I’ve rarely cried in my adult life. Sure, I might shed a tear or two at the end of a movie and once I broke down, most unfortunately, in a staff meeting. But although I might feel like crying, I rarely cry for more than a minute. Crying usually triggers a switch that simply turns me off. I often wondered about this. For example, my father’s death left me listless and teary, but I wouldn’t really cry. I felt all kinds of difficult emotions – panic, depression, loneliness, sadness, abandonment, anger… but tears rarely accompanied these. This made me… sad. Sometimes it’s nice to have a good, cathartic cry.
Last Friday, in the middle of finals, I met with a professor regarding some class material I didn’t understand and some issues I was having with the class TA. For some reason, I could barely hold it together. After a strained and unproductive meeting, I walked out and started bawling. I called P for a ride and waited, sobbing, tears freezing on my face. I cried all the way home and curled up in bed and sobbed for nearly eight hours before I finally passed out, exhausted.
P was bewildered. He’s never seen me like that, and indeed, I haven’t experienced that for an awfully long time. “Are you stressed about finals?”, “Your professor is a jerk, don’t take him so seriously”, “What’s wrong?”, “Do you want to talk?”. He kept a steady stream of questions going, trying to figure out what was happening. I barely understood myself, but I knew I couldn’t articulate anything and just kept my face in my soggy pillow as the deep waves of emotion rolled over me, leaving me breathless.
I had my second counseling meeting last Thursday. She has asked me to compile a list ways that my past still influenced my present. As I self-consciously read her the list she listened patiently. I wondered what we were going to do with the mess. Indeed, looking at such a list, each item pulled out from the recesses of my mind and put on a table with all the rest, I wondered if I even had a chance at overcoming it and living a life that was not deeply tainted.
As I finished she said, “You know, you preface nearly every statement with something like, ‘this is silly, childish, ridiculous, stupid…’ You discount yourself and don’t give yourself a fair hearing. It’s as if, in an effort to protect yourself, you hurt yourself before the other person has a chance to. And that’s just what you say out loud. If I had to guess, I’d bet what you say to yourself is even more critical.”
Whoa. True, true, true. I couldn’t speak. She continued, “I have a challenge for you. In the coming weeks as you catch yourself doing this, instead of ‘this is so stupid,’ just tell yourself, ‘this just is what it is.'”
So, less than 24 hours later, as I was walking into that professor’s office, feeling overwhelmed by the material and frustrated by the TA, I started to cry. Usually a harsh river of critical commentary shut down my emotions and kept me from breaking down. It was like pushing a big, red button that simply cut off any feelings. It was highly effective. But all the sudden I had no such protection. I started to cry and the dam broke. As I bawled into my soggy sheets that night I would almost get a handle on myself before I would remember, “it is what it is” and I would, again, be swept out to a rolling sea.
Fortunately, in the morning I felt substantially better and was able to pull myself together enough to get through finals. But I currently feel exposed, vulnerable. I feel like a little kid, defenseless and without proper tools to control my emotions. But I also feel lighter and more open. I find myself more willing to try things previously considered too risky (like talking to new people – gasp!) because I’m no longer assuming I’m going to fail before I start.
It’s a long road, but I’m glad I’m walking it. I’ve waited a long time for this. I finally feel like I have the support and encouragement I need to kick this sh*t to the curb. Not the prettiest Christmas present, but surely one of the best.