Crying is not always bad, pathological, or a sign of emotional instability or depression. Crying, sometimes, is how we work through emotions too deep, too big, too painful to otherwise healthily process. As we learn in many good parenting books, and from our expert children if we allow them to teach us, sometimes a good, messy, noisy, desperate cry, supported in the arms of one who loves us, is the only way to get past these fears and hurts and traumatizing memories. What traumatizes us often isn’t the event but the event we cannot leave behind; crying can be how we let go.
I cannot cry. Or at least, I haven’t in a while, not in any meaningful way, not in longer than I can remember. It’s not that I haven’t anything to cry about — oh do I have — nor that I lack the impulse. But as though some part of my brain has decreed that breaking down is beneath me, I find crying beyond me. My face becomes stone when the impulse comes, and no mere waterworks shall be allowed to deface me.
I am invested in stability for a reason, desperate to never again return to the hell-on-earth of out-of-control mixed states moods. But I also have a belief that I feel fully, passionately, unbridledly, and I value that as well.
And now I find I cannot cry. And I am not writing, instead choosing safety and an early bedtime above expression.
Sometimes that isn’t bad. Certainly, to follow the emotional and creative trail every time it presents itself would be disastrous. I would never be able to function, not even as little as I do now.
But increasingly I suspect that what I once mistook for stability — a lack of tears, a more regular bedtime — isn’t the same as what the emovtypical experience. Or if it is, that they’re a far more fucked up group than I’ve long believed, because this — the feeling that the feelings are there, trying to crack the facade but unable, and unreachable when one turns inward to let them free — is not healthy.
This is not tenable.
And yet I write this with no particular affect but blankness. A slight tightening in my chest, but more a wall encountered as my heart strives to reach out than a hand embracing to empty me of tears. I write this wanting to want to cry, feeling a self that once would have been screaming in a corner, now in an oubliette unaccessible, the map forgotten. I can remember times when I have sobbed until tears and snot and saliva mingled and bubbled at my mouth as I decried every wrong that had been done me, every failure I had fallen, every obstacle the Universe had strewn in my path, and a part of me wishes that for myself again, if only to have that all out — but all I feel is a slight tension in my forehead, and I ignore it except as a mild irritation.
As a human, I long to cry, have a reason and a right to. As someone with a history of disordered moods, in which much of my life has drowned, I have a reasonable fear to, but all the more reason to. And as a parent, I haven’t the time or the freedom — or so the stick that pins me down, props my blankness tells me.
As a parent I have every reason not to make a habit of breaking down in front of my child, and a culture eager to blame me for his every once and future imperfection if I should; but also I have every reason and need to do so somewhere, more than ever.
Parenting is hard. We are unsupported in the work we do, alone except for an ever-watchful, eager-to-blame-us gaze. And the work we do is hard, did I mention? Not only do we have the daily trials of keeping our child(ren) and ourselves alive and relatively unharmed throughout the day — every day, day after day, unceasing –, each hardest moment with our young ones brings us back to our own youth and the traumas we suffered then. We rage at our seeming impotence now — to dress an unwilling child content in hir nakedness, to hurry one who would rather play and has yet to learn to be ruled by clocks — because we so keenly are reminded of our impotence to dawdle and play and choose for ourselves then. We have more cause to cry than ever, more need to expel through snot and tears and an hour of much deserved wallowing the fresh hurts of now and the long held hurts of then — but we have a child begging for food, for play, for one more one-more book, we have groceries to buy and a house to halt sliding into squalor and library books to return else risk the wrath of the librarian and trigger another childhood terror, we have playdates and preschool and story time and science museums and doctors appointments and if we are lucky self-care pampering appointments to get to, and we are late and they are dawdling and we have to go now and we have no time to sit and sob and feel sorry for ourselves.
And when, miracle!, by blessing of alloparent friend or dint of multi-hour bedtime rituals or at cost of unaffordable but still underpaid child-minder, we have a moment, at last, a moment to ourselves — we cannot cry. Blubbering, bubbling, needy, necessary breakdowns resist scheduling, and rarely come when called, and besides, we’re supposed to be unwinding in the tub, undressing with a lover, or questing for the holy Grail of Finally Enough Sleep. And those things are good, and those things are necessary, and those things are possibly needed first if we are to let go enough, become vulnerable enough for the ocean inside to wash over us and wash us clean — but our hour’s up, our friend’s impatient, our bed is calling, the sitter’s leaving and it’s on to the next day the next crisis the next appointment and hurry the child and think of the child and stay strong for the child and don’t traumatize the child and keep going keep surviving keep repressing we can rest when we’re dead, right?
Perhaps no wonder I cannot cry, not really, not fully, not as uglily and as messily and as self-pityingly as I need. Somewhere I learned that open bawling is not for proper adults; sometime I discovered I’m too busy to be able to; somehow I confused repression for stability, blankness for being content, not crying whatever any cost for not needing to cry.
We all need, sometimes, to get naked and messy, to soak in salty water and messier, thicker fluids, to cycle through pain clenching our bodies and relaxing and rushing through us again, to be wrung out, to be held and heard throughout, and to be lifted, at the end, in the embrace of those who love us unreservedly, without our needing to have earned the absolution of their love. So we, born now anew, can live.
I want to live.