Many years ago I suffered what at the time was labelled a severe depression. I'd been a single mum for a long time and was juggling work and study and feeling a failure everywhere I turned. I accepted that my brain chemistry was simply 'wrong' or 'unbalanced' and spent some years on an anti-depressant that gave me what I thought of as stability for a while until I realised it was mainly a feeling of numbness. A feeling of no feeling.. not sad any longer, which suited those around me but also not happy. I achieved lots, ticked all the boxes but I didn't feel anything.

When I asked questions about this I was told that this is how 'normal' people do feel.. that being really sad or really happy isn't normal or necessary and that clearly my medication was working because look how well I was just getting on with things.

More medications were suggested as clearly my dissatisfaction was just another facet of abnormality. I could have chosen that path I suppose. I'm glad I didn't.

What I did learn over the ensuing decades is that I'm prone to sadness for no particular reason. I feel most things very deeply and I likely spend way too much time trying to analyse and steep myself in it all in order to understand it and that is okay. The world needs people to do this just as much as it needs people to be innately cheerful and bring constant sparks of joy. The latter seem more acceptable in many ways as they don't make us confront the challenges or difficulties or sadder things we may not want to face or feel.

What I've discovered over years of working with clients and with professionals who work with clients is that the sense of having something wrong with them is often more damaging than the feelings they experience. The look in someone's eye when they hear you say 'that seems perfectly normal to me' is unmistakable. A sense of hope, of acceptance and a different possibility for the future all rolled into one.

For those still struggling at the bottom of the well it can seem insurmountable and with no way out. The way in which our society views this experience as 'wrong', 'abnormal' 'in need of fixing' doesn't help.

It is normal to have deep and ongoing feelings in many situations, especially when grieving or even just facing a changed and uncertain world. We expect people to respond differently, to 'get over' things when this can feel impossible.

Many cultures do this much better than others.. allowing time for grief, nurturing and maintaining connections to those grieving.

I strongly believe that if we can work on 3 strategies for people who are struggling we can move people closer to where they want to be:

  1. Name it... grief, melancholy, sadness, confusion, loneliness etc

2. Normalise.. who says we should only feel certain things in certain ways for set times? The more we tell people their feelings are abnormal, the more people go inward, and hide them and feel ashamed of them and find no way back.

3. Nurture... gather around those who are in the Well of sadness... don't abandon them. Let them have their journey in the grief or sadness without forcing them through or back too soon. Stay connected, keep loving, let them know you are here and they can find their way back and you will care for them in the meantime.

This latter one takes time and commitment and compassion... our medicalised approach to emotional health is quicker.. give them a pill. It is a temporary numbing.. not a fixer.

Our greatest strengths come from embracing the vulnerability and being willing to sit in it. However in order to truly experience it, we need to know we are safe, that there are others in our world taking care of the essentials and of us. This is a new kind of connection we have an opportunity to build into our relationships and communities: one which honours our humanity in all its parts.