I used to cry, all the time.
When I saw elderly people walking along the street together, when I saw babies in buggies, when I saw people asleep in shop doorways. When someone offered to do something thoughtful for me, when someone cancelled plans. At an emotionally ‘full’ moment in a movie, at any song with heavy strings or a piano riff. Children in need was a very difficult evening for me… The entirety of my teenage years were very difficult for me, swimming in hormones which seemed to bubble over into tears at any given moment, and I would be a blubbering wreck.
When I was 16 my dad was killed very suddenly in a car accident. It’s safe to say this didn’t help the crying situation very much. I spent the initial following 18 months, maybe stretching to as much as three years, trying to avoid engaging with this emotionally at all. When I cried it was similar to what I guess a water dam breaking would look like. When I started I couldn’t stop and so for a while I did what I could to just not start.
When I moved away from my family to university in another city, my emotions started playing catch up with me. I started crying all the time again, but this time there seemed to be little to no triggers at all. It was a deeper kind of crying than before. I hated people knowing that I had been upset, and so for a year or so, I kept myself to myself quite a lot. I associated crying with weakness, in an environment where high performance is expected of you academically, coupled with pressures to be social all the time, I thought about my emotions as something which got in the way of the life I wanted to lead. I wanted to feel like the ‘everyone else’ I perceived to be ‘normal’ and ‘successful’. I didn’t see their emotions, I didn’t see them get upset, so these feelings I’m having must be wrong.
Social media can be quite lonely when you’re feeling low, it can make you feel abnormal to be sad, you don’t see many people posting crying selfies** and mini-breakdowns can tend not to make the newsfeed.
I eventually accessed some very highly over-subscribed university counselling sessions, which were a testament to the really dedicated and caring staff working there, they were cutting funding to these services at the time, a pattern which has sadly seemed to spread throughout wider mental health services ever since. I remember the feelings of relief I would experience after having left these sessions every week, I felt like I’d dropped a stone I’d been carrying around on my shoulders, like I had made what was going on in my head a little bit lighter. I noticed that as I followed through the process of these counselling sessions week by week, that I began to cry less outside of them too. I could manage my outbursts which would otherwise ruin my day.
Although I didn’t know it consciously, I was beginning to understand the value of making time for my tears. I began getting treatment for depression. I was prescribed medication (that’s a whole other blog post) and referred to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT, through the NHS, another completely over-subscribed service, the waiting time was 12-16 weeks. Through a course of treatment with CBT counsellors, I started to look at the link between my depressed thoughts and how I dealt with them. I was shown that the unhelpful behaviours I was engaging in, I was drinking lots and using some illegal substances, going out all the time and never sitting still ever, seemed to be with the purpose of avoiding my emotions. Because I was avoiding these emotions I felt more sad because I was repressing them, so I’d need more escapism to stop feeling sad, and this process kind of went round in sickly circles.
What followed this wake-up, was a slow journey into the realisation that we can not hold back our emotions, that whatever we try to squish into a box of ‘not you now, I’ll deal with you later’, or ‘I don’t want to be a person that cries’, or ‘if I just go out then I won’t have to think about this now’, will find some way of spilling out sooner or later. If we want to make the inevitable easier to handle, we could and should find ways of giving our feelings space, to be. Kind of like regularly emptying out a tank a little bit, to avoid it eventually breaking under the pressure of the water.
Emotional maintenance is as important, if not more, as any other kind of upkeep, yet for some reason we seem to downplay its importance.
It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with the need to make space for sadness, to make time for tears. To stop being ashamed or embarrassed by my feelings. These days I’m proud to acknowledge that my behaviour patterns have changed, I know what makes me feel good in the long term and what doesn’t. But there are still avoidance tactics there. My ‘If I just go out then I won’t have to think about it’ has turned into ‘I’m far too busy to cry’ and ‘I haven’t got time this week to get sad…’ And I feel that what we know as ‘workaholic’-ism can be if not careful another way of filling your time with work and forgetting about yourself.
In my break at work the other day, I was flicking through ‘Zen and Musings’, a poetry colouring book for peace, positivity and empowerment by the really talented HUMEAIMART and I reflected on a line I found in a poem by beautiful local poet, Jordanne Cameron. It read ‘When did you last write yourself down in your schedule?’ Me being on my break at work whilst reading this, then ending my break, putting the book down and going back to work, is pretty ironic. But I’ve kept this line with me. Cos my answer to the question doesn’t have a date…
I lost my grandpa last week, having lost my nan earlier this year. Me and my fam are really efficient at organising funerals. And as timing would have it, work-wise, last week was the busiest week of my life. And so, around about 10 days later, today was the first day I cried. I stopped. And cried. I’d forgotten again amongst all the busy busy, to make time for myself, and so today, along with wise words from my friends and family who remind me time and time again to chill, I consciously made space. It’s something which I think we’ll always have to remind ourselves to do, but we should.
As I function every week, I schedule my appointments into my weekly diary, I think about my weekly priorities, I write ‘to do’ lists, I like being busy. I like to be productive.
But in order to be that, or do that, we all, need to dedicate ourselves some of that schedule. Stop time. You time. Make time for your tears. Whatever that is for you.
This doesn’t just apply to grief, to depression, to anxiety. This especially doesn’t just apply to those who identify as female, I see the pressure as a WHOLE lot larger in terms of masculinity. This notion of making space for emotion, applies to anything large or small you feel is getting in between you and you feeling like yourself. If you feel you could do with it, access counselling, which is in its very purpose time for tears, time, for emotions. Refer yourself to Birmingham Healthy Minds. Access ‘self-help’ books at Library of Birmingham, there’s a whole shelf of ‘em and there’s millions out there, because so many people feel like this from time to time. Or listen to a sad album and have a blub. Watch that tear-jerker, as cliché as it feels. Walk in the rain. Ask your ma/pa/sister/uncle for a shoulder. Call up a friend and say “Actually, I’ve been saying ‘I’m ok’ this week, but I’m actually not ok.” That’s ok. Me, I write. Because I can’t quite figure out the words verbally, so I write them down and fill space on the page. But make that time, and fill it with you. Make time for it because we cry for a reason, and you’re worth the catharsis. Tell your mate they’re worth it as well. But make that time because in the long run, you will be thankful for making time for your tears.
**If crying selfies happen to be something you want to try out for size, these ladies are a pretty good start http://cryclub.tumblr.com.