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  • Writer's picturepamradtkerussell

Never Let Them See You Cry. They Might Think You're Human.

I cry everyday. Sometimes more than once.

It may not be for hours, or even for minutes, but tears fall.

And when they do, it allows me to acknowledge my feelings – joy, anxiety, grief… whatever — release them and move on with my day.

Sometimes I’ll carry a feeling around with me for days. It hangs onto me like a parasite, sucking my ability to be present and enjoy what life has given me.

But then I cry and I feel better.

After our dog, Celia, recently died, I sobbed off and on for a few days. Each time I thought I would sink into my grief and never come out. But the sheer act of giving into my tears actually buoyed me up.

It was this fear of sinking into an emotional quicksand of feelings that kept my tears bottled up for years after my mother died in 2005. I kept those tears locked down through Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath and my daughter’s cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Yes, of course, I cried with each of these, but I was always fighting to maintain my composure and avoid sinking.

I would cry and say “Ok, I’ve done that, time to move on,” as if crying were just a line on some kind of checklist.

The only time I was able to give myself into crying was when I was at church. I thought for years it must have been the music that reached my soul. But now I realize it was one of the few places I saw family members crying.

I cried when I was a child – a lot. My mother even made me a handmade ragdoll of a little girl with tears running down her cheek. When I would cry, she would encourage me to hold the doll and comfort it, suppressing my own tears in order to comfort another thing in pain – isn’t that what women (and some men) are often conditioned to do – to soothe another while pushing down our own feelings?

(Ironically, one of my mom’s favorite songs was Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party,” which goes, “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.” As if.)

Often times it wasn’t so subtle. I remember more of “I’ll give you something to cry about,” “big girls don’t cry,” and multiple versions of “if you cry, people will think you’re weak.”

So through the years, I became more and more unable to cry. It wasn’t in my repertoire.

I even had hesitations crying around former coworkers and friends after my daughter got sick. I was worried what people would think of me. I wanted to project the image of a strong, capable, independent woman, but presenting that façade gradually eroded my feelings and left me an independent, lonely and somewhat cold woman.

As I hit middle age I became more in touch with my feelings and my tears came a more easily. But it wasn’t until I was talking with a friend about this, and she said something to the effect, “Hell, I cry everyday,” that I gave myself permission to cry.

In daily meditations, I feel my feelings, and if I feel like crying, I let tears fall.

If during a walk, I see something that brings me joy, I cry.

If memories, grief and loss hit me in the middle of the day, I weep.

I still feel weak and dramatic every time. Even if no one is around.

When I was at my self-imposed writer’s retreat in Mississippi earlier this year, I broke down and sobbed on the floor. My inner critic kept telling me, “what if someone sees you?” and “you’re being overemotional,” though I was in the middle of nowhere with no one around.

I told that inner critic, “who the fuck cares?” though I’m still working to believe that.

So, if you see me out and about and see tears in my eyes, please don’t feel sorry for me. Don’t say, “cheer up,” or rush to give me a hug.

Nothing traumatic or devastating has happened.

I’m just living.

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