A few days ago, I was running errands in my neighborhood. As I passed a grassy park, I saw a young woman sitting in the middle of a field sitting by herself, sobbing. I struggled with whether I should leave her alone or see if I could help. Sometimes it’s not clear what someone needs. I kept walking, and then I really felt like I should go see if she was ok. I backtracked, walked into the park, and approached her slowly and respectfully. I asked if she would like to talk, and she said she would.
I sat on the grass, and she started telling me her story. She has lived in Philadelphia for several years. She loves it here and feels that it is her home, where she has built her community. And she is moving across the country to attend art school in a couple weeks. She talked about how sad she feels at leaving and the pain of saying good-bye. And, as she talked, she kept judging her feelings and saying she shouldn’t be feeling this way.
Now, I have moved several times in my life, often for school or training, and I know how stressful and difficult it can be, even when the move is positive. And I know how fragile I feel when I move. I also know, as a psychologist, that moving and starting a new job or academic program are some of the most stressful things we can go through in life.
Stress can come from negative and positive life events. Distress is when stress comes from something painful or negative, such as losing a job or going through a divorce. But, what many people do not know is that stress comes from positive events too, such as getting married or having a baby, and it is called eustress.
It is incredibly normal for us to have a variety of feelings from an event, even a positive one. As I sat with her and we talked, I validated that of course she is sad and hurting at the thought of moving and leaving her home and community, even when she is moving for such a great reason and to a beautiful place. That is definitely how I have felt when I moved in the past. So, yes, she can be excited about what is coming, and also it makes so much sense that she also feels sad and in pain. As Walt Whitman has said, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” We all contain multitudes, and, regarding our emotions, it is very normal to have very different emotions floating around at the same time.
So please remember this the next time you have a variety of feelings in response to an event. Be kind to yourself, and talk to yourself as you would a friend, with support and compassion. Yes, you can be excited, and you can also hurt and be sad. You contain multitudes.