Not all tears are the same.
Seems obvious, right? Because some tears are the result of chopping onions, while others come when you’re overtired and fragile, or when you’ve suffered a loss, or when you’re experiencing change, or when you’re full of so much joy you just can’t help but cry. Of course, not all tears are the same. We would be fooling ourselves to believe otherwise.
But there is more to it than that. In Rose-Lynn Fischer’s piece “The Topography of Tears,” we get to see the physical, chemical differences of all kinds of tears – tears of change, of hope, even of onion-chopping – and it’s really kind of awe-inspiring, because who ever would have guessed that our tears could change so dramatically just based on what we feel when we cry?
To get the obvious out of the way quickly, it’s no secret that crying is your body’s way of flushing out toxins. You’re essentially cleaning your eyes with salt water. That’s why your eyes water when you’ve got an eyelash in them, or if you have allergies – your eyes are getting rid of the irritants. So, if anyone sees me brushing tears away in June, it’s likely because of my hay fever, so please don’t worry too much about me.
When I was a baby, my mom was definitely on Team “Cry It Out.” When she put me down for a nap, if I cried, she let me cry, until I exhausted myself and fell asleep on my own. At twenty-three years old, I still find that I sleep so much deeper after I’ve been crying. I tucker myself out, that’s all it is, and then I fall asleep and stay asleep until morning. While the situations that make me cry aren’t exactly ideal or welcome, the sleep that comes after crying is almost entirely worth it. Crying yourself to sleep is obviously not a happy thing and certainly shouldn’t be accepted as normal… but every now and then, knocking yourself out after a few tears feels pretty amazing.
Crying reminds us that we’re human. All too often in the world today, we are told to be strong, don’t show weakness, don’t let someone see you be vulnerable – in short, some of us are really good at swallowing our emotions and pushing through just about anything without flinching. That strength is a genuinely good thing, don’t get me wrong. But strength comes in many different forms, and sometimes it is too easy for us to forget that vulnerability is a type of strength. If you get so angry that hot tears spill down your cheeks, let them, because those tears are the result of your body finally twisting that pressure valve just a bit looser to let the steam out. If you feel so overwhelmed because something in your life is changing and you just get caught in an emotionally volatile moment, be in that moment wholly, so you can acknowledge these feelings and ride them out organically and without shame. If you’re just watching a sappy rom-com and Hugh Grant talking about apricots soaked in honey and the sweetness of it all just makes you tear up, let it happen, because Hugh Grant is a treasure, and Notting Hill deserves every reaction you could possibly have to it.
Being able to tap into your emotions is a way to spark your creativity, too. I’m not saying you should pinch yourself so hard until you cry just to come up with a new idea for a screenplay, but I am saying that when you’re feeling emotional in one way or another, it is beneficial to melt a little deeper into those feelings in order to make sense of the real root of whatever is going on in that heart of yours. Are you scared? Are you stressed, or worried? Are you angry, overtired? Have you reached your edge? Take what you’re feeling and turn it into something productive, beneficial to you. If you’re angry, go for a run and sprint the whole first mile if you can (this feels amazing, I can attest to it); if you’re mentally overwhelmed, take a time-out in the sun with a little meditation to clear your head; if you’re fidgety and anxious because you’re stressed, try cooking a recipe you’ve never made before as a nutritious distraction. Knit, craft, write, paint, dance… do something creative in the name of self-care, and your emotions will always thank you.
Crying is healthy. Crying is not synonymous with weakness, but rather with strength. A good cry is good for a lot of things, and we should be more willing to embrace our tears instead of hastily brushing them away to make sure no one ever sees them.