Photo Credit to Rose-Lynn Fisher via IFL Science on Facebook.
I never used to be able to cry. It’s a major indicator of severe depression: wanting to cry but finding yourself unable to. I would keep things bottled until shaken so much that the bubbles came bursting out. I would save my tears for special occasions, occasions on which I completely cracked. Then everyone was frightened by my tears.
There’s a misconception that to be depressed is to feel sad all the time. Not the case; a lot of the time, depression is not a feeling but the absence of feelings that have a name. It’s an oxymoron: the pain of numbness. The slow drum of nothing-days, the emptiness that leaves you full of tears you cannot let go. I was always there, at the edge of tears but never tipping over.
I cry at everything these days. Again, an indicator of depression, except that this time I am not depressed. I am this side of healthy, yet sometimes I feel that I cry all the time. I spent Monday night sobbing at The Hunger Games films, all of them. When I have arguments I tend to tip over into tears. When I see acts of kindness- or the opposite, acts of cruelty- I feel myself welling up. I have always been a sensitive person: probably too sensitive. The difference now is that I have the release of tears. It may look and feel ridiculous, but it’s a healthier outlet than so many others I’ve had.
I read somewhere (and I believe a lot of things I read) that the chemical make-up of a tear cried out of emotion is different to the chemical make-up of tears fallen for other reasons (yawning, or getting shampoo in your eye). This is why the tears you cry when sad can offer relief but, even if you were very sad, you wouldn’t find the same sensation after rubbing soap out of your eye. I don’t know for sure if this is true but it would make sense, so let’s pretend it’s fact.
We often grow up with such a negative view on tears. Crying’s for babies, we’re told. Grow up. Be brave. Don’t cry. We are made to be ashamed of tears, to hide them. It’s why children will often say, biting their lips through a flood of tears, “I’m not crying!” We are not told that to cry can be brave and strong, that adults probably cry even more than children (just more quietly), that babies may cry out of immediate need but as people grow there are just as many reasons to weep. Part of this, I believe, stems from the fact that to watch another person cry can be heartbreaking and, in terms of emotional encouragement we will do anything to stop it (whether through empathy or through shaming). It makes sense to me put like that but I hope that when I have children my response will be not “don’t cry” but “why are you crying?” That’s the most important thing about tears: to know why they’re falling and take stock.
Not everyone cries, and not everyone who doesn’t cry is depressed. Some people respond to things differently, some people cry on the inside, maybe some never cry at all. It’s not a failing not to express your emotions with tears, just as to cry doesn’t show weakness. Sometimes I envy people who cry much less than I do. But we’re all built the way we’re built, and as they say, there’s no point crying over spilt milk. Just be aware of your own reactions and their possible triggers, and you might be ok.