“...you know that a good, long session of weeping can often make you feel better, even if your circumstances have not changed one bit.”
― Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning
I had a precious two hour block of free time in my day. Almost every second of my life for the past few weeks had been designated to major work projects, grading, CrossFit event planning or carpooling my kids through a very busy gymnastics season. I was determined to make the most of this rare downtime.
I ran upstairs, threw on comfy pajamas, set my alarm and climbed in bed under my giant down comforter. There was absolute silence. It was perfect. So, I cried.
This scenario might sound strange, or you might feel compelled to feel sorry for me. Don’t worry. I did it on purpose.
Crying is one of the ways I have learned to practice self-care in my life. Much like the release valve on the top of my Instant Pot (if you don’t have one, you need to get one), crying has become a way to let go and reset.
Anne Lamott says we should give ourselves a gentle pat on the shoulder— offer ourselves some grace. It has taken some time, but in my thirties I have finally learned that sometimes that grace involves shedding some tears. Tears of happiness, gratitude, grief, exhaustion, anger, or even laughter can flow at work, our CrossFit box, on walks with friends, in my car or at home tucked in my bed. I relinquish control and roll with the waves of emotion, rather than trying to control or fight them.
It turns out that science might just be on my side with this one. In her article, “Is Crying Good for You?,” Serusha Govender discusses the work of Stephen Sideroff, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at UCLA and director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Ethics.
Studies of the various kinds of tears have found that emotional tears contain higher levels of stress hormones than do basal (aka lubricating) or reflex tears (the ones that form when you get something in your eye). Emotional tears also contain more mood-regulating manganese than the other types. Stress "tightens muscles and heightens tension, so when you cry you release some of that," Sideroff says. "[Crying] activates the parasympathetic nervous system and restores the body to a state of balance."
When emotional tears well up from my heart and spill out my eyes, I move a little closer to the much-coveted “state of balance.” Order is restored.
Govender goes on to explain that some cities in Japan now offer "crying clubs" called rui-katsu. Since crying is understood to be a way to relieve stress, people gather together, watch tearjerker movies and sob in order to better their mental health. When was the last time you saw an invite for a cry fest in your Facebook feed? I bet they would serve comfort food and have a very casual dress code. Sign me up.
But I have not always been quite so pro-sobbing. Twenty-something Jaime was ashamed of crying. I would hide away and muffle my cries in a pillow. Crying meant I couldn’t handle things. It was a sign of weakness, or worse, it meant I was unhappy. I would never allow myself to cry on purpose. Looking back on those days, I would like to gift that young, uptight woman with permission to let go and cry it out. Netflix and weep?
Recently, when I polled my friends and contacts about their crying habits, I heard the same story from numerous women in my age bracket. They were afraid to cry when they were younger, but as established mothers and professionals, they are much more in touch with their emotions and confident in expressing all of them. In other words, they would accept my cry fest invite.
My creative friends, not surprisingly, all tend to be open criers. The few who admitted to not crying hung their head in shame. “I know I need to work through that in therapy.” If the general population considers crying to be a sign of weakness, for creative thinkers it is a rite of passage. A poetry reading could very well be a literary crying party.
Some of my more stoic friends were quick to rebuke the act of tear dropping. They could pinpoint and justify the exact moment they shed their last tear - “2013 when my dog died.” My best friend is one of these people. Crying is not her M.O. She would prefer to steer clear of situations where she must come in contact with people’s feelings. Netflix and no emotion.
But not me. I have all the feelings and shed all the tears— enough for me and the BFF. Unbecoming societal expectations has made room in my life for crying. I am allowing myself to acknowledge my emotions and embrace the beautiful mess that is my authentic self. I am not ashamed or compelled to hide my feelings and no longer fear being discounted or disregarded as an emotional trainwreck. I’m free to let go and cry myself a river until balance is restored.
Tears of Happiness:
Reading the historical novel that my daughter is writing or watching my son cross the finish line and reach his personal goal.
Tears of Gratitude:
When I receive an unexpected thank you gift or note from a friend—proving that I am seen and appreciated. (Pictured above)
Tears of Grief:
The realization that my mother will never be present in any of the new memories for the rest of my life.
Tears of Exhaustion:
Projects, jobs and family commitments pull me in so many directions leaving abundant opportunities for me to mess something up.
Tears of Anger:
Trump is elected POTUS and I lay on the floor of my closet crying for hours (true story).
Tears of Pure Emotion:
Basically every single movie I go see or poem I read.
Tears of Joy:
I frequently laugh until tears stream down my face— these are some of my favorite moments.