Andrea Mara

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Cry me a river (and then some)

I haven’t stopped crying for two days – this is only slightly more crying than usual; fueled by goodbyes to teachers and to pre-school and to another chunk of childhood.

I’m a crier. Anything sets me off. Some days, everything sets me off. Like yesterday.

It started early, when a friend told me she is expecting her first baby and I welled up, grabbing for tissues while apologising for my inability to keep it together. I was at work, so extra mortification points.

I cried at a news story – a good news story – just a normal, everyday radio-induced cry.

Then my daughter’s teacher emailed us a flipagram she’d made, with photos of the class throughout the year. Watching image after image of my smiling six-year-old and her smiling classmates, set to Heather Small’s “Proud“, I had tears streaming down my face, and much to my husband’s amusement, I completely lost the ability to speak for a full five minutes.

And yesterday wasn’t unusual. I cry every day at something.

I cry at TV programs – last night a memorial for a character in Orange is the New Black had me in tears. I cry at ads (yes, that’s a bit sad) – particularly the Electric Ireland Shine On You ad. I cry at films – and really, in most films there’s a lump-in-the-throat moment (even in Lego Movie). I missed entire pieces of dialogue while watching Philomena because I was bawling so loudly during the opening scenes, and Dallas Buyers Club had a similar effect.

I cry at good news and at bad news, and especially when I see other people crying. Oh and extra points if it’s a man crying – like rugby players welling up singing the national anthem.

I cry reading blog posts and online articles, particularly the ones where something sad happens, but often the everyday ones too. When words are placed thoughtfully and movingly on the page, and there’s a happy ending or an uplifting moment that brings forth an inaudible “yes!” and the obligatory welling up.

I cry when I’m telling my husband stories about things that happened – often not particularly happy or sad stories, just moving in some small way. I can feel my voice about to go, so I pause, gather myself, and try to say what I intended to say, without the voice-shake. And he acts as though it’s a perfectly normal conversation with a perfectly sane wife who is not about to break down in tears while explaining how she got really inspiring advice at a training course or the way an elderly lady held the door of the coffee shop open and then said the kids were really good – which was a white lie but sometimes elderly ladies can save you.

And I cry listening to the radio. Like the day I drove home from work, literally sobbing out loud, while listening to an interview with Benjamin Brooks-Dutton who had to explain to his two-year-old son that his mother had died. I wasn’t the only one moved by the story – Sean Moncrieff who was interviewing Ben finished up by saying there weren’t many interviews he’d done with tears in his eyes but this was one. The same thing happened when Ray Darcy broke down while reading out an e-mail from a listener whose husband had died at 38 – she  was explaining the huge comfort that palliative care in the home had brought to their family during her husband’s final days, in a piece about funds raised for the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation.

And I cry when I’m proud – like when my six-year-old who was afraid to participate in the school talent show ended up writing her own poem and reading it out to the whole school. Her wonderful teacher e-mailed me a video clip she’d taken. Floods. Of. Tears.

So, basically there’s not much that doesn’t have the potential to bring about a tear or two.

What’s that all about? Why do some people cry more than others? Why are women more prone to shedding tears than men? And does this familiar pricking-at-the-back-of-the-eyes thing intensify when we have children?

There’s some science behind it – it’s not just a myth that women cry more than men. It’s linked to testosterone and prolactin levels (women have more of the latter), so yes, it’s not gender stereotyping; women really do cry more than men do. Getting into the statistics is interesting though – apparently, women cry on average 5.8 times per month and men 1.8  times in the same period. Really? In my house it’s more like I cry 5.8 times per day, and my husband 1.8 times in his life (well, I’m still waiting).

There are some known facts about crying  – there are different types of tears for example. Reflexive tears are a physical response to a stimulus, for example, crying while chopping onions. Basel tears are emotional – crying because we are happy or sad. One interesting element is that our brains can’t tell if we’re happy or sad, which is why the response can be the same – tears at weddings and funerals, for winning and losing, for greeting and saying goodbye, for birth and death.

But there are a lot of unknowns – psychologists still don’t exactly know why we cry. One strong factor is a need for comfort – we cry to communicate to those around us that we need support. But that doesn’t really cover it – that doesn’t for example, explain my vociferous crying while driving home from work on my own, listening to the radio. When we hear a sad story, we tend to insert ourselves or our family into it – so I guess this isn’t a cry for help but rather empathetic tears, imagining ourselves in the same horrific situation.

But hey, I’m not a psychologist. I’m just a crier, trying to keep it together, with tissues at the ready, one lump-in-the-throat moment at a time.

Office mum photo of poem
The poem my six-year-old wrote that made me cry #mammypride




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