Thursday, February 14, 2013

Water works

There are a lot of things about myself that I don't like. Just like anyone, I have issues with feeling imperfect and knowing that with simple fixes I could be more likeable, more successful, have more friends, get better grades, reach higher goals, etc. But like most people, I don't have the will power, nor the conviction, to actually pursue the changes that would ensure I become a better person. Often it's just easier to accept where things are, to accept who you are, and not worry about trying to improve on things that can feel like they're out of your control.

One of those things for me is my overactive tear ducts.

I love to cry. That sounds weird, I'm sure. Like I'm some sort of masochist who enjoys being sad and putting myself through the misery of having salty water drip out of my eyes. But no, it's not masochistic. Maybe weird, but certainly not self-destructive.

I cry because it makes me feel better. Whether I'm sad, overjoyed, confused, lonely, temperamental, hysterical (as in laughing hysterically, not crazy), moved, loving, ticklish, angry, passionate or whatever else, tears make me feel better - like a sort of inexplicable catharsis that gets me through any emotion other than stable equilibrium.

For those who have seen Kristen Bell react to the sloth at her birthday party (for those of you who have not, go now), you may remember the actress mentioning that when she's not "between a three and a seven on the emotional scale," she's crying. Whether she's extremely sad or extremely excited/happy, crying is bound to commence.

It's strange to me to think that most people don't function this way. I've interacted with so many people who claim to have not cried in a long time - even years - and for me it's unfathomable. Not because I want everyone to be overcome with emotion and thus brimming with tears all the time, but because for me a lack of tears would be like a lack of feeling at all.

A lot of people have seen me cry this week. A few times I've been walking around campus and just become so overcome with my feelings that I need to let them out some way. Rather than mope or become angry or frustrated, I let tears stream out until the wells dried up and then I was fine. A little crying here and there on the way to and from class isn't exactly typical for me, but when it comes I don't try and hide it. I certainly received a few looks of confusion, but only because - and I've only realized this recently - I use crying in a much different way than most people.

So going back to the majority of people who aren't Kristen Bell and I, crying is related to one thing primarily: sadness. We start off as babies, using tears and yelps to get our parents' attention so they can meet our demands. As we grow up, a lot of us continue to use tears that way, preserving them until they can be used to manipulate, to coerce, to make others feel pity.

Well that's not how I use mine. Somewhere between those earliest years as a toddler looking for attention and my unusual inability to hold back my tears now, I developed a new use for crying. It was no longer about getting attention; it was more about a personal address. When I cry, I'm telling myself that I'm emotionally charged and I need an outlet. If other people are around, that is beside the point. The only reason I cry is because I need to at that moment.

But why does this happen? What induces these strong feelings that manifest themselves in something so visceral and so, for lack of a better word, visible? Well, to give a better example of the wide scope of triggers, I'll tell you about today.

This afternoon I had about 45 minutes to kill between two of my classes. They're in the same room back-to-back, so by choice I rarely leave the room between them, even if the earlier class ends extremely early. With my extra time today, I decided I would listen to some music. I hadn't been feeling particularly sad or distraught about anything, but in looking for a song I decided to turn on "Why" from the musical Tick...Tick...Boom! This song has nothing to do with my emotions or circumstances at the moment. In the song, Jon (the protagonist) talks about not wasting the time he has left in his life - he addresses this after his learns that his best friend Michael is HIV positive. I've never gone through that sort of experience, not yet felt the fear that I won't be able to live my life to the fullest (considering I'm only 20).

Despite my disconnect from the song, by halfway through I could feel myself becoming highly involved. I clasped my head in my hands and leaned over in my seat, resting my elbow on one of my arm rests. By the end of the song, I opened my eyes after closing them as tightly as I could for a couple of minutes, and I knew they were bloodshot and glistening. I turned off my iPod and just sat there for the remaining minutes before class started, overcome by my emotions. It didn't necessarily make sense, but I was overwhelmed. And without my prompting, without desiring the reaction, I was crying.

It's strange to think of myself this way because for so many years of my life I didn't consider myself a crier. Of course as a child I would weep if I scraped my knee or was picked on by my peers. But I still remember being stunned over the fact that I cried at the end of Monsters, Inc. when it came out in theaters because it was so strange to me that I would cry as a result of a movie's sentimentality.

Since then, though, I've ended up crying at numerous films. Some that are sad (e.g. Life is Beautiful, Finding Neverland) others that are lovely and passionate (e.g. Pride & Prejudice, Jeux d'efants). There's no rhyme or reason, really. All I know is that strong emotions weigh heavily on my heart and my tear ducts. And in the end I have no control.

What bothers me though is the thought that this sort of physical reaction can be so easily misconstrued. When I'm walking around and crying I know in my heart that I'm not doing anything strange. It's not an unusual occurrence for me, so there's no reason to be ashamed by it in my book.

But other people don't feel the same. It's why I get strange looks if I'm crying at odd times during the day when I'm in public places. Which is why I've started to second guess myself and my tears.

So at times I've tried to hold back, sometimes even pretend that there's nothing wrong, because I know that crying will only be met by animosity from others who think of it as an offensive mechanism - as a way for making others feel sorry about me - when it's really nothing like that at all.

Crying may be a weapon for some - in fact, after watching as much as I have of this season of The Bachelor, I have no doubt this is the case - but for me it most certainly is not. If there are tears for me, it is an indication of actual emotion. The emotion itself may be elusive, hard to understand, but it is not underhanded, it is not concocted. It's real.

Which is why even though I've felt a bit of awkwardness and embarrassment at the amount of times I've cried lately, I don't plan to change that part of myself. If I perceived it as a fault, as something that I do that is essentially destructive and harmful to me or to others, then surely I wouldn't do it anymore.

But for me, the opposite of crying when I need to is placing myself in a state of emotional paralysis, where I'm not allowed to express how I feel in the way that most makes sense for me.

So I cry a lot. And maybe that's embarrassing. And maybe it makes other people feel awkward - which is why I try to do it most often when I'm by myself or not interacting with other people. But if I weren't to do it, I know that no good could come of it.

I stand by the position that crying can be good. There are multiple interpretations of everything, and there's no reason to think of tears as being a sign of weakness or of manipulation. For some people, including me, they're just how strong emotions come out. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

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