I was very emotional as a child. Crying came easy, as did sulking, wallowing and sighing heavily. I didn’t like that I cried. Although my parents welcomed my tears with open arms, I wished I could be a little less sensitive…and a little more in control. Crying was a weakness in my tear-stained eyes.
Carrying around so many emotions, and knowing the floodgates might open at an inopportune time was burdensome. Why couldn’t I watch the freaking Clydesdale commercial without tearing up? Why did the fictional Air Force pilot in my book have to suffer so much that I was wiping my eyes on the elliptical (yeah, I’m that girl who reads a book on an elliptical machine at the gym)?Why did I well up whenever my husband used an exasperated tone? But worst of all, why did I want to cry from the pain of my autoimmune life, the pain that struck me nearly every day?
Somewhere along the way the tears slowed and then stopped. I can’t pinpoint the exact day, but I recall reaching a point where I no longer cried. A couple of years ago I went to a movie with two girlfriends. It was an emotional, faith-driven movie that convicted a lot of people. On a scale of one to five tissues, it got the full five snotty tissues. Sandwiched between my friends, I was the dry-eyed tissue-bearer. They shook their heads in disbelief. It’s not that it wasn’t a touching movie – I knew in my mind it was something the former me would have cried about. But I couldn’t really feel it. In fact, I couldn’t feel much of anything.
As I explained recently to another friend, I was in a phase where I felt emotionally dead most of the time. My health was suffering and I was just trying to survive. I didn’t think I was depressed. I could feel anger and happiness. I just didn’t feel sad. If happiness was the key to life and depression exacerbated illness, then it stood to reason that by not feeling sad, I would become healthier.
Except it’s not that easy. Shutting off my feelings meant that I didn’t deal with them appropriately. Buried somewhere underneath the physical pain was a lot of emotional pain that only caused more pain and stress each time the feelings would try to resurface. I felt very tense inside, like a bottle of pop shaken so hard it was ready to explode, but I didn’t dare remove the lid.
Eventually, I began feeling pain and suffering for others as a way to cope. With this new perspective, I even cried. Not for me, but for them. I was proud of myself, like it was a sign of emotional and even spiritual maturity. I kept a list on my phone of these people, the ones who needed my thoughts, prayers, good vibes or what have you. But as I took on their burdens, I only felt myself getting more stressed. What was to become of the troubled child who lost his main care-taker, his nana, to cancer? What about the man who had such horrible neurological symptoms that he feared for his life? Or the complete stranger who asked me to pray for the infection she was battling while trying to care for a young child? I could hardly manage my own life, and I was called the strong one.
I’m not suggesting we stop caring for others and wishing them healing. However, we cannot assume the pain of others to minimize our own pain, and that’s exactly what I was doing. I never felt
that my pain was worthy. I never allowed myself to have my moments.
In talking with my friend, I realized just how many feelings I had forced away. And that’s not okay. Ignoring those feelings only allows them to plant themselves deeper within. The roots take hold and grow like viney weeds, twisting around one’s insides and stifling new life.
As I strive for physical healing, I am allowing myself to heal emotionally, too. It’s a detox of mind and body. Now, when I have those moments where the tears well up, I stop what I am doing and encourage the tears. It doesn’t come naturally for me. What a strange sensation, knowing as I am in the midst of crying that I can stop the tears at any moment. Losing control is an uncomfortable prospect, but my goal is to get to the point where I no longer need the encouragement to cry, where I can get so lost in the act that I don’t think about controlling my emotions but rather release them with unashamed abandon.
Last night, my husband and children stared at me, dumbfounded, as I began crying while trying to navigate the kitchen on a very sore foot. They tried to halt my tears in an attempt to “fix” me. But I didn’t need fixing. I needed healing. So I simply walked away and said, “Give me a few minutes to myself.” Although the timing felt inopportune, life was giving me a chance to have my moment, and I wanted to seize it. I walked into the bathroom, bent over at the waist and cried so hard my chest heaved. I looked in the mirror at the blotchy, scrunched up face of a girl in pain, and I cried some more. I cried ugly, loud tears, marveling at the paradoxical beauty I saw in my tortured face.
When it was all said and done, I felt better. The physical pain lingered, but I felt connected and refreshed. I felt a little more like me.