Crying as a Tool | The Column
I've been a big advocate for crying and can honestly say I don't judge anyone for having a good wail. Yet, I never allowed this acceptance or non-judgement to myself. A solitary tear could roll down my cheek and I'd instantly find my inner dialogue labelling myself as a coward, wimp or whatever the derogatory flavour of the week was.
This all somewhat changed earlier in the year.
A 'wobbly' summer
I had been tapering off the antidepressants I'd been on for last three years and was finding it quite tough. I felt extremely 'wobbly' in regards to my mental health and that scared me a lot. I'd been experiencing back-to-back panic attacks for the first time in quite a while and was feeling super defeated.
I was watching England's opener of the Euro 2020s at a pals and I just wanted to hide away. I sat there silently as I felt waves of panic attacks wash over me. All the while trying desperately to fight the physical urge to cry/scream/roll into the foetal position (panic attacks can make you do odd things).
Despite being a big ol' proponent of talking about your problems, I did the opposite on this occasion and sat their dead-silent for the 90 minutes. One of the most frustrating things of panic/high anxiety is it robs you of your rationality. It's like when a predator stalks it's prey, they have this glazed expression and nothing can shake them from their focus. Panic is similar but your focus is on the anxiety, and all those resources/techniques you've picked up are quickly forgotten.
I then went back to see my parents' and found my 'defences' crumbling. The panic was growing stronger and I was losing energy to fight it. I sat down with my mum and just started to cry, like really, really cry. I felt completely helpless and lost to this anxiety, it truly felt like I'd never be free from it.
Whilst I was crying the super helpful 'you're a p*ssy' voice was having a field day. There I was, 27 years old, and crying like a toddler in front of my mum. I couldn't help but think she didn't sign up for this, this sort of behaviour should have ended years ago. I can only imagine the pain you feel when you see your child so upset and that made the situation so much worse.
After calming down, I left feeling like I'd really messed up - I had probably caused my mum all sorts of pain, I was labelling myself as a loser and ultimately felt no better. But something weird happened when I got back to my flat...
For what seemed like no reason at all, the crippling anxiety of 'this is going to last forever' started to loosen its grip on me. I felt my shoulders and neck relax. The seat beneath me felt soft and comforting. I felt like I could breath again.
I rather frantically started to try and figure out how this had happened, what sorcery was this?? I put it down to having done some research into the side effects and intensity of tapering off an antidepressant. I found some reassurance in knowing that feeling this way was a very, very common by-product of reducing dosage and it didn't mean I was losing all the progress I had made. By the end of the evening I was in such a better headspace, a place I never imagined I would have reached just a couple hours ago.
It was during a therapy session the next day, I realised maybe it was actually more to do with the crying...
Thank goodness for therapists
My therapist gently suggested that the release of the crying could have played quite the role in my miraculous turnaround. On some level I agreed. I knew from past experience that after a good cry in therapy, I usually left feeling lighter. But the notion of 'needing to cry' to feel better didn't sit right. Crying is a negative expression, right? Turns out that's not the case for everyone but rather my own understanding of it.
I don't think I've ever cried with joy or cried during a feeling that wasn't sadness, anxiety or any other 'negative' emotion. So for me crying has always been linked to a bad experience. That meant that whenever I could feel my eyes well up, I fought against it like I was under attack. In hindsight, that approach was never going to be helpful but it just made sense to me. When I feel bad, I fight against it to feel 'better'.
I think I'm more aware of it now, that feeling of knowing I need to cry. I see it almost as a pressure valve, where I just can't take what I'm feeling anymore and I need to release some of it. Don't get me wrong, I still fight against it but I do allow myself a little more space to let go and actually feel my emotions.
I spent the last 12 months working out of a co-working office and have found myself on occasion heading to the quietest bathroom and just crying. I coupled it with doing some EFT tapping and a guided self compassion exercise but always left feeling a little lighter.
It still feels uncomfortable to admit this, I spent a lot of my school years suppressing tears and learning to shut down those emotions. But I think the key for helping others who also fight tooth and nail against crying is to simply view it as a tool. You wouldn't tell yourself 'stop being a coward' for needing to exercise because you were feeling stressed. Or, 'ugh, don't be so weak' because you need to take some holiday from a stressful job. Crying is just another string to your mental health management bow.
I think like many, the last 18 months saw a meteoric rise in my stress levels and we can't just expect all that to vanish because COVID is 'over'. So I'm now trying to see crying as a way to drain out some of the pent up stress.
If you're like me and fight against having a good cry, maybe try and find a safe space and just lean into the tears. It might not be for everyone but coming from a guy who always hated it, you may be surprised by how much it works.
What I learnt from this experience:
Your relationship to crying is what makes it 'good' or 'bad'. You'll likely have had past experience where crying was either allowed or shunned, but you can start to develop a new, healthier relationship to it today.
If you can let go of any negative connotations to a good cry, it can be an invaluable tool to help alleviate stress.
To end, here's a note I wrote to myself after the post-Euros panic attack.
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