*Spoiler Alert* Plot details from Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out abound below, so don’t read unless you have seen the movie or don’t care about being spoiled.
Guys, I saw Inside Out this weekend and it might be one of my favorite movies of all time – and not just because it hit me right in the gut, emotionally – it’s also funny, visually stunning, and features some remarkable vocal performances. But from a personal standpoint, if you’ve been reading this blog for the past few weeks, you know I’ve been posting about different pieces of me and how I manage them (or how they sometimes manage me). There’s my Personal Demon, who likes to yell at me for, well, everything. There’s Awesome Girl, the confident piece of me that I’m trying to recapture from my childhood, bit by bit. And then there’s The Blob, who makes anxiety his special purview. I developed these images and classifications for the different pieces of myself in therapy, and they’ve been a tremendous help as I work through my (many) issues, so you can imagine a film that uses characters to personify the primary emotions in a little girl’s head would strike a chord with me.
The story revolves around the anthropomorphized emotions of Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear who reside in the “Headquarters” of a ten-year-old little girl’s (Riley) head. When Riley’s family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, the subsequent upheaval in her life (any San Fran resident can attest to this – crappy, overpriced housing and broccoli-covered pizza are indeed two of our less endearing aspects as a city), causing Joy (who has been the HBIC most of Riley’s life) to get lost in the deeper parts of Riley’s brain, along with Sadness. As they make their way back to headquarters and Riley slips into a numb depression as the result of Anger, Disgust, and Fear’s well-intentioned but misguided attempts to right the ship, Joy comes to the stunning realization that she is not what Riley needs to adjust to her new life – she needs Sadness. When they make it back to Headquarters and Sadness allows Riley to cry and tell her parents, who have always referred to her as their “Happy Girl”, how she’s really feeling, the truly heartbreaking moment comes. After revealing with tears in her eyes that she misses her old home, her friends, and her school, she asks her parents: “Are you mad?”
This is where I lost it. I didn’t stop crying the rest of the film, and am tearing up a bit as I type this. If you’ve ever suffered from depression, I’m betting you leaked a few tears at this scene, too.
The worst parts of depression are the fear and guilt that accompany your sadness – the fear that people will be mad at you for feeling down, for hating yourself, for wanting to hurt yourself, and the guilt that you shouldn’t feel this way, that you are wrong, that you should just be able to snap out of it and not bother anyone else with your feelings. So what do you do? You try to go numb. You block everything out, because it’s better, you figure, to have no emotions at all than to experience (or even worse, show) your sadness. If you show it, people might be mad.
Here’s the thing, though, that I’ve discovered after years of therapy and self-exploration: people are almost never mad that you’re sad. They might be sad that you’re sad, or worried, and that might lead them to say or do the “wrong” thing, but they aren’t mad at you. People who love you – your friends, family, significant others – they will never be “mad” at you for showing how you really feel, even if how you really feel isn’t filled with joy and gratitude for the glories of life and the universe. And if they are angry because you are sad, then there is something really, really wrong with them – not with you. I’ve learned this through my family, who’ve supported me through years of depression and suicidal bouts. I’ve learned this from my wonderful friends, who love me and are nice to me even when I lose my shit in a bar over a work email and actually, physically, hit myself in the head (0/10 would not recommend this strategy). I’ve learned this from the internet, where people have responded to me writing about real emotions on this blog over the past few weeks with empathy and friendship and humor.
Of course, the tough thing about depression (and being human) is that you can never learn life’s key lessons too many times – your confidence in them waxes and wanes depending on the circumstances and your brain chemistry. So for me, the moment in the film when Riley’s parents tell her that of course they’re not mad, and then share their own sadness at leaving their new home, hit me right in the feels (as they say on the interwebz). With this scene, Inside Out validated a truth that should be obvious but that many people (those who suffer from mental illness, especially) struggle with recognizing every day: you cannot have joy without sadness, and you are not wrong for being sad. Sadness is human, sadness is healthy, and sadness is a part of you. Denying it, pushing it down into the depths of your brain and soul, will only hurt you in the end. When you cry, you’re showing other people that sadness, and that’s ok, too – crying is healthy and can often lead to you getting help you need, whether it’s with a major depression, huge life stressors, or a tough breakup.
To that end, I want to share the drawing of my own “Sadness” character, who I drew about a month ago.
I still struggle with this character – honestly, I’ve probably worked with her the least. But Emo Jackie (lol) is just as important to me as Phyllis Smith’s (fantastic performance btw) Sadness is to Riley. She has an important job to do, and Inside Out was a beautiful and wonderful reminder of that fact.
Go see it if you haven’t already, and remember that your sadness, whatever he or she looks like, is a part of you. Treat that part with love.