). So why was I so sad?!

I can spot the “preventive blues” now though, so I went through the process I have learned works for me:

1. Don’t rush to calm it, snap it out of the mood or anything like that. Just leave it alone for a little while, the way I would a child with a temper tantrum. 

There is no point arguing with a sadness tantrum either, while it is in full-blown mode. You have to wait for the storm to calm a bit.

If you have children or are around them, you know that they need time to process these emotional storms. Well, inner children are very much the same.

2. I sort of put my inner arms around my sad, scared parts and just… sit. Literally. In my inner space. Not moving. Being the rock. For myself.

3. When the storm passes, I try to see what triggered the “attack”.

Just as my son’s “pre-emptive strikes” of screaming had a logic to them (“I might be hurt!”), so do the inner child’s / young and scared parts’ protests.

It took a couple of days for me to realize that I have been struggling with strong fears about my work projects.

I am getting closer and closer to accomplishing some big goals for me – and that scares the heck out of (a lot of) me.

The “sadness” is a pre-emptive strike against being hurt: if I am sad and blue, I don’t move forward on those goals, I will stop short of accomplishing them (like I have so many times…) but at least I will be “safe”…

These days I know how to deal with that sort of thing.

It takes a lot of patience and there are no quick fixes.

But I hold steady to my adult self, to my adult wisdom and to my adult knowingness – and to all of those parts who have matured enough to know what a stethoscope is and what it does.

Sadness is a tool of the inner self. A signal. A message.

When it is heard, it dissipates.

It will probably come again… but never in exactly the same way.

Christine

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