“Why Do You Feel Always Sad?” by Kirsten Reneau

Issue 22 / Summer 2020

Why Do You Feel Always Sad?

  1. You’re depressed
    1. Of course, you know objectively this is probably why you feel Always Sad, but it doesn’t seem like quite the right reason anymore. You know for sure that this is why you are extra tired. And this is probably why you spend embarrassing amounts of time spiraling in your own thoughts because of the arbitrary actions of others, which you know (objectively) have nothing to do with you and yet (subjectively) you can’t help but think that by not texting you back, they (the elusive, could be anyone, they) actually hate you and you should probably never go outside again.
    2. You take medication now, so these days of feeling like this are far less frequent than they were many years before, and really, at this point, you only really spiral like that when you’re on your period.
    3. So arguably, this should not be the reason that you feel Always Sad.
  2. Maybe the pills stopped working
    1. After you were diagnosed with clinical Always Sad, you tried four different kinds of pills before you landed on the ones you take now, so you know what it feels like for the pills to stop working, and this isn’t it (probably).
      1. The first ones just flat out didn’t do anything, and you remained Always Sad.
        1. It was as if the world was moving too fast or you were moving too slow and no matter how hard you tried, you constantly felt like you were on the cusp of lying down and staring straight up into a thunderstorm.
          1. It only takes two inches of water to drown.
      2. The second ones kept you up for 48 hours, took you to see the sunrise and fall asleep in the middle of your dorm room lobby when you should have been taking your Classic American Literature final to figure it out.
      3. The third made you confuse dreams with reality, made you believe one could be the other, and that the line between illusion and reality was blurrier than you had previously known. But they worked the best of any you had tried before, so you took them for six months.
      4. The fourth made you mechanical, moving through the routines you knew you had to do but without reason, without feelings, and though it wasn’t Always Sad, it wasn’t actually anything.
      5. But this fifth pill has been working fine, really, mostly, so what is it?
    2. Your memory isn’t that great, and it’s very possible you’ve accidentally skipped taking the pill a few days.
      1. You worry that for some reason you will subconsciously stop taking them because they have worked too well, and you think you’re better.
      2. You read about that all the time, people not taking their pills. It was an especially common plot device in the sad girl teen lit you used to check out from the public library in middle school. Suddenly they think that their brain has naturally started providing serotonin, and those little round discs didn’t do shit, and they’ll start flushing them down the toilet. And then they get depressed again because those pills are the reason their brains allow them to have the energy to flush them in the first place.
        1. In one book, this happens and a girl steps in front of a moving truck to make it all stop again.
        2. Maybe you can try to refocus that energy. Maybe you should stop thinking of ways to get hit by cars (which is a trait of being Always Sad, certainly) and refocus it into something productive, like finding the name of the book that gave you this complex.
          1. Would that really be productive, though?
  3. You slept in on Sunday
    1. Productivity has been your taught link to happiness. Your parents are marathon runners, college professors, “I get grumpy if I don’t get to work out every day” kind of people.
      1. They used to take you to work out too, thought that maybe you could learn to outrun your demons with Nike shoes and the secretion boost they called “runner’s high.”
        1. Eight years of soccer. Three years of volleyball. The list of sports you tried go on. All it left you with is a pile of cleats and a complex about sports bras.
      2. You exercised carefully. You ate carefully.
        1. You were so in control that you grew out of control. For a while your diet a plate of fries and six coffees a day. Your parents praised the weight loss.
        2. You dealt with that separately, but you get bloated on your period (refer to point 1.b)
    2. When you don’t do anything for longer than thirty minutes, you feel even worse because you are no longer a Productive Member of Society, and now you’re just Always Sad again.
    3. In high school, even though you got high pretty often, you were part of an anti-drug coalition because your friends were doing it, so you agreed to join. The leader once called you lazy while you were doing your homework during a conference at the state capital.
      1. This probably contributed to your complex.
      2. You consider writing her an angry, blame-filled letter, but this would not stop you from feeling Always Sad, just make you look like a bitch.
    4. You keep very busy. You work full time. You go to grad school full time. You freelance. You walk the dog. You usually remember to take out the trash on time. Reason with yourself — sleeping in on Sundays should not be the reason you’re Always Sad. It’s barely a symptom of it.
  4. It’s your parents
    1. It’s your mother.
      1. It would be nice to follow in some dead male psychologist’s footsteps and blame your mother for all of it. When you first told her you were Always Sad so many years ago, she cried, and you felt even worse.
      2. Maybe she shouldn’t have let you watch all those sad movies growing up. What kind of parent let’s their child watch Fox and the Hound every night for two years?
        1. She used to say you had a “flair for the dramatic,” and that’s why you liked it so much.
      3. It’s not her. Probably. Maybe it could be a little — not in an active way, but more as an imprint upon your psychology, the way her DNA strands overlap with yours to create the sadness that cannot be helped.
      4. After all, she calls you every week to make sure you’re okay.
    2. It’s your father.
      1. Thinking about your father feels like placing a piece of paper over your eyes. You can see the outlines he makes, where the light shines, the space he takes up. But as much as you squint, as hard as you try, there is always a boundary that keeps you from understanding him.
        1. You know in your heart of hearts, in the deepest parts of yourself, that your father has fucked you up plenty, but he is not the reason you are Always Sad.
        2. Sure, he may have contributed to it, but he’s not the reason for it.
          1. No more than your mother, anyways, in how they have both created you, with your father’s smile and mother’s teeth and your soft, tender heart.
  5. You were born on a Wednesday
    1. “Wednesday’s Child is full of Woe” is from some English nursey rhyme, and your grandmother made you a cross stich with the quote for your first Christmas.
      1. Her creation hung above your crib as you grew from a crying baby to a crying toddler.
        1. So that couldn’t have helped with anything.
      2. It is easy to blame your tendency of being Always Sad on predestination, on fate, on a greater will. You don’t think it’s true (mostly), but maybe it had something to do with growing up knowing you’re “full of woe,” as if you’re a stuffed turkey.
  6. It’s raining
    1. You have a friend who swears the rain is cleansing and maybe it is, but on those long, gray days where it feels like the sky has cut itself open, you want to do nothing but sleep.
      1. Refer back to point 3 for more on this.
  7. You fear your own mental health
    1. You have tried to give yourself over to the sadness before, make your body an altar to it. You tried so, so hard to die, or at least that’s what you told yourself afterwards because you weren’t ready to admit that it was (to be stereotypical) a cry for help. The depression made you sad. The suicide attempt made you sad. Telling your mom about both, watching her cry for the first time in your life, made you feel the worse you had ever felt before.
      1. Refer to point 4
    2. You know you could be that said again if you’re not very careful. So when the Always Sad comes, you have to play the constant guessing games of “Is this normal sadness or is it a slippery slope into a depressive spiral?” and “How close are you to your period?”
      1. Refer to point 1
    3. Until very recently, you held a half hope that one day you would grow out of being Always Sad, the way you grew out of your favorite sweater, the one you wore to threads in college. It was your mother’s favorite color on you.
      1. You’re not really and truly Always Sad — you have days, weeks even, where you are happy or goofy or curious in many ways. You enjoy your life.
        1. You are loud happy when you dance to bluegrass music that sounds like childhood, when you drink mostly cold beer on hot days, when you laugh in a way that shows all your teeth.
        2. You have learned to find a quiet happiness too, in morning coffee alone and smiling at babies in supermarkets.
          1. In those moments you are so truly and honestly joyful.
      2. But the Always Sad feeling lingers like a cloud full of rain in the distance, one that you can see from miles away. When you’re happy, you remember being sad.
        1. The sadness is so powerful and so consuming. It feels like a downpour that soaks into your bones and your skin cannot remember the feeling of the summer sun.

Kirsten Reneau is working on her MFA in creative nonfiction at the University of New Orleans. A Pushcart nominee, her work can also be seen in Hippocampus Magazine, (Mac)ro(mic), The Daily Drunk, The French Quarter Journal, and is forthcoming in The Threepenny Review.


  1. Hannah Rossi

    this is so good

  2. cz

    ugh i love this so much can’t wait to read more by her!

  3. also kirsten

    Isame lmao


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