I’ve heard people complain that it’s impossible for anyone to stay positive all the time and that all of the recent advice about happiness and positivity is, therefore, complete bullshit.
Well, yes and no.
Yes, I agree that it’s impossible for everyone to be happy all the time. No, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth making the effort to be more positive.
Critics will be pleased to hear that I’m regularly in tears.
When I was waiting to know my biopsy results, I cried.
When I got my diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer, I cried. I cried again when I googled ‘triple negative breast cancer’, and again when I read my pathology report, and again when I had to phone my daughter, half a world away on holidays in China, and give her my news.
I cried a lot over the next couple of days, variously terrified and numb and moved by the kindness and compassion of my friends. Every time my husband held me, I would leak quiet tears onto his shoulder.
When my daughter arrived home from China I met her at the railway station. We both got a bit moist but we didn’t cry. We were both trying to be strong for each other. We were both trying to reassure each other that I was going to be okay and she was going to be okay and that there was no way I was going to die from this so we didn’t need to cry.
I cried when my hair started to fall out. I cried again when I said to my husband “Well this is going to be unattractive!” and he said, “Well yes, but it’s not like you weren’t expecting it.” What I really wanted to hear was that I was going to look just as beautiful to him without hair. Then I remembered that I love his honesty, even if it sometimes means hearing what I don’t want to hear. Of course I look better with hair. But I still felt sad.
I cried after dinner for my daughter’s 21st with her lovely boyfriend and my gentle husband and my brave mum. I wondered if it was possible for me to have the evening my Mum just did, enjoying a grandchild turning 21. I wondered if I would live to meet my daughter’s beautiful babies and what sort of difference it would make to her if I wasn’t around to help her with nappies and breastfeeding and very annoying unsolicited advice. I cried a lot about that.
The tears don’t stop me being positive. I think they help. It seems to me that crying when you feel sad is as natural as laughing when you find something funny.
My daughter is very good at crying. I tried to cheer her up when she was a sobbing two year old and she said, “Mummy, I know you’re trying to help but I really need to get the sadness out!” So I held her, and she cried. I’ve admired her ability to weep without embarrassment or apology ever since. Her record is three days of on-and-off crying the first time her heart was broken by a clumsy teenage boy. At the end of three days she emerged from her bedroom and declared that she was done with being sad about him and that he didn’t deserve any more of her tears. And she was right.
Sometimes you just have to get the sadness out.
Most of the time I prefer to cry alone. I know that it upsets some people. I also like the freedom to cry things out without distraction.
Sometimes there’s nothing better than someone rubbing your back and passing you tissues while you sob away. My husband is a wonderful crying support person, and also good at knowing when I’m about to tip over. There’s a process that kicks in when getting the sadness out can become wallowing about in the sadness, laying face down in the sadness and holding your head submerged in the sadness until your face goes blue.
Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference. He’s very good at asking me if I’m done, just at that point when I really should be.
For me, there’s a real release in crying. I really do feel better after a good cry. If I’ve been crying for a while and I’m not feeling any better then I usually realise I’ve gone too far. I recognise that now I’m feeling sad about feeling sad. Sometimes I find myself in a downward spiral where one reason for being sad reminds me of lots of other reasons for being sad and before I know it I’m swimming about in my own pool of tears. I’m getting much better at pulling myself up from that.
I’ve found that it helps if I deliberately make a decision about crying, and limit it to just one thing. I cry to feel better and not to feel worse. If I find myself drifting off in search of new material I bring myself back to my original reason. Funny, because that’s the same technique used in meditation. You establish a framework with a single point of focus. You notice distractions and bring your mind gently back to the single point of focus. Once you feel you have that focus you let go.
Have I just invented crying meditation? (Yes, I’m joking, but I know a smiley face at this point would be annoyingly cute.)
After I’ve had a good cry it’s much easier for me to be happy. I feel like I’ve done my emotional laundry and hung my sadness out to dry.
Just because I’m crying it doesn’t mean I’m not positive.
Being positive isn’t about being happy all the time. It means that you make a deliberate effort to be as happy and content as you reasonably can be for as often as you are able to achieve that. It means recognising that sometimes we dig our own emotional holes and then blame someone else for the mess. It’s a choice. We can choose not to do it.
But it’s not about denying the reality that sometimes we all experience genuinely sad and distressing events or circumstances. When that happens, feeling sad for a while is healthy and normal. Crying helps.
I’ve had other reasons to cry.
When a group I haven’t belonged to for years heard of my cancer they got together and bought me a tree. They sent someone from the group around to my home with their thoughtful gift and a beautiful card from all of them. I cried.
When a young man I met while I was learning the cello sent me a message to say he was sorry to hear about my cancer diagnosis and was coming up to cook my husband and I a baked dinner, I cried.
When I read all of the beautiful messages of love and support that people post on Facebook I regularly have a quick weep over their thoughtfulness.
When good friends come over and ignore the cancer and make me laugh and laugh until my ears flap there’s usually a good mix of tears in there too.
I cry with joy and because I’m moved by people’s kindness and because I’m so happy to be alive.
I don’t know why great happiness and great sadness both involve tears. Maybe tears are just a human reaction to extreme emotion. They always feel like a release to me. Something starts way down in my body, moves up through my chest and my throat and pushes its way out through my eyes.
It doesn’t seem to make any difference to me whether my tears are happy or sad. The end result is that I’m left feeling peaceful, quiet and content.