So today, I sat in the carpark in the Baldivis shopping centre and cried whilst my son sat happily playing in his car seat. It took me a few minutes to regain my composure, wipe my eyes, turn the car on and head back home. As I drove along the freeway, wishing that my already over tired son would just fall asleep instead of playing with the teething bug he was holding, I realised something rather interesting. I have for the better part of my life (read: up to this point) always felt as though I should ‘hide’ any strong emotions that I had. Predominantly the less amiable emotions (sadness, fear, hurt, anger etc.) but all emotions in general. It struck me as strange that I felt as though I needed to hide or rein in something that every single person on this planet experiences. Isn’t that just a little bit backward? Surely I have just as much right as anyone else to feel that way and not have to hide away in my car to express whatever it was I was feeling. Of course, all of this got me thinking even more about quite a number of different things. I remembering hearing phrases like “no one wants to hang around someone who is always depressed,” and “boys don’t like overly emotional girls,” or and this one is my personal favourite “real men don’t cry.” Of course I’m not a man so the last one doesn’t exactly relate directly to me but I thought it pertinent to add it in here just for that extra bit of emphasis. I can’t recall who said these things to me but I remember thinking at the time that they were correct, that I needed to adjust my emotions in order to fall into line with whatever this little expectation was.
Let’s start with the first one; “no one wants to hang around someone who is always depressed.” Okay, so to a degree this one makes sense to me. It’s true being around people that are constantly negative and quite down can be very draining and make enjoying situations incredibly challenging. However, saying something like that to someone who is simply having a bad day, or week, or whatever is actually detrimental to their overall well being. Take my situation, for example, currently, I’m having a challenging few days. My boy’s teeth are on the move and he’s going through a growth spurt and as such he’s been cranky and rather difficult to look after. He hasn’t been sleeping as well as before so we’re all tired, he’s decided this week solids are absolutely the last thing on the planet he wants to try and is generally just being a bit ratty. Now, me? I get up and I look at myself in the mirror and I think “wow, you look like you could be a zombie on The Walking Dead and you wouldn’t even need makeup.” This is closely followed by “oh God, we can’t have another day like yesterday, please, please, please don’t let us have another day like yesterday.” Positive right? Cheery and happy right? Of course it’s not. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to be that negative forever. I know my son will settle, I know his teeth will calm down and he’ll be okay and we’ll go back to having the same fun we used to have. If someone were to say to me now that “no one wants to hang around with someone who is always depressed,” I may actually give them the biggest serving right then and there. This sort of thing makes people who are having a bad day feel as though they aren’t allowed to have a tough time and should hide it or lie about it and cover it up. It also makes people who are genuinely suffering for a long period of time feel even worse about themselves and could potentially lead to them clamming up entirely and not talking and letting things fester.
As for the other statements “boys don’t like overly emotional girls” and the ever wonderful “real men don’t cry,” they are just as ridiculous as the notion that people should hide their feelings. For starters emotions, be it over the top or as simple as a grown man crying are powerful in every form and as such should be respected. I’ve seen ‘real men’ cry, it’s heartbreaking of course, much the same as it’s heartbreaking when anyone cries but it didn’t make me see them as anything less than human. If someone even hints at the notion that being overly emotional will result in not being liked then that person deserves to be shoved into a sea container and dropped to the bottom of the ocean instantly. Emotions are a universal thing. They are one of the very few things in this world that the human race has in common regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or culture. Being emotional is a part of being a human and the reality we are faced with here is that for some reason people feel as though they need to suppress any strong emotions they may have for fear of being ‘judged’.
I worked with a gentleman who was always so incredibly vibrant and bubbly regardless of what was going on. He was almost always cheery and had one of the most infectious laughs I have ever heard. If he was having a bad day or something wasn’t quite working out the way he had intended it was blatantly obvious to everyone around him. He wore his heart on his sleeve and I never considered it before but I admire him for that. We had had many a conversation about different life experiences and one of the conversations we had was about being able to take some time to look after yourself. At the time I had gone through a rather rough patch in my own life and he said simply “if you don’t look after yourself then who will?” Let me reiterate that… if you don’t look after yourself then who will? If looking after yourself means that you start crying when a water bottle smashes on the floor in the middle of a food court then do that. If it means you say to your family or friends “I’m having a hard time, can we have a chat about this,” then do that. If it means you lay on the couch all day and watch reruns of Bold and the Beautiful then do that. Do whatever the heck it is that you need to, to look after you; because at the end of the day you have to live with yourself.
This notion that emotions need to be suppressed, reined in or expressed in the relative privacy of your car is archaic and damaging. Emotions are there to help in the handling of different experiences. The feeling of overwhelming joy can be expressed in so many different ways, tears, laughter, kisses, hugs; much like overwhelming grief can be expressed in so many different ways tears, silence, insomnia, sleep. None of these things are right or wrong, they just are. So feeling as though you shouldn’t cry when you’re happy or feeling as though you shouldn’t smile at anything when you’re sad is obscene. Whatever it is that you’re feeling should not be suppressed. It shouldn’t be held in to be experienced in private because you feel as though expressing it in public is inappropriate. Of course, there’s always a flip side to every argument, I mean, if you’re angry at a sales clerk it’s not exactly appropriate to punch them in the face, or say stab someone because they make you feel sad or self-conscious. I’m not talking extremes here, I’m just talking about the fact that everyday emotions aren’t something we should feel as though we need to hide.
I will leave you here (because my child has managed to go to bed and I’m going to take advantage of the sleep) with a final little vibe that was said at a convention I attended many moons ago:
I’d rather walk around feeling like complete shit for a few days, and feeling like God the rest of the time, than walk around feeling ‘just okay’ all of the time. – Norman Reedus
So, go, be emotional, be open and honest and hope that somewhere in amongst all of that you give other people the strength to do the same.