How to cry

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When I first started meditating, within a minute I would feel a strong urge to cry. It was like a trapped wave of emotion rushing to the surface as soon as I relaxed my guard.

This was surprising and overwhelming. I wasn’t used to crying, my default was just to get on with things.

Meditation, which was really just stopping and listening to my body, revealed a huge pool of emotions and memories just under the surface that I’d blocked up for a long time. ME/CFS had added a whole extra layer to this and the dam was about to burst.

I knew there was benefit in processing your emotions, but I wasn’t sure how to approach this. I didn’t know how to cry, I didn’t want to cry and I was scared of what might happen if I did. It felt like giving up control.

Crying can feel profoundly unsafe. One of my big fears was that if I gave in to emotions, if I really started to feel them, I wouldn’t be able to stop. If I breached the dam, the tidal wave of emotion would sweep me away.

Counterintuitively, the opposite is true. By repressing our emotions, we don’t actually ‘get over’ them, we just carry them around with us. To rebalance, we need to feel them.

The first times I cried, during these meditations, I would hold my tears back if I could. I’d fight myself to make it stop, to regain control.

Crying felt chaotic, overwhelming and draining, and it would often exhaust me for the rest of the day and sometimes the next. When energy is so limited, using it to cry seems like a waste. But after crying I would feel a bit better. Fragile, but lighter.

It took a number of prompts from my therapist to help me let go fully and cry without holding back. When I did, it was exactly as I’d feared: a tidal wave of emotion poured out of me and I just sobbed and sobbed. I was paralysed with sadness.

But after a while, the wave dissipated and it was like the sky after rain. The humidity that I’d become so accustomed to was gone and the air was cool and calm. A great weight had been lifted.

One of the things I was most scared of was the volume of emotion that needed to be released. I hadn’t unleashed all of my pent up emotion when I let go fully that once, just some of it. That meant that there was a lot more feeling to be done, which was daunting, but it also meant that I could do it at my own pace.

When I started listening to my body, sometimes I could feel tears not far from the surface, even when I wasn’t consciously thinking or feeling anything in particular. On other occasions specific painful memories of ME/CFS would well up out of the blue, with associated feelings.

I had thought about these memories a number of times since, but I’d pushed the emotion away because it was too painful. This time, I tried to sit with them and let out the emotion held in my body through crying.

I found myself imagining myself as I was in hospital, barely able to speak or walk. And I cried for how low I was then, how much I’d lost of myself. And I put my arm around myself as I was then, and gave myself a hug, and told myself that I was ok, that I was here for myself.

I didn’t pretend that everything was fine, because it wasn’t. There was no silver lining at that moment, and there didn’t need to be. I just needed to acknowledge things as they were.

Over many months, I slowly worked through these emotions, as they arose. Each time it was very difficult, but I got better at accepting when I needed to cry, and just letting the process happen.

The memories are still painful, but having gone towards them and felt them just as they are, I am better able to cope and more able to move forward. Each time I work with my body in this way, I build the trust that is essential to a balanced and calm system.

Opening up to difficult emotions also unlocks positive emotions. Crying can be a natural response to these as well, and isn’t just for sadness.

The biggest positive emotion that brings tears for me is gratitude. As you learn to praise yourself, this positive reinforcement can help feelings of gratitude to bloom, which sometimes come with tears. Connection with people and nature, such as through caring acts or bees in the garden, can bring similar feelings, which is to be welcomed.

How to cry

On a practical level, there are three steps I use to help work through sadness and related emotions:

  • acknowledge
  • accept
  • approach

First, acknowledge the emotion. When you become aware of a feeling or a thought, especially unpleasant or unwelcome ones, just recognise that it’s there. This can be as simple as thinking to myself ‘I’m feeling quite down at the moment’.

The next stage is acceptance. This is letting emotions be present without fighting them.

I’ve started welcoming the feeling (in my head, but sometimes aloud if I’m alone) e.g. ‘Hello, sadness’. This combines acknowledgement and acceptance in an easy, simple way. It can also help to locate and describe the feeling, e.g. ‘my chest is feeling tight’.

Often that’s enough and they will disappear after a while because I’ve listened and I’m letting them be present without engaging or attaching to them.

Sometimes feelings stick around, like a cloud in your body, and I find this happens with sadness semi-regularly. Hoping it will go away doesn’t work, so the next step is to approach the feeling. Going towards it can be scary, but it’s important to respect your body’s messages, as well as deflate the balloon before it gets too big.

For sadness, I deliberately attempt to cry it out. I generally go and wrap myself in a blanket or duvet in a private space and then sit with the feeling and actually feel it fully. Sometimes this is enough to bring tears. If not, I also keep a playlist of songs and videos that I know will make me cry, and and use these to trigger my tears.

Sometimes tears come immediately, sometimes it can take a while, and sometimes they don’t come at all. The aim is to encourage the emotion to come out if it wants to, but not to get worried if it doesn’t.

When I’m crying, I often talk to myself. I talk about and describe the feeling or the memory, and I also reassure myself. I also hug and stroke myself, a form of self soothing that I find it really helpful. I try to remind myself to breathe and to relax my shoulders, as I often get very tense when crying as it’s a full body physical thing.

After crying I’m quite fragile for a while, sometimes a day or two. Crying takes significant mental and physical energy so be gentle on yourself and practice aftercare.

Despite this, every cry is cathartic, helping release the weight of emotion and building trust with your body.

Sometimes I have patches when I’m upset for a few days, or even multiple times a day. Other times I go for a while without any sadness. These natural ups and downs are perfectly normal.

It sometimes feels like I’m being overly blunt by deliberately crying when I’m sad, but I view this as building up a conversation with my body. I don’t need to be perfect, I just need to learn to listen when it’s telling me that something is wrong. I might get my response wrong sometimes but that’s ok; it’s enough just to listen, do my best and be there for myself.