Tanya Sweeney: We should be crying more often than we do
We’re scared of tears. We’re embarrassed by them. We often see them as a weakness.
‘Keep going. I love an auld cry.’ Photograph: Getty
I’d felt it all day; that murky, dull feeling where you want to cry, but can’t. I had slept badly the night before and been snappy all day with anyone unfortunate enough to be in contact with me.
I sat in front of the TV and the feeling grew into a proper itch, and I didn’t like it. I ate a Magnum, hoping it would at least give me something else to think about for a little while.
“Do you ever have those days where you are on the verge of tears all the time?” I asked Brian, later on in bed. The feeling – sadness, anxiety, unease – had been a constant companion all day. I knew there was nothing for it, except to have a proper, good, tears-and-snot-soaked cathartic cry. I wasn’t able to put my finger on why the sadness was there for the day, but it didn’t take very long to rummage around in the cerebral filing cabinet for something to set me off and before I knew it, I was sobbing great, heaving sobs into the pillow.
I never look too deeply into why I might be crying; mid-weep is not the time to take a life inventory.
“Are you okay?” came Brian’s voice in the darkness. He’s been here before, so he wasn’t overly fazed. As I nodded, he handed me a tissue, rolled over and went back to sleep. And then, eventually, with the boil finally lanced, so did I. A delicious, deep and clean sleep, the way you do after a sustained amount of sobbing.
Not that Brian didn’t care, or wasn’t concerned, but he knows this is just something I do from time to time, like a strange type of self-care. And really, we should all be at it, much more often than we usually are.
I don’t say this to elicit any kind of sympathy, or to make you think that anything is particularly wrong or awful in my life. For the most part, I’m reasonably happy and content. The people around me are healthy and life is much more comfortable for me than it is for many others.
But my tear ducts have been working time-and-a-half for as long as I can remember. An episode of One Born Every Minute on TV equals four balled-up tissues. Christmas adverts of families being reunited will do a complete number on me. Another person crying in front of me is infectious. I think I’ve even cried once during a soap opera. Don’t tell anyone.
Honestly, part of me enjoys it. I never look too deeply into why I might be crying – mid-weep is not the time to take a life inventory. Instead, I focus on the fact that I need to cry. I think of the sloughing off of anxiety; the light feeling of being cleansed afterwards.
During interviews, people with particularly emotional stories have cried in front of me, and have stemmed the flow of tears, embarrassed and apologetic. “Oh God, don’t be, have at it,” I encourage them. “Keep going. I love an auld cry.” Afterwards, we both feel so much better, having shared that most intimate and mysterious of acts.
Generally speaking, we have strange attitudes to tears, don’t we? We’re scared of them. We’re embarrassed by them. We don’t know what to do with them. We think they denote a person on the very edge. We often see them as undignified, or a weakness, whereas in fact they denote a really beautiful, admirable sort of fragility. I think some of us would rather see a man, wearing nothing but his socks, running down the street waving aloft his boxers, than see him walking down the street openly crying. And really, it’s terrible. If I had my way, we’d have crying cafes on every street, where people could maybe watch a sad David Attenborough documentary clip to get themselves going, and have a proper blub before just, well, getting on with the rest of the day.
The thing is, we soak up ferocious amounts of sadness, loss and tragedy these days. The news is an unending reminder at the unfairness and cruelty of life, and the uncertainty and anger that is felt globally, all the time. I know how lucky I am that I haven’t felt the brunt of any of today’s tragedies and awfulness directly, but if you even turn your face towards it for any time, or attempt to hold any tragedy or its victims in your heart, you are bound to feel something. And to deny those feelings, or hold those tears back, seems utterly pointless.
Crying doesn’t mean I’m not functioning perfectly well as a human being. If anything, it helps me to function perfectly well as a human being. I could dampen those weird, uncomfortable feelings with Magnums and the like, or I could tackle them head on with a cry.
Goethe said, “If you’ve never eaten while crying, you don’t know what life tastes like”. He probably never had a Magnum but I think he has a point.