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Monday, January 9, 2017

No Fears for Tears

Yesterday I marked a special day.   One week into 2017 and I have not cried.  Not one tear has been shed.  Not one.

This is indeed a noteworthy event as, quite frankly, it's been a bit of an El Nina period with my lachrymal ducts over the past two years.  There  have been bucket loads of tears - tears that have come unexpectedly, in response to a song or a picture or even the shape of a cloud.  It's ridiculous!


The thing though is that crying, sobbing and boo-hoo-hooing is actually a natural and important part of dealing with difficult times in life and quite frankly, no one should be ashamed of allowing these emotions to assert themselves.


It is okay to feel sad.


This is something I learned early in this story of separation and marital abandonment, when consumed by that darkness I have already described - the darkness teeming with feral bats, black dogs, that sort of thing - I was motivated to consult a psychologist.


The Cancer Council of Australia generously subsidises five free counselling sessions.   And with successive doctor's referrals you can continue to access their fantastic service.


Very early in our dialogue, my consultant Kate intuited that I was of that personality type that laughs off adversity.   I have a tendency to laugh while telling a sad story.  It's by turns weird and extremely irritating I am sure.


But Kate told me that I needed to be let that feeling of sadness in - and sit with it.  Of course, I took her words to heart.  Perhaps too much to heart as I have, in the past 24 months,  'sat with' my sadness so intensely I think I have become something of a 'cry baby'.


These days, in short, I can cry at the drop of a hat (which could be very sad indeed, especially if it blew away in the wind - and it was a very nice. expensive one).


This is unusual behaviour for me.  


Until recent months, I was simply not a crier.  I owe this in part to my upbringing.  Like my sisters, I was despatched to boarding school at a very young age.  When you are brought up by surly Irish Catholic nuns, and your mum and dad are miles away, I can tell you that a five year old learns very quickly that it is useless to cry.  No one comes running out to tend to you.  Mostly nobody even notices.


And so, for more than four decades, I was one of those people who really did keep a stiff upper lip.  Subsequently, I developed a radar for 'whingers'.   You know, those people dumping their negative energy on you.  Who made it all about 'them'?


I would secretly roll my eyes... 


Until the bats and the black dogs, and Kate, taught me that in fact, this business of not crying is, in fact, counter-productive and extremely unhealthy.


These so-called 'whingers' have worked it out because criers, it seems, fare a lot better than those who are stoic.  


It is healthy to vent and release - judiciously of course.   (Right now ... or at a job interview, or a 50th birthday, or the moment you are to switch off someone's life support ... is not necessarily the best time to start blubbering like a five-year- old about our own selfish woes).

Academics such as Vinderhoets (2013) (sorry, it's my phD talking...)  have said that 'crying occurs predominantly in situations characterised by separation, loss and helplessness, and being overwhelmed by strong emotion, be it positive or negative'.*


In psychology, attachment theorists argue that crying is an appeal for presence and attention from a caregiver.


Many academics have demonstrated that crying promotes empathy and prosocial behaviour, including the stimulation of caregiving and protective responses from others, facilitates social bonding, and reduces interpersonal aggression.


Quite recent research has shown that visible tears significantly impact the evaluation of a human face, the identified need of support and the self-reported willingness to provide assistance and comfort to others.


(However, acoustical crying - you know, the loud, annoying type, from babies, or people who didn't win the Powerball last week, for instance - may elect anger, irritation, frustration and even aggression.  This is why one must be choosy about when and where one vents one's sorrow.)


Meanwile, the latest research increasingly highlights the value of crying in what's called 'self soothing behaviour'.    Some researchers have even suggested a dose–response relationship between crying and relief, meaning that more intensive crying would result in greater relief.  Who knew?

From the above, you can pretty much glean clearly that crying is really important.  It plays a central role in the whole process of coping and healing and maybe even moving on.

None of us should, therefore, ever be ashamed or afraid of crying (even it it ruins our make-up) and demonstrating the fact that, well, we are a just a little bit sad, and could do with a Kleenex.


Unfortunately though, in these days of relentless positivism, crying uncensored can be quite difficult to do. 

Just look at social media.  Nobody, it seems, is having a bad day.  Everyone is having one hell of a ride.  Their children, their hairdos - even their pets -  are bespoke and perfect.  Their lovers adore them.  There homes are immaculate.  And OMG, look don't even mention the way they present their food!  Life is instagrammed to perfection with just the right filter.  Mundanity is photoshopped, reality is manipulated and a culture of envy is propagated, fuelled by narcissism and vanity.

Meanwhile, armchair experts who appear to have worked out the mysteries of the universe, avidly share their formulae for success, power, goal-setting, self actualisation and The Secret.  

In this empowered and glittering world, there is no room for the blighted and needy.

Instead, we are extolled to rise, shine and conquer.  Yes. You. Can!

The bright side is so close!  It is just within our reach.  All you have to do is want it.  Reach out, sisters and brothers!  Believe!  

But wait.  Wait!!! What is this heresy I hear.  You cannot?  Tell me, sisters and brothers.  This cannot be true. You cannot?  Because you are... what is this word?  Can you spell it for me?  S-A-D?

Let's be truthful.   This incessant chirpiness appears to be perceived as a prerequisite for friendship, support and acceptance.   Everyone loves happy people, yes?  Everyone loves selfies of your glorious smile!  

We are not really allowed to be sad because if you are sad, well you must be depressed, and if you are depressed well, you must be suicidal!   Eeeeeeek!  

Being sad is bad. 


However, this is really an unhelpful attitude and could be one reason that suicide is such a plague.


What is more helpful if people who are fortunate enough not to be sad, understood that sad people don't need geeing up.  

They need comfort, understanding and support, all of which can be provided at only the cost of a little of your time.  

As I have discovered, when someone is sad - actually sad, the correct response is not to sweet talk them with seductive words about how life is really great.  No.  Life for a person who is sad is not 'great'. If it were 'great' they would not be sad.  They would be happy.  


The thing is we feel what we feel.  And we are entitled to feel what we feel about our own lives and our own circumstances. 

No one should be extolling us to 'move on' ... as if our emotions were lined up in a queue and if we would only take one step forward, we would move from darkness to sunlight... just like that.  Come on!  You can do it!  Yes. You. Can!

What complete crap!  If you feel sad, you feel sad. 

My advice is is to let it all out.  There, there.  If you feel like crying, you do it.  I don't care where you are.   In the chapel, at your party (can cry if you want to). 

After all, as the Roman poet Ovid once said: “It is some relief to weep; grief is satisfied and carried off by tears.” 


If today is anything to go by, this is indeed true.

Roll on Day 10 of 2017.  

Here's to another tear-less day emboldened by the fact that, actually, if I were to shed a few today, hey!  It will be okay.

It really will.

Source:   Gracanin et al  'Is Crying a Self-Soothing Behaviour' from 'Frontiers in Psychology (2014, 5:502).










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