A Sign That You Can!

Bethany Pearson O'Connor bio photoMy goal for last week’s vacation had me baffled.  Getting out of my head and into my heart SOUNDED like a simple intention when I had set it.

It’s so not.

On the flight to Florida, my heart told me that it has even better insights than my head.  This excited my head, because my head likes insights, but it also confused my head, which didn’t know how to get to my heart. My head wanted instructions.

So my heart gave me a hint. While listening to bubbles dance past my ears on a swim in the ocean on day four, my heart reminded me that the French word for “heart” is “coeur.”

You cannot access your heart without COURage.

So I courageously journeyed south (of my ears) and learned that whenever my heart feels vulnerable, I instinctively retreat to my head. That’s my safe zone.  I can think my way around things from up there, garner praise, avoid trouble.

But the Uni-verse didn’t put giant, impassioned hearts in us just so that we could ignore them.

S/he gave us these hearts so that we could ride them like wild horses towards the sunset of our dreams.

It is blasphemous to ignore our hearts’ whispers.

I learned last week that my heart is even bigger than I knew.  The times when I thought I was in my heart, I was really only rubbing off the dried-up outer skin of the onion.

That’s good…that I have a big heart.  I guess.

It’s also SCARY because right now my heart is telling me that it is sad.  And my head doesn’t want to know the depth of the sadness.  My head just wants to retreat.  It is scared.  So scared, in fact, that for a moment, I saw white.  Not black like when people faint in the movies or red like Sublime says, but white, like pain.

I do not know whether my heart has always been this sad (maybe that’s why I’ve trained myself to run from it) or whether today’s sadness is conditional.

Maybe I will feel better tomorrow.

I do know that this slide down the murky slope into darkness is too familiar.  I’m remembering the constant desire to sleep.  To escape.  To not wake up until I can breathe without reminding myself to inhale.

There is a surprising comfort in THIS place, too, friends.

The comfort of sadness is an insidious one.  A lure.  One we’d prefer not to acknowledge, because when we do, we have to face the fact that we enjoy the power of our sadness.  There are excuses here.  A relief of responsibilities, a “specialness” about us.   There’s pity and there’s attention from loved ones whose love we may not be able to access when they are not worried about us.

It’s also easy to manipulate people when we’re sad.  I’ve done it plenty, and so have you, regardless of whether you acknowledge it.

Our heads may judge this manipulation as “bad,” but everything is inherently neutral, and this behavior is just another survival mechanism…a sign of intelligence, really.  (As babies, we learn that people are gentler with us when we’re sad.)

By NO means are anxiety, depression, or other mental road bumps ALL about manipulation; that’s the LAST thing I’d want to imply.

It IS, however, immeasurably empowering to consider how we use our struggles as crutches, because until we realize that we are leaning on something, we will not get rid of it.

Did you read me?  Until we OWN how our struggles have HELPED us, we are powerless to move past them.

Thanks to many years of happiness work, I have the tools–the scaffolding, if you will–to endure today’s exploration of my heart without falling into the depths of despair I’ve felt previously.

You need scaffolding when you feel yourself slipping, my friend.

Previously, when the storm clouds of sadness would roll in, my head would judge me.  I’d twist gratitude into a whip and berate myself for the sake of all of the people in this world who have more difficult lives than I have.  My head would tell me I had no right to be sad, and that a stronger person would just suck it up.

Heads can be judgy like that.  They’re just trying to protect us, our heads are.  They do it because they’re scared.  Scared to recognize that sometimes it’s the stronger individual who does not “grin and bear it” but who confronts her sadness, figures out why it’s there, and slays that dragon instead of swallowing it.

Today, unlike in years past, I am courageously, PUBLICLY sharing my heart-heaviness because I refuse to contribute any longer to the shaming of mental health challenges by hiding my own.  I refuse to play into the fallacy that accessing one’s emotions is a sign of weakness when really it is a sign of great character strength, ridiculed only by intimidated cowards. 

Today I show you my sadness because owning ALL the parts of ourselves–ESPECIALLY the parts we used to think were shameful–THIS is what it means to “Let Ourselves Shine.”  

Do not worry about me, friend:  I have scaffolding.  I’ll tend to my heart the way it deserves.  I will see my therapist and talk to her about the things I’m afraid to discuss.  I will exercise like a madwoman, marinate in my babies’ laughter, eat healthy, speak kindly to myself, lean on my husband, meditate, ask for help.

And I will celebrate the strength those things require of me.

So, yes:  I am sad.  I am crying a lot.  I even stuck my face in a pillow and yelled to see if that would help.  [It did, a little.]

But I’m far stronger than today’s lure of sadness.

I have the tenacity to get out of bed even when I just want to sleep.

I know I am loved even when my brain tells me otherwise.

I know that tomorrow…if I take care of myself…tomorrow I might feel better.

And I know I am succeeding at my vacation goal of learning to listen to my heart because even though this post got a little heady, it was not my head who told me these truths.

It was my heart.


Have you ever felt ashamed of struggles with happiness?

Have you refused to see a therapist because you saw it as a sign of weakness?

Have you experienced self-loathing because you think a stronger person wouldn’t even consider “relying” on anxiety medication to get through the day?

I have, too.  And the more time I spend with people who are dedicated to thriving, the more obvious it becomes to me that the shame surrounding mental health challenges affects EVERYONE.

We are all responsible for the energy we bring to this world.  If we want our children to be self-loving, we are morally obligated to model it.

EVERYBODY experiences sadness, my friend.  Not everybody commits themselves to growing from it.

Seeing a therapist, taking medication, militantly rocking your fundamentals, doing whatever it is you need to do to be YOUR healthiest, happiest self in this world:  these are not signs that you “cannot handle” life, Love.

These are signs that you CAN.


How does today’s post affect you?  Please share with me in the comments.  I love to hear from you!




Bethany Pearson O’Connor is a Life Enthusiast, Soul Photographer, and Self-Help Addict. Bethany connects with other “Lovahs of Light” on “Catching the Light,” (her blog at bethanyo.com), on Facebook, and on Twitter @_bethanyo.

  • Wow. That was so powerful. And I’m in the same situation. I decided to listen to my heart and I saw how my mind was so afraid to let go of its power. And yes, I thought that seeing therapists and taking medication was a sign of weakness and I always thought that my mind could handle it by itself. These last days have been so empowering and yet so scary but I know it’s something I must go through so I can really learn the meaning of “surrender”.

    • Bravo, Eveline! Congrats on pushing your edge of comfort. Sounds like you are on the right track. Much love to you on your journey! 🙂

  • Thanks, Bethany. You have given me courage to embrace my own sadness.

  • Joy

    Thank you for this post – I can’t tell you how much I needed to hear these words today (let’s just say… VERY much). I completely understand what you mean about using sadness as a crutch, as a way to be special and get love that you think you are not getting. This opens me up to going further and asking myself some important why questions. What need does if fill in me to be “special?” What would be different if I felt loved by others? And most importantly, am I loving myself? Bless you for writing this and reminding me that I CAN handle life, even if it doesn’t seem like it.

    • Joy, based on your willingness to ask yourself the hard questions and to be honest about your feelings, I’d say you are VERY well-equipped to handle life. Your authenticity inspires me and the fact that this post was helpful to you brings me happiness. Thanks for writing in. So much love to you.

  • Benedicte

    Wonderful and inspiring blog! Thanks for being brave and open! Not a lot people would!

  • Ere

    Love it!

    For many years I have been hiding from the truth of a shameful past, one that I didn’t chose, one that make me feel dirty at some way and not loved. But once I started to speak about what happened to me, I feel that a heavy thing as been removed from me. However, I haven’t talked to my mother, because I know this truth will hurt her and I’m doubting about telling her…What is better? tell her what happened and make her feel bad or keep silence and forgive and forget?

    This situation makes me feel sad and I think that I need to face this dragon instead of just running, but meanwhile I feel (as you said) in a white space where nothing grows because nothing lives there.

  • GiftOfLove-SelfSacrifice

    Dear Bethany, You have made me rethink my decision for now as for what I’m about to say is no easy thing and people will judge me incorrectly for this as I have thought long and hard and am of sound mind(even though everyone will say otherwise).
    My father recently passed away and my mother has taken a turn for the worst. She has had a heart attack since and her heart is that week the doctor’s say she may die too. My whole life I have given it my all and helped countless people through their struggles and saved many a life. If love is about giving and self sacrifice then I am considering giving my mother the greatest gift I can give her….my heart quite literally. I know what this means and I am not taking this lightly as being a religious man it also means I condemn myself to the gates of hell. No one is going to understand this I know yet I can save the lives of many other’s by donating my organs including my mother’s though my self sacrifice. I don’t want to do this and yet it is on my mind constantly.
    You would never pick it in me as I have many friends, a good job, loving family member’s,more women that I can poke a stick atm, everything really I am in the physical prime of my life, six-pack-ville and all, I have become so spiritual in the last two months I wonder if I have become too spiritual as I see things I never saw or understood and it has opened a whole new meaning of life to me and I wonder to the point should I have travelled done this path. Human’s say going to war and dying is self sacrifce for your country and believing we are doing the right thing, saving a child, anyone from a event and losing their own life in doing so is heroic so why if I choose what I am considering would this be wrong? I shouldn’t post this as I do not with to burden you or any other. Sorry.

    • anon

      I was hesitant about replying, because your post is not to be taken lightly. From a place of care, some thoughts for you:

      1/ One of the main messages I get from the TDL mentors is that being of service is one of the greatest things you can offer to others. On this line of thought I think you should consider whether what you propose to sacrifice is really the best service you can provide: to one person, to many people, to yourself, now and going forward.

      2/ I’m not sure any mother could live with such a sacrifice from a son. I believe her heart would be broken.

      3/ We are each on our own journey. When we reach hard times it is wonderful when people ‘show up’ to be of service – you can’t always expect it, but when it happens it’s truly and magically comforting. Most of us don’t choose when our journey will hit hard times or come to an end, and often it comes too soon. But it’s part of the journey. While it is our ‘own’ journey, we are part of the whole, not intrinsically separate from everyone and/or everything else. Perhaps being of service to others is a reminder of this when they need it most, to not feel alone in hard times.


  • Jule

    Thank you, Bethany–you are awesome. It is sometimes hard to discern whether our sadness returns because it is “familiar,” or if it is part of the healing process–another layer of the onion bellying up…you are right that living from the heart is an act of bravery. If you are “alive,” you will feel pain. Thanks for the validation. Just what I needed today.

  • Mandy

    Thank you for sharing this today. I am so committed to doing whatever it takes and at times it can be so discouraging when things aren’t what we want them to be. It helps to know we are not in this alone and that the struggle through sadness doesn’t end here… I am truly grateful for the community of wise counselors, caring friends and family and strangers like you who make this journey hopeful on the darkest days and have shown me what is possible.