Don’t Be A Duck
By Olivia Land
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]H[/dropcap]i, my name is Olivia, and I am crier. According to Merriam-Webster, this means I am “one that cries,” and I have to agree that this is a pretty accurate description because, well, I cry. A lot. The exact frequency varies, but depending on my circumstances I am willing to say that tears roll down my cheeks anywhere from a few times a week to multiple times a day. For the purposes of dispelling any preconceived notions at the top of our discussion, I want clarify that I am no more depressed than the average person, nor is my life a semblance of particularly trying circumstances. The only hidden truth to be known here is that my name is Olivia, and I am a crier.
I’ve been what some call “emotional” for as long as I can remember. Whenever I experience a negative emotion, like being angry, overwhelmed, stressed, or sad, my natural reaction is let the loose with the waterworks. Sometimes these episodes are brief and quickly forgotten, and other times they are longer, recurring in bursts throughout the day. And while I am generally pretty quiet and reserved, I am capable of crying in front of pretty much anyone, from a camp counselor I’ve just met to my extended family and friends, all of whom either used to (and therefore immune to) my tears or else are rendered extremely uncomfortable. Even now, after seventeen years of experience with this tearful mind of mine, I find myself whispering profuse apologies from behind the folds of my tissues.
For a long time, I struggled to come to terms with this part of myself. My penchant for crying was a source of embarrassment, something I was desperate to hide but rarely succeeded in doing so. While tears streamed from my eyes, my head flooded with self-loathing. “Why are you so pathetic?” I’d think. “You’ve got to do better.” Our society’s emphasis on self-discipline and stoicism, of course, only made things worse.[divider type="short" spacing="10"]
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]F[/dropcap]inally, after a particularly tear-filled spring, I was compelled to “make a change.” Every month, I pick manifestation, a mantra of sorts that addresses a personal growth goal. For July, I chose “accepting,” which I described on my blog as “taking each predicament as it comes,” but really meant “stop. crying. so. much.” That right there, that rigid, almost punitive endgame, should have set off internal alarm bells, but it didn’t. On July 1st, I woke up ready to “accept” and dry my eyes for good.
I won’t lie and say that my manifestation didn’t breed any kind of progress. I applied my quick-start tips - counting to ten, breathing slowly - and navigated myself through of a couple dicey situations with no tissues needed. Convinced I was on the path to becoming The Girl Who Never Cried, I called to mind the image of a duck. “Be a duck, let it all roll right off your back” was my motto, the words echoing in my mind with the sing-song-y voice of a supremely Zen-ed out yoga teacher.
Sounds good, right? With the crazed vigor of some sort of 12-step expert, I was squashing my crying habit like a bug. By fall, I was primed to be Mary Lennox-level impassive (only I can dress myself, so I’m that much cooler). But here’s the thing about that sing-songy yoga teacher: As much as we admire her spiritual calmness and creaseless forehead, we kind of want to punch her. As we contemplate how our foot ended up suspiciously close to our head, our inner monologue doesn’t resemble “Om” so much as it screams “If you tell me to breathe in and out one more time…”
Eventually, I got to that point with myself. It happened in the middle of the week, on Wednesday, and up until that point I’d had a pretty great day. I’d woken up early, gotten work done, and even had time to listen to a podcast before heading to work that afternoon. On my way home that evening, though, I was suddenly overcome with a panicky, overwhelmed feeling. I fought back sobs as my parents asked me cheerfully about my day, the people I saw at work, blah blah blah. I answered them to the best of my ability, all the while fending off assaults from the drill sergeant in my head who was nailing my for being “so weak”.
As soon as we got home, I ran for my room and tried to collect myself. I must have counted to one hundred by the time I realized it was too late- I was already crying. It wasn’t hard to figure out why: I’d been working two jobs for three weeks without a single day off, I was confronting the reality of college applications, I was keeping up my commitments to my blog and other projects…in short, I was exhausted. And so I cried, and you know what? It felt amazing. Rather than draining me the way some emotional reactions might, every heave of my chest felt like I was breathing in new energy. I let myself sit there on my bed for five minutes before washing my face, changing, and going for a run. I ran fast that day, and with a smile, too, knowing I’d released the weight that was suffocating me just minutes before.[divider type="short" spacing="10"]
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]B[/dropcap]esides confirming my belief in the benefits of physical exercise, my experience on that July evening taught me that, yeah, it is alright to cry. Because life happens, guys. Plans get cancelled, deadlines get bumped up, you get stuck in pigeon pose. And when things hit the fan, it’s okay to allow yourself to feel it (you certainly won’t need help with that last one). Whether that means taking five seconds to vent to your mom or having a little cry, that’s okay! No matter how attached we are to our devices, we are not androids. We are humans, and part of the existence involves water sometimes springing from your eyes and another, less pleasant substance dripping from your nose. Whatever your reaction, it’s all well and good. Emotion, I like to think, is a sign that we are alive.
I’m not saying we should walk around weeping 24/7, because ancient cults have tried that and it didn’t end so well. Rather, I think we would all benefit from letting go of the idea that emotion is inherently weak and deserves to be hidden. Like I said above, we live in a society that reveres Aldous Huxley-like impassivity, and dismisses even small shows of emotion - happy or sad - as “hysterical” or overly sentimental. This cultural atmosphere filled me with self-censure for years, so much so that I believed I needed to quit crying the way others quit smoking. Did I need to freak out about avocado not being ripe? No, probably not. But there were times when my circumstances were tough, and feeling guilty about how I handled it only added to my anxiety.
My name is Olivia, and I am a crier. I am also a daughter, a student, a blogger, a friend, and so much more. I’m only a teenager, and I still have a lot to learn, but take advice on this: Don’t be a duck. Don’t allow everything to roll of your back, never acknowledging what they might mean for you. It might not be fun at first, but I firmly believe that embracing all the highs and lows of life is one of the surest ways to becoming the realized version of yourself. When you look back on your life, be that today or seventy years from now, don’t you want to be able to say you laughed, loved, danced, and, yes, cried your way through it?
As William Faulkner once wrote, after all, “Life was created in the valleys.”