Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sometimes you have to remember to cry even if you don't know why.

I have an acceptable reason to cry these days, a reason everyone understands. I lost my Mom last July. Being with her the last months while she was dying wasn't easy but there was a lot to do so I didn't cry much. But ever since, that pain sneaks up on me.

I know from years of experience that when I hurt, I should cry. The problem is that I don't always know when hurt is trying to surface. Sometimes I turn it off. Sometimes my big, dumb bodyguard, Resistance (I sometimes call it 'Slugger') thinks it's protecting me from danger by turning the switch on *all* my emotions to 'Off,' and leaving a leaden chest-plate in their place.

So this morning I was working here furiously, my 3 computers - the 10 month old, 2 year old and 5 year old - all open at the same time, and I was having fun designing and setting up new programs and scheduling them, tweeting them, checking my Google Alerts and my Twilerts and Tweetbeeps, humming along as I often do at this jolly time of day when I am frequently quite deft at spinning plates -- when I start to notice that I'm getting totally lost every time a computer slows down or 'Spaces' tosses me to the wrong screen. This is not what I want.

It gets worse and my brain finally grinds to a complete standstill. It's gotta be that A.D.D., I'm thinking. I'm familiar with it: a fog shows up from time to time and I find myself staring blankly at my notes and those sites open on my computer screen, all of which so recently seemed significant and now they all look like they're written in Linear B and I'm Tarzan, and don't know how I came to be sitting here in this familiar but incomprehensible world. (I don't think Tarzan works quite right here, but if you have A.D.D., you know what I mean.)

Damn. Well, I can't do anything about an A.D.D. seizure but let it pass, I guess. And then I notice the heaviness of that leaden chest-plate and I remember what that usually means: something hurts. It doesn't feel like hurt, but that's what it feels like when I'm avoiding feelings. I might not know what it's about, even, and if I did, who wants to experience pain? But I know I'd better try to cry or I'll waste the whole day.

(If you find it odd to acknowledge the presence of emotional hurt when the cause isn't clear, think for a moment. You don't require an explanation of causes when other bodily needs make themselves known. If you're driving and you don't know why you're sleepy, for example, chances are there's a good reason. Pull over and take a nap.)

I'm familiar with this phenomenon as you know if you've read any of my books or come to see me back when I had time to see people. (New thought: I never got foggy when I was working with a living human. Not once. Hmmm. That's worth exploring later.)

Since I invariably become stupified at such moments and don't remember what to do, I've given myself instructions so simple a microbe would understand: Cry.

Right now, with something so obviously painful in my recent past, I don't need to wonder what hurts. I just have to picture my poor mom going through those weeks of discomfort, delirium and fear and the dam breaks and I'm sobbing again. And when the sobbing has finished shaking me around, the lead in my chest and the confusion in my brain are gone. I know that outcome from experience, I expect it, and it happened that way today. And as soon as I finish telling you about this phenomenon, I'm going back to work.

If you're anything like me (or the thousands of people I've worked with in the last 40 years) you'll find that sometimes the signs of sorrow will sneak up on you when nothing painful has happened at all. At those times it's even harder to remember to get out the tears* because 1) you don't feel hurt, you just feel odd, and 2) there doesn't seem to be anything to cry about. This can present a problem that may not be as hard to solve as a quadratic equation w/ 3 unknowns, but hard enough.

(Ask me another time about how fear, the fear that something bad is about to happen in the near future, is often about your sense that a painful emotion is trying to fight its way to the surface. Which is to say, you're actually afraid that the *past* is about to happen.)

To add to the confusion, it's not always hurt that has surfaced, not exactly. It could be nothing more than stress. Studies indicate that tears contain stress enzymes, which might mean that releasing tears relieves stress. It could be fear (which is actually stress, I think)  Children, and some of us grownups, can cry when they're frightened. It could even be anger. People who can't or don't want to get really pissed off will sometimes cry from frustration or rage.

I personally believe that you can find some kind of sorrow hiding beneath stress and fear and frustration, but no matter, right now. The point is that if you feel uneasy and/or 'turned off,' bringing up tears will calm you down and wake you up almost every time**. Tears will ease your heart and return your eyesight and brain function. They melt lead chest-plates like hot water melts ice cubes.

But how are you supposed to cry (not that you've consented to do any such thing, I understand that) when you can't think of anything to cry about? Isn't this 'Cry-just-in-case' thing just another gimmick, like spinning or blinking or rapidly tapping your forehead with a small brass hammer? I don't know much about those things, but I doubt it. I'd like to make the case that babies never bother themselves with such questions and they don't seem to care why they want to cry. They cry when they feel like it, and calm down (or doze off) afterwards.

Truth is, for the purpose of quickly relieving numbness, confusion, or the frozen feeling you have before a speech or an audition or an interview or a first date, it doesn't matter what you cry about. It's not even important if you never find out. Think about all the grand, loving, lost collies like Lassie who never got home from Scotland or how it's raining in Odessa if that works, and the resulting emotion, like an aspirin, will seek out the place it's needed and do its work with no further help from you.

Okay, I let my tears out and I feel better and will now get back to setting up my new events, taking side trips to read stuff by kind Jonathan Field and wise Havi and finish the assignments for my heroic WriteSpeak students and get new short url's for my youtube videos...etc. etc. Sticks are up, plates are ready to resume spinning.

But I'm going to try to remember one thing that I didn't think about before:

When I'm in a fog, it's not always A.D.D. at all.

Or, if it is, I've found a cure and will expect notification that I've been awarded the Nobel Prize (or at least the host-ship of Oprah's show) in my mailbox.

I'd really love you to comment below. I'll do everything I can (subscribe to my own blog?) to answer you as soon as I can.

Here are those footnotes you forgot about:

*For those of you who find actual wet tears to be maddeningly evasive, some semi-deep breathing -- or a 'woe is me' series of sighs -- will create almost the same benefit.

** If you cry often and easily, bringing up tears probably won't work for you and my advice is to check with your local psychopharmacologist for signs of depression. If you get the all-clear on that, here's a fortune-cookie piece of advice (but it works): grab a tennis racket and beat the living crap out of your stupid, insolent, bed mattress. Have no mercy. Find that part of you that is self-righteously enraged, completely unfair and unforgiving, and just punish that bugger.

What's the logic in that?
Because feelings that won't go away are frequently smokescreens for less acceptable feelings, and this is a harmless way to blow them out without hurting anyone. Well, it's sometimes kind of hard on the tennis racket. You might want to go to a thrift shop and keep a couple of cheap ones on hand. (Don't get a badminton racket or you'll wind up with a splinter in your eye and your mom will get mad at me.)