River of Melancholy: Crossing the Bridge of Adoptee Emotions

I spend a lot of time trying to feel emotions in my body.  I work at recognizing them and naming them. “Oh hello, there you are happiness,” and “Oh hello, I see you disappointment.”   I find that when I can name it, I won’t shame it.  (free therapy line for you today)

As I have been doing some deep, inner work, I have noticed a feeling that I could not name.  I recognize that this feeling has been with me my entire life.  It just felt, well for lack of a better word, normal for me.

Ever since I was little, I never felt fully happy.  Like completely full of happiness.  I can feel happy.  I can feel joy. I can feel delight.  And, I really LOVE feeling this way.  And there is always something else underneath.

In the past 2 weeks, I was finally able to name this feeling – MELANCHOLY.

Definition: 

mel·an·chol·y

ˈmelənˌkälē 
noun
 a feeling of pensive sadness, typically with no obvious cause.
adjective
having a feeling of melancholy; sad and pensive
Having a name for this feeling has felt freeing.  I had been wondering if I were depressed, if I just never could be happy, if I needed medication, if I just was a sad person that sometimes pretended to be happy.  I have come to the conclusion that none of these statements are true of me.
What I have determined is, I am a happy person, with a river of melancholy that runs through my middle.
Being adopted, I never really felt settled anywhere.  I feel this sense of wanderlust and restlessness that something good will end at any second, so be prepared.  I have felt this way when I was a child. I feel this way as an adult.
As I have been working deeper on fully accepting myself, I have been reminded again and again about what I learned at the Adoption Retreat I attended in Berkeley, CA this past February.
I learned I don’t have to STAY in my default network.  Default network is what I have always done to make myself live small.  For example, not speaking up when I have a different opinion because I don’t feel smart enough to share, or not being part of a group dance party because I can’t dance, don’t want to be seen moving.   Ya know…. shame filled behaviors that really do not serve me as a whole person.
It takes a lot of courage for me to step out of my default network and cross over to direct experience.   For me, direct experience is simply allowing myself to feel all my feelings, to be in my 5 senses, and to step out of the shadows to be seen.  Not easy for an adoptee who has been hiding and worrying about being seen, judged, ignored, invisible, pleasing others, and generally not fitting in for 52 years.
And, I have to find new direct experiences to live big.  No more small.  Only big.
I have become more and more fascinated with the concept of visualizing a bridge when I feel like I am falling back into my default network.
bridge
What I do when I find myself starting to shrink or feel less than, is I imagine a bridge, like the one above.  I like this picture because there are a lot of trees around, and I really love trees.
I literally visualize so I can SEE myself on the default side of the bridge.   Then, I allow my emotions to be felt, I think about what I would rather do instead of stay in the place that I feel small, then…. I visualize myself stepping out and walking forward. Walking to the direct experience side so that I can not feel so invisible.  It is SO hard and SO worth the effort.  Change is hard and I fight myself, but I have big goals and dreams.  I can do hard things.
Today, I thought about the river that runs under the bridge.  I realized, it is that feeling of the River of Melancholy.  That constant ebb and flow.  I sometimes have felt like I have fallen off the bridge and splashed down into the river.

Today, I decided that I can just rest and float on my back to the water, in the River of Melancholy, until I reach the shore. I then can scamper up to the bridge and start over at crossing to direct practice.  The River of Melancholy supports me, holds me, allows me to recognize my adoption feelings without feeling overwhelmed.

I get to float instead of drown. Floating is supportive.   Melancholy supports me to rest until I am able to get back to the effort of living Big.
This is an exercise we all can do.  Visualize the bridge.  See yourself walking to the other side.  Even if  you don’t make it, you tried.  Even if you slip into the river, you can float.  Even if you are afraid, there are many who have crossed the bridge before you, and who will walk with you, and who are behind you.
We can do this together.

9 thoughts on “River of Melancholy: Crossing the Bridge of Adoptee Emotions

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  1. I really like the bridge visualization you share here Janet. I think it is helpful.
    Sometimes when I have those melancholy moments–hours–days–I think it feels like homesickness to me, like how I used to feel when I slept over at a friends and even though I was having fun hanging out with my friends and had made the choice to be there, I would suddenly be awash with a longing to be home.
    I believe we lived in heaven before our spirits came here and even though I can’t remember it, I think in my core, I recognize the loss of that perfect and peaceful place my spirit resided prior to this earth life and I and long for it.
    A little melancholy can be restful and restorative. I like your floating down the river analogy. I think it gives us time to think and refocus at times. I don’t want to live in the river, but a little floating can be a good thing.
    Thanks for sharing this post.

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  2. Melancholia has been a lifelong friend and enemy. I have been this way all of my life, with some periods of my life being much worse than others. I am also adopted, and in partial reunion with some of my birth family. Three sisters have rejected any contact. I am 58. Some days I long for a place where I will finally be at peace and know I belong, without having to prove my worth as a human being. Maybe the next life will be more forgiving.

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  3. I just want you to know that I identify totally with your River. You may find it hard to believe, but as a young teenager, I was forced to abandon who I was….and try for the rest of my life…to become “someone” who was acceptable to society. I could never speak of my abandoned self, she was too humiliating to even think about….she was so young and just snuffed out before she could develop her natural personality. I just found her a few months ago, all shriveled up and full of amnesia, when a 48 year old man contacted me and said, “I am your son”. A tsunami of realizations has inundated me as I come to terms with the superficial life I have lived to cover up my un-wed pregnancy label. By not acknowledging the travesty of basically the abduction of my child during what I have now found out was big business in the Baby Scoop Era, I focused on rehabilitating my shamed self to fit the “proper expectations” of the society that had thrown me away. In the light of today I am finally beginning to understand, but still cannot forgive myself for, what was in reality, the heartbreaking loss of MY BABY.

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  4. This post just gave me chills. My adoptive mother used to constantly say to me “Why do you always have to look so melancholy? Why can’t you just be happy like the other kids?” I was a kid. For years I didn’t even know what melancholy meant. I didn’t even realize I looked “melancholy”. I didn’t know I didn’t look happy like the other kids. In time I became self conscious about the way I looked to other people all the time. I never felt like I was trying hard enough. I’m 64.

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  5. This was a wonderful post. I love that you found the label for the feeling that comes over all us adoptees. That unsettled feeling when everything seems right in our world but inside things feel off. The denial of letting the melancholy take over is a struggle around important dates like birthdays and mother’s day. No matter how old we are we struggle with ‘not enough’ and stilling those inner voices is a challenge.

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  6. Really wonderful post Janet. I’m a 68 year old adoptee who has been in reunion with both sides of my birth family for 16 years now, brothers, sisters, mother and fathers family. Although I’ve had many questions answered and I feel much more “whole” now, I will always be a melancholic woman to my core. I might also add that I felt something missing for my entire life, as s small child and still do as a grandmother of 7 beautiful kids. I’m still haunted by that unfillled void which led me to my friend Meloncholy, and friend she was and still is. The loss of mother is never truly filled, even when you finally meet her as I was so blessed at age 52.
    God bless the tender children. Our wounds are deep and painful. The scars many, but our lives rich with compassion for all.

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