Monday, September 23, 2013

Day 50 of 365: The Functionality of Crying

To say I'm an emotional person is a bit of an understatement. I've been told that, in a way, I never left toddlerhood: when I'm happy, it's an all-encompassing happiness, but when I'm upset, it's an all-encompassing sadness.

You have feel deeply -- and deeper than the average -- to be a creative person. You need to experience the world in a way that forces you to filter it out through writing, painting, singing, constructing. You need to know what it's like to experience Joy2 in order to write about regular Joy. You need to experience Sadness2 in order to sing about regular Sadness. You need to experience Beauty2 in order to paint regular Beauty.

A couple days ago, I had made a minor mistake. Incredibly minor. I had forgotten to put the groceries away in the fridge from the night before, leaving some very delicate items -- shrimp, milk, etc -- out to thaw out and grow warm. We had a lot to do that day and we were running low on time (and I was still feeling the sticker shock from the previous night's credit card payment) and we now had to drive out to the nearby grocery store (instead of our favorite organic food store where we had purchased the original food, but was located a half hour away in the town my husband works in). I was frustrated, I was mad at myself ("They just sat there on the kitchen island. I should've known better. I should've put them away. I should've cleared off the kitchen island so it wasn't so cluttered and the grocery bags would've stuck out more."), and I actually started to cry. I then got mad at the fact that I was crying and berated myself even further for getting so upset over such a dumb mistake.

I tried to get a few things done before we went to the grocery store. Because, like I said, we were running low on time. But I was putting things away with a little too much force. I was scrubbing at the counter with a little too much elbow grease. I wasn't closing the pantry door so much as I was slamming it. My husband suggested I take a breather -- that the cleaning and the groceries could wait -- I dismissed the idea, saying that there was too much to do and I was already setting things back enough and if I could just stop being so upset, then everything would be fine.

After a moment or two, my husband sat me down with a knowing smile and simply said, "I think I figured you out." He first pointed out what we already knew: that I have impossibly high standards for myself, which gives me very little room for forgiveness when I mess up. And, because of that, leaving everything out made me upset. He then pointed out that how I felt over forgetting the bags was not nearly as bad as how I felt over the fact that I got upset in the first place. He told me, "Instead of accepting your emotions and having a good cry about it, you got mad at yourself for being so trivial. Which made you mad at the drawers and the counters and pantry door." He then went on the say that the best thing for me to do was accept that I'm the type of person who will get upset over "little" things (and let the emotions come out through crying) than to try to deny how I react and just get angry about everything.

Humans have two incredible features that almost no other animal has. Features that we tend to not only take for granted, but try to avoid at all costs: we sweat and we cry. Sweating is why we can run absurdly long distances. Sweating is why we can survive in environments that are far too hostile for other mammals. And crying is why we can be as intelligent of a species as we are and still go on during some pretty rough times.

Emotional crying is completely different than irritated-eyes crying. The tears when you get something in your eye is essentially saline. Just a nice, clear liquid to wash out your eyes. But emotional tears carry something else: chemicals. Chemicals and hormones. Like the adrenocorticotropic hormone. Things that make us feel such extreme emotions. Emotional tears are like the sailors on a ship in the middle of the storm, scooping up water and dumping it overboard in an effort to save the boat.

It's a little sobering to think about, because it's a reminder that all those emotions that make us who we are are really nothing more than a set of chemicals hanging about in our bodies. But, when you think about tears that way, suddenly crying doesn't seem so petty. In fact, it's downright efficient. What better way to level out an emotion than to literally remove it from your body? Our ancestors cried because, without it, they would've been weighed down by sadness and grief and never would've been able to hunt or protect their land.

Most of us spend our entire upbringing being told not to cry. In fact, we are given the not-so-covert message that it's better to get angry than it is to get sad. But that's the thing: thanks to years of evolution, sadness over something can quickly manifest into anger over whatever made us sad. While it helped our ancestors in beating out the opposing forces, it doesn't really help the modern-day, civilized human being.

A few days later, I learned that I had forgotten my running equipment in my husband's car. I'm training for a half marathon -- a half marathon that is a month and a half away -- so every training day counts. And that day was supposed to be the day that I finally broke 10 miles. I couldn't believe that I had forgotten the simple task of getting my bag out of the car, especially after spending so much time planning out what I should eat the night before. Instead of stomping around the house trying not to feel upset about something as simple as forgetting a bag, I essentially told myself, "It's frustrating and upsetting. Is it worth crying over?"

This wasn't a rhetorical question. I was genuinely wondering if this was something I could cry over. For about 5 seconds, I felt like I was on the verge of crying. And then, the feelings disappeared. I was still frustrated, but it wasn't to the level that would affect how I moved from Point A to Point B. So I made plans to run the day after instead and went on a bike ride. A bike ride that turned into a story straight out of Lord of the Rings, but I've already gone over that day in great detail.

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