Day 105: Cry it out

Sometimes I am unsure what to do about feelings. I suppose the mental health establishment is unsure too: should feelings be drawn out or left in? Should they be lanced and bled? Should they be swaddled in cotton, and bound very tightly? What is it that they need?

When I saw Dr. F yesterday and she asked why I was crying I said because it was hard to talk about my Dad. I went on to observe, and there was an edge in my voice that surprised myself, that when she makes me talk about my father, it feels like she’s poking a tender wound. It is painful and wearying.

She understood, I think. She lost her father at the same age as I lost mine. In fact, she was a little younger, I believe. She explained that she thought that I had never let myself grieve sufficiently for his death. She observed, indisputably, that there would be—indeed, there were already—many more endings to be grieved during my life, whether the end of a marriage, of a friendship, or some other loss. If I didn’t learn to grieve now, she explained, all those wounds would remain raw; they would never heal.

The duck believes her but the rabbit doesn’t. The duck’s motto is “let it go,” like the song from Frozen[1] The rabbit’s motto is: repress, repress, and, if in doubt, repress.

I believe that I have gained a lot from therapy including the ability to recognize ongoing and endlessly repeated behavioral patterns, and the ability to carefully tease out (odd that a literature professor has to be taught this) and hold up to the light the various stories I’ve told myself over the years about who I am. But have I been healing myself or dissecting myself like an anatomist? I am not sure.

Last night I wanted to cry and cry. While the children ate their dessert and watched television, I shut myself in the bathroom and sobbed. I didn’t want to be like this in front of them; in fact I told myself that I really shouldn’t be like this in front of them. It would upset them, I thought. So I took a Lorazepam, prescribed by Dr. F for moments such as these. And slowly it worked its magic, a feeling of calmness seeping slowly across my body.

Later I talked to several friends, all women, all parents, about my fear of crying in front of my children. They all suggested to me, gently, kindly, that perhaps it was all right to cry in front of them.

I realized that this had truly not occurred to me as an option. I wondered why and thought back to times I remembered my parents crying.

I could only remember two. The first time was a few months before my father’s death. We were on holiday in Spain. A family dinner turned dark quickly and unexpectedly. I had made some silly joke when my father had said something about my mother; my joke was along the lines of, “Oh, I think you must be thinking of your other wife, ha ha”; ha ha because my mother was my father’s first and only wife, or so I thought. “Well I was married before!” my father said jovially, laughing. I actually laughed out loud, the idea was so preposterous – not the idea that he had been married before, but the idea that he had been married before and never mentioned it in all the eighteen years I’d been alive. My mother wasn’t laughing. She said my father’s name gently, sadly, as if saying, “are you sure you want to do this?”

The details don’t matter and it’s not my story to tell. The point is that I remember, as my father told me the details, that he was crying. And I remember feeling angry that he was crying because I was already angry with him and seeing him cry made me feel sorry for him too but I didn’t want to have to feel sorry for him.

The memory of my mother crying is from just two months later, after my father died. What I remember most clearly is that I felt not grief or compassion but anger that I had to be the one to comfort and look after her, combined with deep shame at my anger.

When I reflect on these memories today, something comes into focus that wasn’t there yesterday. I thought, yesterday, that I couldn’t cry in front of my children because I remembered how angry I’d been when I saw my parents crying. But I think, now, that I was mistaken about why I was angry. It wasn’t witnessing my parents crying that made me angry: I was angry that my father had kept a secret from me; I was angry that my mother’s grief was so overwhelming that there was no room for my own.

This morning when I woke up my left eyelid felt heavy. It was a blocked tear duct; I’ve had it before. Treat it with warm compresses, the internet says, and the blockage should right itself.

Is a blocked tear duct the universe’s way of telling me that God is a Freudian, I wondered? You know, if you repress the feelings, you’ll create a blockage, geddit?

Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if God were a Freudian. There have been signs.

But if that IS what it means, if God IS trying to tell me not to bottle up my feelings, all I have to say is, why are you such a fucking literalist, God? I mean, think of some of the other options that were available to you: perhaps a clogged pipe? Well, frankly, I’m thankful you didn’t go that route. A wine bottle that wouldn’t open? Actually, I’m also grateful you didn’t go that route. But what about a nice swollen cloud pregnant with rain? That would have been pretty at least.

But no. You give me a blocked tear duct as a heavy-handed way of telling me that I’ve just gotta cry, cry, cry, cry, cry, I’ve gotta cry it out, cry it out, as either Taylor Swift or Dr. Richard Ferber, or possibly both will surely put it one of these days.

Notes

[1] The duck loves that film. It makes him cry. The rabbit just rolls her eyes and murmurs, “I don’t get what the big deal is, it’s just Sense and Sensibility with snow,” and, I must say, I think she has a point.

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