Archived Opinion

Learning to let my emotions breathe

Learning to let my emotions breathe

I’ve always been prone to bouts of melancholy. I’m not sure if it’s a writer thing or a woman thing or just a thing with my own physiological make-up. These emotional phases once bothered me. I identified them as “depression” or “life stagnation.” But, in recent years, I’ve learned to settle into these moods of mine.

A therapist once told me emotions need room to breathe. If you smother or ignore them, they’ll fight for air. The best remedy is to give them adequate space in the first place. Now I just let the feelings come. I’ve realized my dark moods often inspire my best writing or lead me to pick up the phone and have a much-needed conversation with my sister or a friend. The feelings are deep and serve as powerful motivators if I let them.

From childhood, we’re conditioned to think sadness is bad and happiness is good. But, I have learned, especially over the past year, sadness is only bad if we allow it to permanently damage us.

Traditionally, this time of year is my very favorite. I was an October baby, so I’ve always equated fall with my birthday month. My sister is three years and four days older than me. Growing up, we had double birthday parties at the former Skate-a-Round USA in Woodfin. We all dressed in Halloween costumes and whirled around the rink in devil horns or cat ears or ‘80s rocker wigs.

My grandparents would drive up every Sunday from Travelers Rest, South Carolina During the fall, we would go to a park in Burnsville and collect baskets of colorful leaves to iron between wax paper and create leaf books. In the moment, I didn’t realize how fondly I would look back on such a seemingly insignificant experience.

My late mom loved this time of year too. She would always say, “Look at those gorgeous fall colors. We live in the most beautiful place on earth.” And while she loved her Christmas sweaters, she also had tons of autumn and Halloween sweaters and shirts and brooches and earrings and socks.

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For a number of years, my mom picked up my younger son at First United Methodist preschool in Waynesville. During the month of October, they made daily walks through the pumpkin patch. I remember sitting at work and my phone pinging as she sent pictures of my little blue-eyed boy sitting beside pumpkins or on top of pumpkins or peeking out from behind pumpkins. I would smile down at my phone warmed by the heartfelt photos.

When the boys were little, we trick-or-treated in downtown Weaverville near my parents’ house. They would get their first candy from my parents before we headed out to knock on doors. When we moved to Haywood County, my parents would travel to Waynesville on Halloween. I would make a big pot of chili. They would give the boys their treat bags and we would eat chili and finish up costumes and face paint before traipsing through Autumn Park.

Until last fall, I would schedule a festival or some other fall activity almost every weekend in September and October. But I’ve had such a heavy heart as of late, I can’t get into any type of seasonal spirit.

Grief and personal stress can certainly put a damper on the holiday spirit.

But, with all that being said, this time of year still cheers me up. Watching the leaves begin to turn, seeing scarecrows and bales of hay pop up in people’s yards and eating fresh apples from orchards are all pretty strong antidotes to a broken spirit.

I’ve been on a couple hikes in the past week and both have reminded me of the healing powers of nature. Oftentimes, just getting outside offers all the comfort a soul needs. And yesterday I came face-to-face with a doe. She was only about 20 feet from me and just stood there for the longest time. After a while, her two babies came out of the woods and frolicked around her.

As we looked at one another, I had two leading thoughts.

The first was how very much alike all mothers and women are. Whether human or animal, the bond is intense.

My next thought was, “How can someone shoot such a beautiful creature?”

This time of year is still my favorite, but the reasons have shifted. And I’m OK with that. I’m sure sometime in the future I’ll be back to my old self, planning a day at the Mountain State Fair or Hickory Nut Gap Farm or Eliada Corn Maze.

But, even without big outings or festivals, there’s so much to enjoy during a Blue Ridge Mountain fall. Just step outside and look around. We really do live in the most gorgeous place on earth.

I no longer perceive bouts of melancholy in a negative way. I view them as part of me and my overall personality. And I feel seasons of sadness allow me to connect more intimately with the world around me and people I love. They also give me perspective and make the joyous moments in my life so much sweeter.

There’s a Hindu proverb that says, “Whatever comes, let it come. Whatever stays, let it stay. Whatever goes, let it go.”

This has sort of become my life mantra. I can’t always control what happens in my world, but I can control how I respond to it. This mantra helps me relax and focus inwardly, which I find very therapeutic.

I’m learning more and more that if we’re not careful, we focus too much on comings and goings and not enough on the staying. So, as the beautiful season of falls begins to unfold all around us, I’m going to let it come with all its bittersweet memories and healing powers. I’m going to stay in the moment as long as it will have me.

And when it goes, I’m going to take a deep breath and let it go.

(Susanna Barbee can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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