Integrating Sadness and Joy

Inside Out, the Pixar movie, made quite an impression. I would almost call watching it an experience similar to watching Synecdoche, New York or perhaps more appropriately Charlie Kaufman’s other movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Two metaphors seemed at work in the story. Sadness and Joy were separated from the control center of the brain of a young girl recently having moved to a new city. Sadness kept touching core memories and making the girl sad while not able to access joy, Joy being on a journey through the girl’s mind back to the control center.

I struggled watching because Joy, in the form of an upbeat Amy Poehler, being inaccessible didn’t work for me as a metaphor. Joy can be elusive but joy inaccessible felt like a metaphor for depression not specific to the circumstances of a kid moving and feeling homesick but general illness needing medical treatment. I know, it’s a Pixar movie. The opening ten minutes of Up aside, Pixar wasn’t going to crush me. Joy would make it back. Still, watching a young girl go through an hour of the movie with joy inaccessible didn’t feel good and it didn’t not feel good in a way that felt good, either.

The girl’s realization that joy and sadness, rather than opposites on a spectrum, are somehow linked didn’t feel good in a way that did feel good. The epiphany she felt made me full on cry, which rarely happens to me watching movies. That metaphor spoke to me. This is something loss has taught me. Coupled with the intense pain of missing someone are the treasured memories that are the reason you miss them. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if brain physiology uncovered evidence that feelings of sadness and joy both show as the same area of the brain being stimulated.

There was some mystery regarding why sitting down with a pizza and a Pixar movie after a day of work turned into an event. Over the phone, my sister and I were unable to get to the bottom of it. Then I dreamed two nights later that I was visiting my sister in Seattle and she got panicky upset about our mother, who as I’ve shared here before, with permission, has liver cancer. I told her in the dream, panicky myself about wanting my sister to feel better, “It’s like that movie, Inside Out, we have to accept sadness as a part of joy.”

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One thought on “Integrating Sadness and Joy

  1. Pingback: Love You Mom! | Greg Metcalf

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