By Olivia Comstock
This is a story about crying and feeling. When I was a little, little girl, I would cry so often and so hard that I was gasping for air, and then I would pass out. Later, as a child, and especially as an adolescent, I was ashamed of crying. I saw it as a manifestation of my own weaknesses, exposed for the whole watching world to witness. I tried to convince myself that I should not feel or care about anything because then I would never be hurt enough to cry. I held my tears in for months at a time, only for them burst out violently when least expected, when they had been held in for too long. I had developed an elaborate metaphor to justify this, involving stuffing a suitcase so full of emotions that I had to sit on it just to keep it closed. When I did cry, the suitcase exploded, and all the things I had been holding in for the past six months would have to be unpacked, in the same way that one unpacks a suitcase when they are at their destination. Typically, this occurred while laughing because, for me, laughing and crying are fundamentally connected. Laughing is a way of crying that is more socially acceptable. Both are a feeling of bodily release of emotions. I would laugh so hard that I could not breath, then the laughing would come too close to the feeling of crying, and I would start sobbing. When this happened, it was very confusing for my companions and me because my laughing and crying noise sound scarily similar. Honestly, this still happens sometimes, and my laughing and crying still sound remarkable similar. However, this year, I understand the flaws in all of this logic. I know that crying is good. I know that expressing emotion is healthy. I know that feeling and caring is better than the alternative. I know that being vulnerable is valuable. I revel in my emotion.
I am happier now than at any other point in my life, but I feel as though I cry every day. In reality, it is not every day, but definitely every few days. For me, crying has occurred in myriad places – in the hallway of the dorms, in my room with the door closed by myself, with my partner while I am being held, in the living room of my apartment having an argument with all of my roommates, in the library having an argument, in the commons having an argument, at One World on the phone having an argument. While conclusion here is that I have many arguments, another is that I have cried in so many public places that I do not even care anymore if people see me cry. My theory is that because I am letting myself fully feel the entirety of each emotion, I am more in tune with my body and myself, and therefore I subconsciously allow myself to cry more often. I have de-stigmatized crying for myself. I now know that crying is a healthy and good thing to do. No matter how many times I cry, I always feel better afterwards.
The reasons that people cry are complicated, and science has not done much to decipher that, but they do know tears contain toxins, and emotional tears, versus tears caused by onions or the wind, contain more proteins. Crying releases toxins from our body physically, but crying is also a mental release. It draws attention to the emotions that we are feeling and makes us focus on them, but after a nice cry most people feel do feel better mentally. However, people tend to feel better if they do not try to suppress their cry at all and if they cry when with a close friend, rather than in a public space where they feel vulnerable and exposed.
Crying is a feminist act because as a woman, I should be allowed to take up space. I should be allowed to be emotional. I should be allowed to cry. I should not have to shut myself up in my room or the bathroom and cry alone, I should be able to cry in front of people without it being culturally wrong. My feelings are valid. Crying does not make them less valid or less rational, even though crying is associated with emotionality, feeling, and weakness. Strength is holding in tears even when one feels the urge to cry, it is stuffing it all down inside and not feeling anything. However, is this really strength? Or is this simply shutting oneself off? The binary of weakness and strength is inherently gendered because women are seen as weak physically and emotionally, while men are seen as strong physically and emotionally. Because of this, crying is seen as negative, needing to be repressed, and something that should not be done around other people. Men are told from the time they are little boys not to cry. This encourages men later in life to hide their emotions, and instead to be cold beings of supposed rationality, rather than a full feeling individual. This is bad for those individual men, and for the people they interact with. People are meant to cry. People are meant to feel. No matter who you are, this is good for you mentally and is helpful for making meaningful connections with others.
I want to encourage everyone, female, in-between, and male to cry more as an act of self-care. When you feel that pressure rising in your throat, do not swallow to try to make it go away. When you feel your eyes swelling with wetness, do not blink away the tears. You must lean into the cry. Do not worry where you are or who you are with. In order to normalize crying, more people need to cry in spaces that are more public. This will help teach others how to support people who are crying and who are hurting because right now, we go around as if we are all separate, unfeeling individuals with no recognition that everyone around us has pain too and that we are fundamentally connected. Cry more and let other people cry with you.