I have started and abandoned this post at least a dozen times. Maybe this will be the time that it sticks.
I was a little too warm in my jacket and sweater, but I knew that by the time I walked back to my hotel, I’d be happy to have them both, so I pushed up my sleeves a little bit and soldiered on, up the street toward dinner.
I was missing my family and my pets, more than I’ve missed them in a long, long time. I was feeling lonely, and homesick, and I hoped that getting out of my hotel, taking a little walk, and eating dinner around other people would help. So I asked the concierge for a recommendation, and he sent me to this pub up the road.
About halfway to my destination, I stopped at a street corner and waited for a signal to change. I noticed that there was a plaque just off the sidewalk, commemorating some significant Civil War troop movements in 1864. I don’t recall specifically what it said, but I guess three large armies converged on this spot, marched together up what became the street I was walking on, and … I guess it was continued on the next plaque, which I didn’t find. My first thought was, “Oh, right, this city has been here for a long time, and a lot of history happened here.” In Los Angeles, much of our civic history isn’t even a century old, and what little history we have could be commemorated with plaques that say, “there was something beautiful here, but we tore it down in the 70s to build a strip mall.” My second thought was, “I kind of wish we weren’t still fighting the Civil War, even though as a nation we pretend that we aren’t.”
The light changed and I crossed the street. I walked past a parking lot that was filled with production vehicles, and I was surprised that they were working on a Sunday. I passed lots of people who were walking their dogs, and that made me miss mine even more. I was so lost in thought that I nearly jay walked in front of a cop, but some part of my brain screamed THERE IS A COP THERE STUPID GET BACK ON THE CURB just as I was about to take my second step, so I called on the Infernal ACTING! TALENT! of Calculon to make it look like I hadn’t seen the red light, turned around, and got back on the curb, apparently looking sheepish enough to mollify the cop. Or maybe she didn’t care at all. Either way, I gave myself an invisible gold star.
I got to the pub, and walked inside. It was early and empty, but for two groups of people who were watching sports on TV. One group was watching the MLS championship game, and the other was watching football. They were cheering enthusiastically for their respective games, and their energy filled up the place like it was packed with people.
I ordered a local craft beer and some dinner, and tried to enjoy being in the world with other people, instead of alone in my hotel with people on the Internet.
I couldn’t do it. I just felt too sad. I felt lonely, even though I was in a room with exuberant people, who were having a lot of fun watching their sportsball squads do sports. I pulled my phone out of my pocket, and scrolled through pictures of my pets, pictures of me with my wife, and pictures of home. I’ve only been gone for a little over a week, but it’s the longest I’ve been away in a few years, and I can feel the distance between me and the people I love more viscerally than I have in years.
That’s when Fairy Tale Of New York began to play. Jesus.
I finished my beer, ordered another, and deliberately thought about the good things I’ve experienced while I’ve been in Atlanta:
I have done work on Powers that I’m incredibly proud of, that I think will add something to the show, and may even help me get other acting work in the future. I found layers and desires and secrets and justified motivations in this character that made him come alive in my skin. I’ve worked with three different directors on this show, and every one of them has told me that my work has been incredible. One of the actors on the show told me that he was grateful and relieved that I was playing this character, because I could handle its complexities in a way that was truthful and believable. One of the other actors told me that she was so taken in by my performance, she got completely lost in it, and it motivated reactions from her character that she didn’t know her character could have. When I wrapped on Thursday night, after a nine hour day that was devoted to a single, intense, emotionally exhausting five page scene that’s the climax of everything this character is about, the crew burst into spontaneous applause for me.
On Saturday, I went to the Georgia Aquarium with Olesya Rulin, who is one of my co-stars and a new friend. We got to watch them feed whale sharks, and otters, and penguins, and it was magical. On Saturday night, I got to go to dinner with everyone in the cast who is in town, and then had drinks with a couple of the guys who are staying in the same hotel with me. I’ve made new friends, and that’s not something that comes easily to me.
Oh, and in my Couch to 5K training, I did a personal best run of 4 ten-minute miles without stopping for more than 30 seconds a couple of times.
So there is a lot to be happy about, a lot to feel good about, and a lot of joy to be found in the last eight days … but that doesn’t fill the empty space next to me in my bed, or when I go for a walk, or when I see someone with their dogs.
Then, because I wasn’t feeling sad enough, I read a story at Gawker about how Elmo is the worst (he totally is. Team Grover FOR LIFE). That story reminded me that when Mister Hooper died on Sesame Street, Big Bird had drawn a picture of him, and Big Bird was going to give that picture to Mister Hooper when he came back from the hospital, but Susan told him, “Big Bird, he’s not coming back,” and then Big Bird is sad, and hangs the picture he drew in his nest. And that picture was there for years.
I wiped a few tears off my face, and then I realized something: Yeah, I felt sad, but I just felt sad, like people feel sad. I felt a totally normal and healthy human emotion. I felt sad because I missed my family, I felt lonely, and I wanted to be home. I felt sad because I missed the things that people miss, but I also knew that I only had two more sleeps until I got to be back in my home with the people I love. I felt sad, but I didn’t feel the kind of cant-get-out-of-bed sad that I sometimes feel because of Depression. This was regular, boring, totally normal sadness that everyone feels all the time, and I wasn’t feeling it because I have mental illness, but because I just missed the people I love.
And then I felt really, really happy to feel sad. In fact, borrowing a phrase from my friend Jenny Lawson, I felt #FuriouslyHappy, because I was in charge of my own sadness, instead of being held down in it by my Depression. It was okay to miss the people I love, and it was okay to feel lonely, and it was okay to remember how ten year-old me felt when he experienced the loss of Mister Hooper with Big Bird, the same way he would soon experience the loss of his grandmother with his mom. All of that was healthy and totally fine, and knowing that made me feel happy while I felt sad.
So I finished my food, thanked my server, walked back to my hotel, watched my beloved LA Kings play a heck of a good hockey game, and went to sleep in a bed that felt a little less empty than it has.
Now, about twenty hours later, I’m listening to a Robert Johnson blues station on Pandora, and finishing a blog I’ve tried a dozen times to finish. In a few minutes, I’m going to put on my Runner 5 shirt and go down to the gym to do some training, because Doctor Meyers and Sam and Runner 4 are as much with me here as they are when I’m at home, and that makes me feel a little less lonely, and a little less homesick.
Hey, look at that. I started and abandoned this post a about a dozen times, and this is the one that stuck.
104 thoughts on “That time I realized it felt good to feel sad.”
I am grateful you exist.
Beautiful. I hope you know that your honesty is truly adding value to the lives of others.
I was at a field station in Washington doing research, away from my husband for the first time since we moved in together several years earlier. I was there for 6 weeks before seeing him again. It was exceptionally difficult. I had a blast up there…. and barely ate or slept because of homesickness. I don’t have depression, but I do have anxiety, and he is my anchor sometimes when it gets really bad. I handled it badly. You are wonderfully self-possessed at times, and occasionally I wish I could figure out how to do that (or is that an actor thing?) Just, good for you.
Nailed it indeed. Whatever else you are, you are also a perceptive human being with a gift for communicating those perceptions in words. To wit, a writer.
Congratulations on finally finishing this post — and thank you. Not only is it wonderfully honest and beautifully written, it’s also a great reminder to the rest of us out there who have battled depression that it’s OK to feel “the regular, boring, totally normal sadness that everyone feels all the time.” I’ll think of your wise words next time I’m tempted to suppress a twinge of sadness or loneliness or melancholia.
PS: Yeah, you totally nailed it. 🙂
This made my day! I’m hoping that you’re home soon with the people you love. I also know how it feels to be less lonely because Sam, and the doc, and Jody are with you.
I think Sir Elton John said it best “Sad Songs Say So Much”. The whole ‘Too Low For Zero’ album is my down time go to album.
I have called upon Jenny’s Furious Happiness in the past few weeks more times than I can count. This post was so good and struck a wonderful note that we don’t always recognize. <3
Great post! Next time you are in ATL take a Marta ride to Decatur and right near the station is a pub called The Brick Store. You will love it. Promise. A beer lovers paradise.
I have a folder marked “Beautiful, Heartbreaking, Amazing” where I save things I want to keep forever. So many of your words are in there. Please always keep writing.
I remember the feeling of experiencing “totally normal sadness” for the first time (after struggling with depression throughout my childhood and teens). It was a revelation. It was very freeing to know that I could allow myself to feel sad and not be terrified of spiraling into darkness… Thank you for putting this experience into words, as I think it captures something very essential about the impact of depression, and thank you for speaking out about mental illness in general.
Recognizing feelings as normal instead of the depressed ones is epic. 🙂
I loved this. I have major depression and anxiety too and sometimes I get down on myself for feeling depressed and it is hard to figure out if it is a normal emotion or if it is depression. You’re right. It’s OK to feel sad sometimes everyone does. 🙂
Currently in the “can’t get out of bed” land myself. Reading this made it a little easier. Thank you.
I used to be a long haul truck driver. I was away from home for up to three weeks at a time. I often felt the way you describe here. I would try to be excited about the new things I got to do and see every day, but at night when you are parked outside of the place you will be delivering to in the morning, and there is nothing else around, not even another trucker, it is hard not to feel sad and lonely like this. Thank you for posting this.
This is so important. I have a teenage daughter with anxiety and depression (you met us in Orlando a few years ago – awesome!).
Figuring out which feelings are ordinary teenage angst and which are potentially dangerous dips into the darkness seems to be the focus of our interaction sometimes. And I know that she shares the struggle you describe with so much less experience to go with it. It breaks my heart that she can’t always distinguish between regular, happy excitement and the beginning of a panic attack. She misses out on a whole set of experiences because happy excitement is so scary.
We spend so much energy on this. I forwarded this post to her because it was particularly timely. She felt sad about something yesterday that was reasonable in cause and scope, too. It happened in the middle of a good day. It wasn’t the end of the world. It didn’t trigger anything negative. It was an ordinary emotion, and I was grateful for it before I read this. You both gained XP yesterday, and that’s awesome.
Thank you for sharing. I’m so glad you had a chance to be sad.
Glad to hear your acting job went well. Ironically I read your post on a day when I could just not get started (work from home). I admire your inner voice which refuses to let you vegetate. Wish your inner voice could persuade my inner voice to then persuade me to be more active and involved.
It is indeed wonderful to miss your loved ones, because it means you’ve found great people to love, and it gives you a chance to reflect on the fact that they’re in your life because you’re worthy of the love of people like that. Missing loved ones is horribly wonderful… wonderfully horrible… sadly amazing… and sort of a reverie.
But it’s still not as good as being with them, so travel safely.
Can’t wait to see the show!
I totally understand what you’re saying about being happy about feeling normal sad. I am having the same experience because of the death of my beloved horse. The grief is painful, but it’s not pathological, and that realization has been, well, kind of stunning.
Thanks for a particularly good blog post.
I think about this sort of thing a lot. I get deeply analytical (self-critical?) when the depression hits and expend a lot of mental energy trying to make a judgment as to whether the sadness I feel is “valid” or “justified” or “self-indulgent” or “crazy time” or … whatever. I usually can’t seem to come to a conclusive decision. The way I know the depressive episode is over is when my brain starts telling me, “Who cares whether it’s valid or not?”
Brains are weird.
That melancholy helps one see the glass is half full and not half empty. Happy holidays to you and your family.
THIS IS HOW I FELT WHEN I WAS MISSING MY FAMILY AND MY PETS OUT BEING A SOLDIER TRYING TO FEEL ALL BRAVE AND TOGETHER AND NOT LET THE GUYS SEE WHAT A SISSY I WAS. AND THEN ONE DAY THE TOP SHIRT SAT DOWN BESIDE ME AND LEANED FORWARD SO I COULD HEAR HIM SAY ABOVE THE WIND, “I CRY FOR MY FAMILY. MY BONES ACHE AT NIGHT, AND SOMETIMES GRIEF MAKES YOU FEEL LOVED AND ALIVE.” BIG HUG WIL WHEATON. YOU ARE A GOOD MAN.
Thank you for this post. I’m going through some things in my life that are sad, and sometimes it’s hard to remember it’s ok and reasonable to be sad about it.
Thank you for this reminder Wil. Every so often I go to Jenny’s site just to read her blog post about connecting through Denver airport and corpse hair. Classic.
This was beautiful, thank you!
I really appreciate it when you share stories like this.
Happy Day- To- Return- To- Family- And- Dogs Day, Wil! You’ve done the There, now do the Back Again.
I just had to post to say….Will Wheaton, you cut me off to the airplane bathroom! LOL. I was on the same flight as you Tues night. I was the girl waiting just outside. As I was walking to the bathroom, you stood up just before I got there and beat me to it, hahaha. No worries, you clearly didn’t see me, but thanks for the opportunity to say Will Wheaton cut me off on the way to the bathroom. 🙂
Hahaha! Oh no! I’m sorry! At least you didn’t get to enjoy the endless and toxic farts from the dude who was asleep next to me.
This has got to be single-handedly the best reply to a post ever! +10
Yes, you nailed it. You articulated that very well, Wil. Thanks for sharing that.
I started reading this blog in 2009, and it is still the only one I keep up with. Your writing is awesome, and I’m happy for you that you persevered and nailed it. Rock on!
I’ve never read your blog before, but I’ve had this “love’s life” sort of image of you in my head since I first watched you on Star Trek growing up. I was thinking I would read your blog and be entertained, or confronted with a deep thought that made me stop and think. While this post did all of those things, it also made me sob unexpectedly for a few minutes. I’ve been trying to sort out the depression from the regular emotions more deliberately in the past few years. It’s hard, but it becomes easier once I began to embrace my own flow of emotions and stopped comparing my emotional flow to everyone else’s. Thank you for this open and honest look into what it’s like navigating mental health issues. I will certainly be reading more of your work. Thank you for everything.
Thank you for sharing. I’ve been unemployed for a few months now; going on to having to use the word ‘several’ on that. Savings are running low, no health insurance, and the health care marketplace is looking like a scam. I’m in IT, and I’ve got some good know how and work experience, but I’ve been getting offers for the $15 that minimum wage should be, rather than the wage I’d need to be able to call myself middle class with a straight face.
Of course depression is not logical. Most of this time I’ve been pretty upbeat. I know the trick of it. Get lots of sleep, avoid booze, eat red meat, spend time with friends doing stuff I enjoy, and at least walk 30 minutes a day. I’m on the verge of this ending, but the last two weeks I’ve gone into doom spiral. Weird since I’ve had a series of really good interviews in the last two weeks. My long nightmare of unemployment seems to be close to an end.
It’s a good sign when a hiring manager says: “You didn’t get this job, but we’re going to keep putting you in front of managers until we can hire you, because I think you’re a perfect fit for us.”
And yet it’s at this moment, when things look to be on the verge of turning around, that’s when the black depression hits.
That’s the real fuckery of depression. There’s no goddamned logic to it. Just when you should be most happy and content can be when it straps the boots on and starts stomping your face into the curb.
BTW: Thanks again for being so kind with my daughters (and me) when we met at the Ram at GenCon. It was one of the highlights of their vacation. Everywhere you go, you seem to make people’s lives a little bit better.
Glen, Take the 15 dollar gig that seems the most interesting, and that plays to your strongest skills; applying them to a new area or industry you eventually want to pursue. Holding out for the dream gig usually feels like the right thing to do, but it seldom is. As long as the new gig isn’t abusive and/or doesn’t dominate your every waking moment, it will give you some income, some routine & some people to talk with on a daily basis – all of which are good for your physical and mental health. Get in the job, apply yourself to it as if it were your dream job. Become the best at that job that anyone in the history of that company has ever been – and look for upward mobility. Be a rockstar at that job and don’t give off the vibe that you think it’s beneath you, but also don’t become complacent. Network with people inside and outside of the company, and keep your mind and eyes open.
New jobs aren’t always lateral or upward. It would be nice if they were, but sometimes they’re a retrenchment. The important thing is to keep your momentum. Because meeting the postman every morning hoping for a positive letter and/or checking your email 30 times a day won’t do that. Sorry man. I don’t know you from Adam, but if you were a friend or loved one, that’s the advice I’d give you.
Never take significantly less pay than you should according to salary surveys. Two reasons, first if you undervalue yourself and allow an employer to take advantage of you then you are just setting yourself up to a black depression for that very reason. Especially if you just suck at negotiation, and end up working with people of equal or lesser skill who are getting twice or more your pay.
Secondly, by allowing yourself to be taken advantage of in that way, you push down salaries for every other person working in your field.
If you need to work for work’s own sake, do volunteer work rather than let an employer take such advantage of you.
I got hired just now by the way, so I’m over my little episode. I had a very good feeling about the managers that I interviewed with, so I did take about 5K less than I’d get with a different employer.
This is my favorite post of yours to date. I’m lucky enough not to have suffered from depression, but my wife has, so I know how brave you are. For years, I have treasured my melancholy moments as precious — distinct from joy or relief or satisfaction but rewarding in their own way. Now I will listen to “Forever the Optimist” and go to bed.
Bonus: I read via RSS without all the photos, so by clicking through to comment, I got to see the cuttlefish. I love cuttlefish. Thanks!
What I find awesome about this post is that you recognized your feelings for what they were. You didn’t worry that you had tripped your depression chord. You knew this was homesickness. I miss my family too every time I have to travel without them. I also love how honest this is. You are a good man, Wil Wheaton.
I’ve been having a hard time lately. Thank you for being you. Never give up. We need you.
Awesome article! Recognizing feelings as normal instead of the depressed ones is epic.
Thank you for writing this Wil. I’ve been working on determining sadness vs depression (which is something I’ve been dealing with for a while). Being in control is the main thing. It’s ok to feel down. Just take note of little happy things, and be grateful for them. I find it hard, but I’m working on it. Each day I survive is a step forward.
One of the difficulties in living with depression and managing it is that it’s very easy to become afraid of being sad. It feels too much like depression, and you start thinking you should get more therapy or change your medications or get more exercise or break out the SAD lights or get more Vitamin D and STOP THE BAD FEELING before you slide into the pit. But appropriate sadness is part of life, and it does, indeed, feel kind of good to be sad like normal people now and then.
I have a few things I read when I feel that I’m circling the drain. Stephen Fry’s “It will be sunny one day” and a couple by you. I can’t always find them. For anyone else that can’t figure out how to get back to them, use this link.
It amuses me on some level that I follow two celebrities on social media. Wil Wheaton for medicinal purposes and Luke Evans because he posts pictures of his Grandmother (also somehow medicinal.)
As a psychiatrist, I would like to thank you for sharing stories like this. There is still so much stigma around mental health and many suffer in isolation but finding out that other people, especially famous and successful people like yourself, have the same problem can help rebuild a sense of community and encourage others to seek help. Between this and Table Top, you have my sincerest respect and admiration, good sir!
Thank you for writing this. I’ve been in a semi-depressive fog the last week. But today I meditated and afterwards, I felt sad. But… just sad. And that was fine.
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