2017 may go down in personal records as the year I forgot how to cry.
I spent my most recent birthday in my picturesque, seaside hometown, Sebastian, and I visited all the sites of nostalgia that usually bring tears to my eyes. I dunked myself in the green water at Amber Sands Beach. I sat by the river where dolphins jump into the air to greet the setting sun. My mom helped me pack up my car, and we chatted as I prepared to set sail back to Gainesville. I hugged her as long as she allowed. Usually, this routine elicits tears streaming down my face in gratitude of this place I call home as long as my family lives. Last month, however, no matter how long I squeezed my mom, no tears were squeezed from my eyes.
Standing in the driveway, I asked my mom why I wasn’t crying.
“You’re happy,” she said. “Life is chugging along for you. You have nothing to cry about.” That didn’t sound right to me, as I can usually find a good reason to turn on the sprinklers.
I’ve never had any shame about the act of crying. I could burst into tears when I felt injured, surprised, embarrassed, overjoyed, overworked or overcome by a new melody or rhythm hitting my ears. In the last few months, I’ve felt all those feels and more, but no tears have fallen down my cheeks.
Perhaps this year I’ve entered into a phase of comfortable numbness. No longer do I become so full with feeling I burst at the seams, instead I’m just chilling. A cool existentialist observing the relentless barrage of sensory input being thrown at her without becoming affected by it. But, what would be the point of living this life if it didn’t fully captivate me, surprise me, disappoint me, hurt me and move me to the point of tears on occasion?
No, I can feel my heart pumping out emotions at appropriate times. My heart palpably swells when Mac Demarco croons about his daddy issues, or when a friend expresses the pain of a recent disappointment or rejection to me. I feel pressure in the bridge of my nose, my chest seizes and I squint. But the pipes must be clogged. The thoughts I’m having aren’t being released through my tear ducts. So where are they going? Evaporating through my ears, perhaps.
This new behavior got me to thinking. When our pace of life increases beyond a crawl, we may neglect the dissection and expression of feelings first. And whose life feels slow and manageable? We’re in survival mode, on deadline. There’s no time to break down or wallow; there are a million things that require your attention right now. What I’m slowly realizing is that an obsession with being an efficient Adult — which reaches new extremes each day as we balance jobs, side hustles and relationships — could tip the scale into robot territory. Are we bottling up our insides in the name of maturity and capability?
Having a good cry allows us to recognize pain, stress or struggle and shed it for the time being. There is nothing inefficient ‘bout it. The feeling of release that accompanies a good ululation, that warm stillness after your breath returns to its normal pace, has beneficial health effects. The Association for Psychological Science notes that the calm following the storm usually lasts longer than the storm itself, and the soothing effects of a good cry can overcome the stress reaction that caused it. For me, sobbing through the second half of West Side Story feels as good as flying a kite during a sunny afternoon.
Of course, I’m not alone in my love for a good lamentation. My friend Natasha says when she cries, the colors she sees appear more vibrant. Seeing the world through a lens of tears reminds her of the beauty present all around her, and she ends the experience feeling more grounded and connected to her environment.
The detriments of weeping abstinence can stick with you. Let me put it this way: would you rather walk down a steep hill carrying a massive pack on your back, or would it be easier to just roll your pack down the hill and walk freely, the wind dancing along the hairs on the back of your neck? Carrying around the residue from every interaction and activity you engage in wears you down. I often feel unable to release worrisome thoughts in this tearless reality I currently reside in.
Crying kick starts the process of reflection and renewal, allowing us to fully engage with an experience and then actively set it aside. When I was younger, I was frequently told to stop crying. I was told I was acting irrationally, immaturely, dramatically. But, from my tears came my resolve to keep on keeping on. The act served as a salve, a way to release myself from tortuous worries.
When the tears dry up, you can’t help but feel that much more ready, able to move forward.
Tyler Francischine is a writer, event planner and audiophile who would rather be floating on her back in the Atlantic.