Emo Babysteps

I’m an emotional person.

In the past I would have said “emotionally unstable,” and either description would surprise those who only know me on a surface level. The majority of people who know me well would probably go with a nicer form of “emotionally unstable.” It’s taken me years to get to the point where I realize that what I experience isn’t unstable at all.

I feel things deeply, but I lack the necessary ability to process those emotions. I’m also a male that grew up in the American Midwest; emotions are meant to be bottled up, particularly if they are large and scary.

Those are the ones I have the most.

My emotions would manifest themselves in bizarre ways, none of which were really that much less awkward than if I’d just allowed myself to express them, but being weird is a question mark, while being emotional is a knowable, contemptible action.

I used to hang out with some gay guys. I say “hangout” because we all worked together, but we were friends, too, so I saw them a lot, and they had a big influence on my life. A couple of them regularly told me that I was closeted. And that was something I thought about, because I always felt like there was a part of me that I had held back my entire life, but it wasn’t being attracted to men. At least that’s something I think I could have figured out, particularly given that I was surrounded by people who would have been supportive.

I knew there was something inside me that I had been denying for my entire life. I could feel it. And I regularly wondered if maybe I was gay, just like I wondered if maybe I should find Jesus, or maybe I should move to a small town and dig ditches, or any number of things. There always felt like there was something else going on.

My answer came when my son was born.

I could bury happiness. I could bury sadness. I could bury anger. I even managed to bury love on a regular basis. But this love, this joy, it would not be denied. The day my son entered this world he changed my life in ways I could never have imagined.

I have a vivid memory of sitting on the couch, holding my son, and telling Nicole that I felt like I was going to burst. What I was experiencing was overwhelming. It couldn’t be contained and I had no idea how to deal with it.

It’s been a battle since then. It’s not just that I need to figure out how to live like this, it’s that I want to be able to process my emotions in a healthy way for my family.

This is not made any easier by the depression that runs in my family, but that’s ultimately a different issue.

I think a big problem is that our society considers crying to be a bad thing. And if you’re a man who’s crying? God, no. And there are a lot of things that make me cry, most of which don’t make me sad. There is a disconnect in my head because of this. Why am I crying if I’m not sad?

This passage from an article from Time magazine explains:

But crying is more than a symptom of sadness, as Vingerhoets and others are showing. It’s triggered by a range of feelings—from empathy and surprise to anger and grief—and unlike those butterflies that flap around invisibly when we’re in love, tears are a signal that others can see. That insight is central to the newest thinking about the science of crying.

That’s Ad Vingerhoets, a Dutch professor known as the world’s foremost expert on crying in part because of his book, Why Only Humans Weep.

I should probably be crying six to ten times a week, given how often the feeling strikes me. All indications are that crying actually helps your overall emotional state, too.

The question remains, though: how do I let myself go? How do I give myself up, hand over control? How do I create an environment where my son realizes that crying is okay no matter the reason?

I’m trying. The fight against my intense emotions regularly makes me feel worse and I can’t afford to feel worse these days. I don’t know that I’ll ever be that person who takes ten minutes out of their day to have a good cry, but I can’t be that person who spends all their energy trying to stop it.

Now I’m going to go watch the “Under Pressure” scene from The Magicians again and allow myself to feel it.