It was a weekday night, and I was snuggling down onto the couch after a long day at work, swathed in big gray sweatpants and a similarly colored sweatshirt. They had just been washed and dried—an ordeal, since our dryer keeps breaking and rather than replace it, our landlord insists on repairing it, only for it to break again. I wasn’t feeling well, so I was looking forward to warming up with this amazing Szechuan noodle soup my boyfriend had made while I was at work.
Gingerly, I took my chopsticks, picked up a big tofu roll, and lifted it to my mouth.
But it never made it there. The broth-covered tofu slipped from the chopsticks’ grasp and fell, plummeting into a bowl of broth. Suddenly, my newly cleaned sweat ensemble was covered in Szechuan.
And I cried.
This may seem like a gross overreaction. But this is my life now. I cry at everything.
There was a time, not too long ago, where I couldn’t remember the last time I cried. I remember sitting in a therapist’s office nine years ago while she slowly tried to understand the ways in which I process emotions.
“Do you ever feel angry?”
“No, not really.”
“Well, what do you feel?”
“I don’t know. I feel fine, I guess.”
For much of my college career, my mind had created a wall between me and negative emotions. I never got truly angry. I didn’t cry. I seemed to sort of breeze through life in a state of general contentment, largely unruffled. I was deemed “so positive” and “so happy” by my classmates and friends. I began to attach my worth to this quality and identify myself as such. I was the peppy, optimistic one in my friend group who was always down to have a good time and make others laugh. I prided myself on my positive attitude. I considered it a personality strength.
But it turns out, those emotions don’t just go away.
See, even though my brain was blocking me from processing any negative emotions, I couldn’t hide from them forever. What started as blissful contentment soon turned to a dull numbing sensation as I unintentionally channeled every negative thought and feeling into the way in which I was feeding my body. It was a disaster.
Enter therapy. I’m a firm believer in therapy for all, even if you feel like there’s nothing “wrong” with you or you don’t “warrant” it. Please, we’ve all got our little traumas. Therapy helped me work through the ways in which my mind used my body as an outlet for emotions. Slowly but surely, I began to correct my neural pathways in order to process emotions in a way that wasn’t harming my very being.
But then the crying started.
Because when you don’t feel things for years, they just build up like a giant dam. And therapy poked enough holes in that wall to let that water out. Not a slow trickle either, but a deluge of emotions.
I’m sure this is inaccurate, but the way I remember it is that I basically cried for, what felt like, a month nonstop. And this led to an entire existential crisis. For so long, I had been the positive one. The strong one. But as tears filled my eyes and spilled out over my cheeks, I felt weak. I mourned my former self, unable to reconcile this new person with the person that I was before. Teardrops stained my lips and I tasted nothing but salty failure.
It took a while, maybe even years, to realize that crying, being able to really properly process emotions, was the exact opposite of a failure—it was a triumph. To be able to rebuild those neural pathways is no small feat, and though it felt like I had lost all strength, I had actually gained so much more. I had gained my humanity back. I had gained the ability to work through tough emotions and come out the other side. And, if you really think about it? That’s true strength right there.
The crying has slowed down a bit since I first started therapy and had that breakthrough. But I still cry a lot—when I’m overwhelmed, when I’m frustrated, sometimes even when I’m happy. And sure, I still get down about it sometimes, like that time that I tried to have an assertive conversation with my boss and ended up attempting to speak with a lump in my throat and tears threatening to spill over. But every time I get upset at the water my body seems to create from an endless fountain located in my tear ducts, I try to remember the strength out of which it was borne.
Because sure, it’s nice to be happy and positive. But boy is it a hell of a lot more impressive to push through something so inherently human and get to the other side.
Kristy Cloetingh is a Philadelphia native who is currently trying to figure out her place in the world. Her passions include reading, singing, dancing, nature, yoga, chicken fingers, and puppies. An anorexia survivor and mental health warrior, Kristy has made it her life’s mission to remind every single person that their bodies and minds are worthy of unconditional love and respect, regardless of size, shape, or whatever “normal” is.