I cried easily when I was a child. I still do — perhaps more now than during my childhood. At school, fellow students mocked my behavior. At home, my parents, having survived the Depression era, encouraged being tough rather than expressing feelings.
To avoid criticism, I learned to hold back tears and hide my emotions. I became an expert at distraction, mainly in the form of humor or sarcasm. Those were socially acceptable, while tears were not. So successful was I at swallowing negative emotions that they didn’t emerge until adulthood. When they did, it was in the form of physical symptoms. Hello, fibromyalgia!
Psychotherapists have helped illustrate the relationship between my stifled feelings and the varied physical symptoms I’ve developed. After many years of study and therapy, I read a wonderful book called “The Divided Mind“ by Dr. John Sarno. It summed up everything I’d learned in a way that resonated with me.
That newfound knowledge was encouraging. My assumption was that changing my behavior would improve my health. However, old habits die hard. Despite my valiant attempt to “let it all hang out,” acknowledging and expressing negative feelings are skills most easily learned in childhood with influential adults as role models.
Having missed that opportunity, I compensated with self-help books and continued therapy. My efforts have resulted in an improved ability to detect emotions in other people. However, recognizing and expressing my own emotions remains challenging for me.
One significant improvement is that I no longer try to suppress my tears. I recognize them as the result of being unable to express my emotions verbally. If I feel tears coming, I just let them flow.
A perfect example occurred three days ago when my 11-year-old refrigerator bit the dust. The frustration did me in. First off, not recognizing the issue for more than 48 hours resulted in spoilage of all the food inside (and subsequent exhaustive cleaning). Add to that the repairman’s declaration that the cost of repair was greater than that of a new appliance. Lastly was my fear of exposing my painfully fatigued body to the germ-laden sales floor of an appliance showroom.
With no other choice, I donned my mask and set forth to find a practical, economical solution to my problem. Here’s where the real frustration began. Each refrigerator I selected was back-ordered. Apparently they became a hot commodity at the first hint that food could soon be in short supply.
So, rather than purchase the best priced, best made, or even most practical option (which I normally pride myself on doing), I purchased whatever they could deliver to me the soonest. That’s when I cried — making no attempt to hide my tears.
In moments like these, unequipped with the words to express my frustration, I cry. When my pain gets overwhelming or I feel misunderstood, I cry. When irritable bowel syndrome keeps me at home on yet another sunny day, I cry. When I must decline a precious invitation because it requires more physical stamina than I have, I cry.
I’ve cried at one time or another in every doctor’s office I’ve ever visited. Every fibro patient who has described their symptoms to an unknowledgeable or unsympathetic healthcare professional understands this and has likely done the same.
The difference is that my tears are no longer cause for embarrassment. People who know me (particularly my husband) have come to realize it’s a common response for me. People who don’t know me often are uncomfortable with my tears. But I figure that’s their issue more than mine.
From years of experience as well as from personal research, I’ve learned that tears are healing. They increase the production of endorphins, the body’s feel-good hormone. They release emotions that accumulate during times of stress. And what could be more stressful than having a chronic illness for which there is no cure?
Note: Fibromyalgia News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Fibromyalgia News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to fibromyalgia.