On Accepting Sadness

by Brenna Holeman


The Toronto skyline

It was about six months ago that I wrote a post called “On Being Happy With Being Content“. In it, I wrote:

“One of the biggest lessons I learned last year then – my first year living anywhere permanently since 2009 – was to learn how to be content. Not only that, it was to learn how to be happy with being content. I’ve often written on this blog how much I love living in London, and it’s true: I love the friends I have here, the endless things to do, the feeling I get when I walk down the street with all the big lights and the big sounds. Most of the time, though, my life is just… normal. 95% of the time, it doesn’t measure up with that first time I heard the call to prayer in Istanbul, or any of the other experiences I listed above. As stupid as it seems, it’s taken me over a decade of adulthood to realise that that’s okay. That normal is okay. That I don’t always have to be planning something spectacular, as most of my 20s were consumed by a constant state of travelling or planning the next adventure. Normal – going for coffee and cleaning my flat and having meetings and buying birthday cards and reading on the tube – is pretty nice. Being content is pretty nice.”

I absolutely stand by those words. My life in London is wonderful, and one of my only complaints is that with work and my master’s degree and everything else going on in life, I don’t get to see as much of the city as I’d like. And it’s not just life in London that has been good to me; in general, I have had an amazingly happy, healthy, fortunate life, one that has allowed me to see a lot of the world, make a lot of great friends, and do exactly what I’d like to do (i.e. live in London and work as a travel writer). And still – sometimes without warning or without substance – I just get really, really sad.

“Oh, poor little rich girl,” you might be thinking, and I totally get it. I potentially sound like an absolute brat saying that I get really bummed out sometimes. But one of the biggest things I’ve learned as I’ve entered my thirties is that there are very rare occasions when I can claim my life sucks. Instead, I understand when it’s time to take a step back and realise that it’s my attitude toward life that sucks. I also understand when it’s time to take a step back and just be sad for a little while.


Streets of London

A storm has been brewing for a little while now. I’ve been really stressed with my master’s degree, or more specifically, with the book I’m writing for it. Turns out it’s pretty hard work, this writing a book thing. I was struggling a bit with money, because, you know, living in London and all. I was quite ill for almost all of May, leaving me with a temperamental appetite and many sleepless nights. I started to panic about where I’d be next year if I’m not granted an extended visa for the UK, and began worrying far too much about the future. A guy I was happily seeing decided to end things completely out of the blue. I constantly felt bad about the lack of time for this blog that I love so much. A lot of my friends were out of town or quite busy, so I didn’t have the usual gang around me.

None of these things are all-consuming or life-changing. None of these things are even that bad. Taken individually, I probably would have shrugged my shoulders and chalked whatever it was up to the ebb and flow of life. But for whatever reason, the combination of these things made me reach my boiling point. I just got really, really sad.


The calm before the storm… ’cause I had nice flowers

I don’t want to confuse being sad with being depressed, because they are very different things and I will not pretend to know anything about depression. As my mum has told me many times, though, “Nobody can be happy all the time.” It doesn’t matter if you have your dream job, if you travel all over the world, if you’re in love, if you have the best friend in the world – nobody can be happy all the time. That’s another thing I’ve had to learn – I’ve had to learn how to accept sadness.

Sadness isn’t always a bad thing, after all. I believe it helps to balance out your emotions, and to make you appreciate all the happy moments even more. I also believe that it’s in times of sadness that we evaluate our lives and our attitudes, giving us clarity and, hopefully, some answers. After a couple of stressful months in London I decided to just accept that I felt sad, and that I needed to recharge my batteries, so to speak. I flew to Toronto for a very brief and very spontaneous trip, spending some much-needed days drinking wine and laughing and drinking wine with my mother and some of my dearest friends. And I did indeed evaluate my life, figuring out what needs to change so that I can prevent a similar clusterfuck from happening in the future. I also may have listened to some of my favourite empowering songs a hundred or so times, but that’s neither here nor there.


Popsicles in the sunshine also help

So that’s it. I accepted that I felt sad, and then I started to work out how I could change those feelings. For so much of my life I’ve felt like I needed to be stoic, or to not admit to people (whether they’re close friends and family or here on this blog) when I don’t feel that great. Too often, especially with the bombardment of social media and blogs, we can get caught up in the notion that everyone else is having a ridiculously fun and happy life. Um, just check out my Instagram – no, I don’t post photos of me at 4am watching dog rescue videos and drinking wine straight from the bottle while I contemplate my entire existence, even though that’s part of my life sometimes (for better or for worse). Nobody’s life is perfect. It’s okay to feel sad from time to time. It’s okay to feel regret and loneliness and confusion, just as long as you try not to let those emotions take over your life. I believe that happiness is earned, not necessarily deserved, so I know that I have to stay in control of how I’m feeling and take time to work out how I can be happiest.


Feeling pretty good in Toronto, Canada after a bit of a respite

My mum is right, nobody’s happy all the time. What I’m trying to learn and understand is that part of making sure you’re happy as much as you can be, however, involves accepting the bad times for what they are – bad times. Bad times, even the worst of times, will eventually pass. So no, nobody’s happy all the time, but I finally realise it’s up to me to make damn sure I’m as happy as I can possibly be.

What do you think about accepting sadness? How do you overcome bad days/bad times in your life?

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Gemma June 25, 2015 - 6:27 am

It’s impossible to never be sad or have tough times, but those times definitely make you appreciate all the better times so much more, whether it’s friends and family, experiences, or just something really simple and ordinary like finding $5!

I’ve been through some sad times at home, and sad times traveling (mostly having to say goodbye to friends/ travel partners, which always leaves me feeling sad and lonely) but I wouldn’t change any part of my life for a moment, because it’s made me who I am. I think having to deal with bad stuff and feeling sad ultimately makes you stronger, more appreciative of the good times, and makes you strive for them more while shaking of small bad things (like spilling coffee on your favourite shirt).

Thanks for another awesome post! 🙂

Brenna Holeman June 28, 2015 - 11:04 pm

Thank you so much for your comment, Gemma! It’s true, these times really do make you appreciate the good time so much more.

I totally agree with your second paragraph, going through the difficult stuff has made me who I am, too (for better or for worse). I try to remember that when I am indeed spilling coffee on my favourite shirt! 😀

Lena June 25, 2015 - 7:54 am

Beautiful and brave. Dear Brenna, sadness is a good thing. Show me one great piece of Art that was born out of “happy go lucky all the time” state of mind… no such thing. Use those emotions towards your writing. The greatest painters, writers, actors, musicians and other artistic souls, use those emotions to create art. This is what I always believed – Every artist uses his own life as “paint” in order to create masterpieces on blank canvases .. if you haven’t lived, loved and lost, artists canvas will be pretty boring.

Don’t try to mask the sadness or pain (even with a wonderful glass of wine.. ride through it and at those moments, just write or create something.. the rawness and beauty will shine. Vulnerability is strength.

As for that lad, well, he’s too scared of the powerful creature like you. Not many men can be next to a beautiful, smart, fearless and talented lady, such as yourself. Women like you are for strong men.

I liked reading a different opinion about “normal”.. I understand what you are saying and happy for those who can be content and happy in “normal”. It’s great. I tried normal.. really, I did, but the one thing I could never succeed at is lying to myself.

Good luck on your writing journey, I’m sure it will be a work of Art, that I would want to have.

Let There Always Be A Road

Beatrice June 27, 2015 - 2:37 pm

A very good reply which helps me as well. Especially this part “As for that lad, well, he’s too scared of the powerful creature like you. Not many men can be next to a beautiful, smart, fearless and talented lady, such as yourself. Women like you are for strong men.”

Brenna Holeman June 28, 2015 - 11:07 pm

Lena is definitely a wise woman! Thanks for the comment, Beatrice.

Brenna Holeman June 28, 2015 - 11:06 pm

Thank you very much for your amazing comment Lena, it really means a lot to me. I agree that I write best when I am sad or feeling down, you’re totally right! It’s good to really allow yourself to feel all of those emotions and try to harness them for something creative.

Thanks again, and all the best to you, too. 🙂

Helen June 25, 2015 - 10:15 am

Sad is normal. So is happy. All of it is fleeting, and all we can do is be glad for what we do have and what we can do about the things we don’t like in our lives. We have something in our lives right now that is sad, and will be with us forever, so that learning curve has been steep, but I’ve realised that being sad is a choice, and that even with sadness in my life, I can still choose to be happy about so many things. Life is bloody hard sometimes, but there are always good things – it’s just taking the time to really notice them and dwell on them. Just my two pennorth 🙂

Brenna Holeman June 28, 2015 - 11:09 pm

Thank you so much for your comment, Helen! I agree that all of it is fleeting, and I think it’s important to feel it all and embrace it/deal with it as best we can. I also agree that we can choose to be happy about so many things, and that we just need to focus on those things when times are tough!

Jesse June 25, 2015 - 3:59 pm

It’s great you were able to recharge and re-evaluate in Toronto. I know the exact feeling you’re writing about.

It’s good to address how life isn’t as perfect as social media can suggest it is – I remember having a similar sadness in my life when I was living in Europe and travelling through Germany on a long weekend. I felt so sad, and had to remind myself anyone who had been looking at my posts online would be envious, at least I know I would be envious of a similarly positioned friend. It’s a lot of selective smoke and mirrors sometimes.

Glad to hear things are looking up for you – and good luck on the book writing!

Brenna Holeman June 28, 2015 - 11:08 pm

In regards to the social media… totally. I mean, nobody’s life looks like that all the time! I try never to compare my life to anyone else’s via social media because we have NO idea what’s really going on.

Thanks so much for your comment, Jesse!

Sarah K. June 25, 2015 - 5:17 pm

Great post. Thank you for your honesty and sharing these thoughts – it’s scary to do so! I felt the same way when I was living abroad. There wasn’t any one particular thing but just many things that added up. I usually try to see friends which always cheers me up, and that wasn’t always possible in the Dominican Republic. Now that I’m back in the US I am taking time to relax and catch up with everyone. Being sad… It’s a process. A hard one, but a process none the less. I wish you the best with your book and your masters!

Brenna Holeman June 28, 2015 - 11:03 pm

Thank you for your comment, Sarah! It’s strange how things seem to add up like that… I guess it’s true, when it rains it pours.

Meaghan June 25, 2015 - 6:17 pm

The other day I was listening to Pete Holmes’ podcast “You Made It Weird”, and he was interviewing Dana Carvey (who was totally awesome, I highly recommend). Dana said this one thing that really resonated with me, and I thought of it while reading your post. He said that you need to have dissatisfaction – in your job, your life, whatever – because that is what propels you forward. Dissatisfaction is what pushes you to make some sort of change. To be better, try harder, or do something different. Without it, you’d be the same person doing the same thing forever. BORING. I feel like sadness is kind of like a form of dissatisfaction. It’s some part of your brain saying “yo, let’s shake things up a bit here”. I hope all of your moments of sadness are just the start of new and wonderful trajectory in your life. (But of course, just being sad is totally okay). <3

Brenna Holeman June 28, 2015 - 11:02 pm

YES – I love this. Thank you so much for sharing this, Meaghan! Hope you’re doing really well… would love to see you the next time I’m in Toronto (which will be sooner than later). x

Katie June 25, 2015 - 8:44 pm

That’s a great way to look at it. If we were ridiculously happy all the time then it may begin to lose it’s meaning. I’m bouncing between ridiculously happy and reasonably sad at the moment. I am three days into a three and a half month stint of solo travel – the longest I have been away from my fiance in 5 years. It feels like I am missing an arm but I know this is good for me and the more I get used to being away from him the better it will get. I will be staying with a friend in a few days for a week so I think being around a friend will definitely help. I know how lucky I am to be able to do this and I will try my hardest to make the absolute most of it

Brenna Holeman June 28, 2015 - 11:01 pm

You’re totally right, we can’t be happy all the time or else it would indeed lose its meaning. I think what you’re doing is really courageous and wonderful, and though it will be tough sometimes I’m sure you’re going to have an amazing time overall. Staying with a friend will certainly help!

Alisa June 25, 2015 - 9:58 pm

Sometimes everyone gets sad for no real reason. Your post made me think of Hyperbole and a Half’s sneaky hate spiral. The process is similar but with sad: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/05/sneaky-hate-spiral.html

It might make you smile.

Brenna Holeman June 28, 2015 - 10:59 pm

Thank you for the link, Alisa! Checking it out now…

Edna June 26, 2015 - 5:17 am

I went through a similar period last year, where work and love and lack of blogging and hating where I was living and the future all seemed to be going downhill and it was overwhelming for months. I don’t know how I would have gotten through it all without my friends being on Gchat for me all the time, and I even spent six months having weekly therapy sessions with a friend who is a counselor back in the States. Maybe that’s the extrovert’s solution, but I’m now in such a better place and am so glad I didn’t get too despondent and do something rash back then (as I’m prone to do)! Hope you are feeling happier and more balanced these days. On a side note, I’ll be in London in August/September, if you are around it would be lovely to grab a coffee!

Brenna Holeman June 28, 2015 - 10:59 pm

I’m glad you’re in a better place, too! It happens to all of us, and it’s totally unpredictable sometimes. Yes, I’ll be around, just email me when you’re in town! 🙂

Ashley June 26, 2015 - 12:42 pm

Thanks for sharing, Brenna, and thanks for your honesty! I can definitely relate – there are so many times when I don’t want to allow myself to be sad because I have a great life and so much to be thankful for. But you’re absolutely right that times of sadness can help us to re-evaluate and maybe make some necessary and positive changes. I hope your spontaneous trip home has helped to lift your spirits!

Brenna Holeman June 28, 2015 - 10:58 pm

Thanks for your comment, Ashley! I have SO much to be thankful for and so that’s why I get frustrated when I still feel down about things. I guess that’s just part of life. The trip was indeed spirit-lifting, and being in Denmark at the moment is great!

Christina June 26, 2015 - 10:41 pm

Great article on an important subject. You go, girl!

Brenna Holeman June 28, 2015 - 10:57 pm

Thank you so much, Christina!

Polly June 27, 2015 - 3:00 pm

Sad is perfectly acceptable – no matter who you are! But I think you touch on a great point when you mentioned that your attitude sucks, not your life. I’ve come to find that realizing that means you can be sad, but ultimately get over it and get on with your happy life!

Sending good vibes your way!

Brenna Holeman June 28, 2015 - 10:57 pm

Thank you very much, Polly, I really appreciate those good vibes! Right back at you.

Maria June 29, 2015 - 10:52 am

For someone who has lived so many years abroad now and has to start over every 4 or five years, I can tell you sadness as knocked on my door many times. It is not easy to say goodbye to friends and to countries you have learned to love every few years. But I wouldn’t have changed my travels, my experiences, the people I met on the way for the world. And that is what makes me overcome sadness every time. I appreciate your honesty and I wish you much happiness for the future.

Brenna Holeman June 29, 2015 - 5:46 pm

Thank you so much for your comment, Maria – I agree, I wouldn’t have changed anything, either! Happy travels to you, too.

Expatkerri June 30, 2015 - 3:38 am

This is one of the bravest posts I’ve read from you Brenna, and I really hope that your time in Toronto helped. You’re a very special person, and a fabulous writer, and all of us can’t wait to cheer you on as you finish your book. Maybe keep your mum on speed dial, too, as she always seems to have words of wisdom to offer <3

Brenna Holeman June 30, 2015 - 4:38 pm

Thank you so much Kerrilyn… and thank you for your support while I was in Toronto! Hope to see you again soon. x

Emily-Ann (grownupgapyear) June 30, 2015 - 2:47 pm

Thank you for sharing Brenna. The pros/cons of social media is something I have spent a lot of time discussing with friends and I think one of the drawbacks is selling the “perfect life” to people. Every time you look at someone’s feed it seems as though they are having the time of their lives and sometimes on a down day that can really hit you hard. Glad that you had a chance to recharge with family and friends, sometimes that’s all you need.

Brenna Holeman June 30, 2015 - 4:37 pm

Thank you for your comment, Emily-Ann. Social media is not always a good thing, that’s for sure! And you’re right, sometimes spending some time with loved ones is all you need.

Zalie July 1, 2015 - 12:31 am

I think that it is really important to realize that EVERYONE experiences periods of sadness throughout their lifetime and for the most part (obviously there are exceptions), it is up to us to overcome these feelings. That however, is much easier said than done and sometimes the only way to get through it is by venting to moms and sisters!!! xoxo

Brenna Holeman July 1, 2015 - 4:57 pm

You’re totally right, Zalie. And yes, sometimes the only way to get over it is to talk to family! xoxo 😉

Amy July 3, 2015 - 6:08 pm

Well said – nobody can be happy all the time. I also find it difficult not to feel guilty for complaining about life or feeling sad because I am so fortunate, but there are times when things are going to suck and it’s ok to feel sad or angry.

Brenna Holeman July 6, 2015 - 10:31 pm

Yes, I totally agree with you Amy! Thanks for your comment.

Alex July 14, 2015 - 9:35 pm

Thanks for this post, Brenna. It really resonated with me, as it sounds like I’m experiencing something very similar! After roughly two years of living out of a backpack in Asia and Australia, I’ve ‘settled’ in London (not permanently, but I’ve been here six months already and will likely stay for another year). There’s lots to be thankful for: I’m healthy, I have decent a job and a boyfriend, and I know a few people in the city. That doesn’t mean there’s downsides: I have doubts all the time whether or not this job is right for me, I’m trying to figure out the process of sponsoring my British boyfriend to be able to emigrate to Canada, money is always tight even though I live what I would consider to be a relatively modest lifestyle and while I know people in London, I miss my best girlfriends from back home. These probably sound like minor things, and I suppose they are, in the grand scheme but it doesn’t mean I don’t get stressed and sad! So, you’re in good company 🙂 If you ever fancy meeting up for a coffee or drink, I’m in East London too and would love to hang out with a fellow Canadian! x

Nadine August 3, 2015 - 1:38 pm

I really loved this post, and thank you for taking the time to explain so well the complexity of emotions and how important it can be to just accept what we’re feeling, sometimes, in order to move past it. I loved how you said, “I also understand when it’s time to take a step back and just be a little sad for awhile.” It’s so true, and often we DON’T take the time to let ourselves be sad. We just push it away and keep moving and try to force happiness (or busy-ness, or fun, or distraction, or whatever) so that we don’t let ourselves feel and accept the sadness.

But sadness (along with a whole other slew of emotions) is such an integral part of life. And I really believe that the vulnerability that comes along with acknowledging our emotions- all of them- makes us more human, more real and authentic and appealing. I’ve actually found such great connection with others when I let myself be vulnerable (but oh man, it’s a hard, hard thing for me to do).

So thanks again for this piece, it was wonderful.

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