If there was a time when it felt safe and reasonable to cry when hurt, I do not remember it. The further back I go, the patchier memory becomes, but I’ve no sense of crying ever being ok. I learned early to mute how I was feeling, to hide the tears of pain and frustration at school when I was teased, hit, humiliated. Sometimes I lost it, but I managed more stoicism than not.
Crying has too often just made things worse, and over the years I’ve added new reasons why I am not to do it. I might hurt or embarrass someone else by revealing that I’m in pain. It might feel like emotional blackmail. People might think I was faking it to get attention. Last year I broke down in panic when a group of kids charged at me and I was already in a lot of pain and couldn’t bear to be touched. Their first reaction to my tears was to tell me I was faking it. Better not to be seen than to be put through that, I have felt. Better not to make someone uncomfortable, not to implicitly demand care, attention, or something different by being so inconsiderate as to cry. Other people’s convenience has always seemed more important than whether I am in pain. Add to that the telling off for crying, the accusations of melodrama, and manipulation, and I don’t express if I can help it.
I’ve gone dry eyed through many a funeral. I can spot when the urge to weep is rising and I will lock it down, turning everything on the inside into stone if I can, so that nothing of what I’m feeling gets out. Sometimes the body pain, the fear, and panic attacks, the distress is too much and the tears get out, but the urge to hide it remains, and I’ll be silent, and I will keep my body still so that the motion of sobbing does not give me away. Failing that, I’ll remove myself and hide. If I’ve cried in front of you, then either I really, really trust you, or I was so broken at the time that I failed to maintain control.
It always feels like failure to cry, or to succumb to a panic attack. I feel ashamed of it. It’s a natural bodily reaction to pain and distress, but unless I am entirely alone and it goes unnoticed, I feel ashamed of my own tears.
In the last few days I have come to recognise how dehumanising this is. It’s a denial of my basic animal self, my natural self. To treat my own pain as unacceptable, to not allow myself the freedom of grief when I am hurt, is doing me a lot of harm. I’ve taken the decision to cry when I need to, regardless of the consequences. As a self employed person I have the luxury of not needing a brave face for work. In the short term, to have the space to handle my own distress, (and there’s been a lot to distress me this last month) I will mostly be stepping away from people. I need to feel safe about crying, and I need not to be worrying about how it’s going to impact on other people. That feels very selfish, but I’m doing it anyway. I’m going to see what happens if, for a little while, I let how I feel be more important than anything else for me.
There will be people who find me too difficult, and no doubt there will be people who again call it emotional blackmail and bullying on my part. They are allowed to feel that way. The right answer is for anyone who feels that way about me to spend no time with me. I’ve decided that no matter how much I love someone, if they have no space for me when I am in pain, they have no space for me.
I’m interested to see how the process of allowing my emotions – because I also intend to change how I handle panic and to totally shift my relationship with my own anger – impacts on my depression issues as a whole, and on the issue of body pain. I’ll share the results of the experimentation, because I think there are other people who will find they get similar outcomes, whatever those turn out to be.