When I studied swordplay in China, I came across a piece of information that made me grimace.
“Women are like water. They are supposed to cry. For men, even if something awful happens (like the death of their father), they should never cry.”
I thought this was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. I pictured Lin Daiyu; weeping at the slightest provocation, good or bad. She cries so much and so often that her constitution is horrible and she dies of it. Unrealistic. Revolting.
Surprise, surprise, many of the women at the monastery heard this lesson and breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Oh good,’ they said. It seemed to legitimize what they, too, saw as an embarrassing weakness. All of these women were tough. They kicked, punched, ran and trained daily with the men; but I would never call them tomboys or unfeminine. I’d come to trust them.
The fact that those women didn’t bridle at the idea of crying made me second guess my own opinion. I’ve always embraced my masculinity and the behavioral expectations that come with it; but maybe this time I was wrong. I decided to look into the act of crying and figure out how to turn it into a useful tool.
There are three types of tears:
- Basal tears – Keep your eyes moist and clean.
- Reflex tears – Triggered by onion juice and/or shampoo.
- Emotional tears – Triggered by, let’s face it, practically everything.
It turns out that human beings are the only mammals that produce tears in connection with emotions. The tears produced by emotional crying have higher levels of the hormones prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, Leu-enkephalin; as well as the elements potassium and manganese. It may be the shedding of these chemicals that gives the act of crying a sense of catharsis.
The more you picture crying as a physio-chemical release, the easier it is to cope with the need for emotional release. It’s just another product we excrete. Not very many people are sentimental about pissing; especially when uric acid – the stuff that causes gout and kidney stones – is what you’re getting rid of. I’m not 100% on what those particular hormones do in your system. (As far as the elements, manganese helps stabilize blood sugar and prevents hypoglycemic mood swings. Potassium depletion is often associated with depression and general tearfulness.) These chemicals are a physio/endochrinological response to what the brain interprets as feelings.
That said, sometimes you just need to cry. Pressure, stress, anxiety, loss, love, beautiful sunsets, great books, poignant movies and broken bones all fill your emotional ‘bladder.’ Like your normal bladder, some people can hold it in longer than others. Some people are built for long road trips. Others need to pee every twenty minutes or so. If you drink eight liters a day, you will have to pee. If you find that your emotions are very responsive, you will need to cry. The more you hold it in, the more urgent the call for tears will be. Crying is cathartic. When you feel full, you need to let it out. Crying is good for you. Like pissing, like vomiting, you feel better when you’re done. Emotional dump is just like any other dump. Sooner or later, you will have to visit your restful-room.
How To Cry Effectively In 3 Steps!
Recognize that you need to go
Ask yourself simple questions. Are you stressed? Do you feel shaky or light-headed? Are you snapping at everyone around you? Are you normally a good eater who has lost your appetite? Did something rotten happen to you or someone you love? Do you feel unusually nervous or uneasy? Does life feel suddenly unfair? Are you about to enter a stressful situation that you can’t freely step out of?
Has it been a while? If the answer is ‘yes’ to any of these, you probably need to go.
A trip to the rest(ful) room
The restful-room is anywhere you feel comfortable crying. It could be your bedroom, a closet at work, your car, or anyplace at all. Sometimes, it can be the presence of another person*.
*Crying, (like peeing) isn’t something everyone is comfortable watching. So, if you need someone to cry to, make sure that person is trustworthy, not a dick, and knows what to expect.
There are two ways to handle going to the restful-room.
The first is to wait until you really REALLY have to go and you’re doing ‘the cry dance’ (shaking, anxious, having trouble thinking, feeling overwhelmed, a little lightheaded, irritable/belligerent), or you can go in advance. Give yourself about an hour, and then go for it. Let the tears and snot gush forth like a fountain. If you need to really get into it, throw a cookie sheet at the floor. They make a lot of noise, but are hard to break.
The second is to have small, 5-10 minute bursts over smaller issues.
For example, if your week is going well, but you’re really nervous about an interview, cry before you put on your fancy interview clothes.
Depending on your needs, you could take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours crying. Looking at your schedule for the next day or the next week can give you a hint about whether or not you need to cry, and also when it would be the best time to do so. It’s just like going on a long drive; you can decide to pee beforehand, or you can plan out some stops along the way.
Now that your cry is done, you’ll feel a little worn out. That’s normal. Crying takes a lot of energy and stamina, just like a workout. Like a workout, it is critical to have a glass of water once you’re done crying.
Let me say that again. When you’re done crying, drink a glass of water.
I’m serious. Especially for hardcore throwing-yourself-to-the-floor-and-kicking-and-screaming-for-three-hours crying. You must drink water. You’ve just washed your system clean of all those pesky chemicals, now you need to replenish yourself so you don’t get hung over.
Wash your face with cool water.
By the time you’re clean and have had something to drink, your heart-rate should have slowed back to normal.
And you’re all set!
The key is to recognize when those feelings rise, and to get yourself to a safe and private place to do what you have to do.
Once you discover your rhythm, and can better predict when you’ll need to hit the restful-room. Other aspects of life will become clear. You’ll start to identify why things upset you. From there, you can look at them more objectively and be able to decide if it will affect you. If you are calm, and you’ve had emotional release, you’re in a better position to think clearly and find solutions to things that challenge you. If something is truly out of your control, then it does no good upsetting yourself.
It doesn’t matter if the bus is late. If it isn’t there, you can’t get on it. With a clear mind, you can pursue other options; such as walking, calling people to say you’ll be late, or enjoying the play of sunlight and rain on the passing cars.
If you’re an emotional person like I am, it often feels like your feelings are trying to put you in a choke-hold. You can’t talk, you can’t think, and you can’t see a way out. By taking an interest in yourself, your needs, and your own rhythm, you can save the choke-holds for something really important; like the asshole that made you want to cry in the first place.
Thank you for your contribution, thirteen-year-old Setsu.
(Fun fact, the genesis of this idea came about Halloween night in 1998 or so, while trick-or-treating with some of my dojo brothers. The original idea — crying is like masturbation — didn’t cover the full scope of cathartic experience. It wasn’t until the possibility of losing a family member that I’d experienced the emotional overwhelm and deadening that can only be described as ‘pissing from the eyes.’ Thus, the chemical research.)
Next week: How to control your rage!**
** Haha, just kidding. I have no idea on that one.
Addendum! I wrote a post on anger, when it’s useful, and when it isn’t.