Tag Archives: mental health

And I’ll Cry If I Want To: an open letter from a basket case

I am a crier. I have always been a crier and I always will be a crier. Both of my parents describe themselves as criers (relative to their age and gender – more on that later) but neither are such prolific criers as I am. I erupt into tears at the first sign of distress, even when I know with my entire brain that the distress is stupid, insignificant, or temporary.

As a crier, this is what I would like you people who do not cry very often (and those of you who cry very often and feel shitty about it) to know:

Crying is a physiological response to stress. It is an involuntary reaction, like raising your voice slightly when agitated, not a decision like screaming at someone or cursing or calling people names.

Crying is not a guilt trip. It’s not “manipulative.” Can you imagine if we read other physical signs of stress as manipulative? “God, that last applicant started sweating during the job interview. Can you believe that? What kind of person tries to guilt trip you into giving them a job like that?”

I don’t cry to make you feel bad. If we’re having a tough conversation and I start crying, the message I’m sending is “I am experiencing abnormally high levels of stress,” not  “look what you did!” Causing me stress does not necessarily mean you have done anything wrong. People cause each other stress all the time. If I am crying but I say you haven’t done anything wrong, you should believe me, because if you are mistreating me I will sure as hell tell you. 

 I am aware that you may be experiencing as much if not more stress than I am, but that your crying threshold is probably higher than mine. Do not assume based on your own crying threshold that my tears mean that my whole life is crashing down around me and I am beside myself. That is not what crying means for me. If I say I will be fine in twenty minutes and that we can either continue the conversation as though I’m not crying, or resume it when I’m finished, depending on which makes you more comfortable, believe me.

If I tell you that you haven’t done anything wrong and that I will be fine in twenty minutes and you still feel personally attacked and indicted by the fact that I am crying, that is your damn problem. It is a problem that I’m sympathetic to, because the cultural conditioning that makes you feel that way makes my life difficult as well, but it is still your problem and not mine. I’ll do my best to work with you around it, but what I will not do from now on is fight a losing battle to stop crying in order to spare your feelings, because:

Crying is good for me. Many researchers believe that crying is good   for you in general, with some exceptions. The vast majority of people report feeling better after doing it. It reduces heart rate and blood pressure from pre-cry levels, and releases toxins that build up in your system. But I KNOW crying is good for ME, for the simple reasons that:

1. I feel better after I do it, and

2. I feel like absolute, grade-A shit if I force myself not to do it.

Crying makes me feel so much better that yesterday when I was emotional over leaving all my friends behind in Pittsburgh, I forced myself to cry on the Megabus by listening to a sappy song on repeat, because being very-sad-and-on-the-verge-of-tears-but-not-crying for two hours sucked ten thousand times more than just sobbing it out. I am sure that I looked a hot mess, and if anyone (I had my own seat, for the record) noticed me sobbing like a hot mess on the Megabus, they might have felt uncomfortable, but that discomfort, like the previously discussed feelings of guilt-trippery, is their cross to bear because it is my one-woman Megabus pity party and I will cry (at a courteous volume) if I want to. 

Finally, treating crying as an optional, hysterically dramatic, manipulative outburst that anyone with good sense or decency would refrain from doing, at least in front of people, is totally sexist. 

Studies show that women cry an average of forty-seven times a year (I haven’t counted but my personal normal is probably twice that, for real) and men cry around seven times a year. This split happens at puberty – prepubescent boys and girls cry at the same rate. While harmful social conditioning no doubt plays a serious role in this, scientists think it also has something to do with the fact that men, on average, sweat more and thus have somewhat less need to release toxins by crying.

In other words, the Men’s Rights-tinged view that men don’t cry because they were taught to be tough, and if women want to be tough they should be like men and stop crying (in other words, BOOTSTRAPS!!!!1!), might honestly be akin to a woman saying that if men wanted to be civilized then they ought to sweat less. (Although men do struggle more on average with high blood pressure so if anything, it is y’all who need to cry more.)

Even if they aren’t “allowed” to cry, men have different ways of being “emotional” which are often penalized less in the public arena than women’s tears, as wonderfully outlined in this blog. The likes of Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly have built whole careers off of yelling at people on television, but can you imagine if Rachel Maddow cried during a debate on gay adoption? Jesus. And that’s an issue that affects her personally.

I’m not saying that Rachel Maddow SHOULD go around crying on TV. Her ability to keep cool under pressure is one of the reasons she is on TV, and my penchant for tearful outbursts is one of the reasons I am not. But there is a double standard apparent in letting folks like Rush Limbaugh go shrieking all over town while my journalism professor fervently warns her female students never to be caught dead crying at work (something she didn’t have the heart to tell me, six months earlier, when I cried in her office. in front of my editor. over a story I hadn’t even written yet.)

P.S. I am aware that this post does nothing really to address the issue, and very real struggles, of highly sensitive people (especially men and people being raised as men) who have nevertheless trained themselves not to cry. I figure it is probably best for those people to get together and discuss, decide on and publicize what they need from the rest of us. That said, I have always thought that people should get safe space stickers like LGBT-friendly high school teachers have in their classrooms that indicate “You can cry in front of me. I won’t treat you like a hysterical leaking alien.” Actually, that would do us criers a lot of good too.


Belated Farewell Column!

Other things I forgot to post to this blog while I was busy scrambling to graduate from college include my farewell column to the Pitt News, featuring my thinly-veiled thoughts on the Druids, musings on being both opinionated and crazy, and helpful hints that a woman is not going to touch your genitals tonight.

Sometimes the cruelest thing you can say to someone is “There’s nothing wrong with you.” When you’re struggling with symptoms — mental or physical — that make you miserable and impair your daily living, those words sound like, “There’s no relief for this. It’s always going to be this bad, and if you were a stronger person, you’d just be able to deal with it.” That is a cruel lie. If you are suffering more than you are enjoying your life, then something is wrong — whether or not it’s diagnosable — and you don’t have to live like that.

http://www.pittnews.com/index.php/opinions/71360-hickey-a-departing-senior-imparts-words-of-wisdom-reflects-on-pitt-experience


Column: Renting for your Mental Health

I have a column in this year’s Rental Guide, about what to consider for your mental health when you’re looking for a place to rent (because clearly what we all need for our mental health is MORE things to worry about when renting. duh.)

I personally try never to live more than two minutes from a reliable food source. I’m not talking Market District — CVS or Sunoco will do — just as long as I can go there at nearly any hour to buy milk, eggs, soup and Easy Mac. Don’t get me wrong — I’d rather not subsist on ramen and gas station hot dogs. But I have occasional depressive episodes, and if I don’t really cook. If I have a breakdown while living more than five minutes from a convenience store or small grocery, I’ll eat nothing for two weeks but cold pizza and shame.

“How To Rent An Apartment that’s Good for your Mental Health”

P.S. special thanks to my friend Mike for alerting me that the purple color I was using for the background of this blog was “frankly alarming.” It does look much better now that it’s white. For as fabulously well-dressed as I am, I have basically no aesthetic sense for anything that’s not on my own body.


Columns I Forgot to Blog

Trying to take advantage of the attention my last column got and dust off the blogging hat or whatehaveyou. To that end, here are my columns I forgot to post over the last few months.

November 22nd – Pitt’s scare-’em-straight posters of alcohol tragedies were tasteless and horrible:

When using a person’s death to raise awareness, it is always important to proceed with the utmost care because you are using the name and likeness of someone who did not — could not — consent to have that likeness used. While I’m assuming the victims’ families consented to have their children serve as cautionary tales — and I hope they saw and approved the final drafts of the posters before they were released ­­— family consent is only part of making an ad tasteful. You have to ask yourself: If I died in some tragic way, would I want to appear on a poster that looked like this? Despite the best intentions of the Office of Health Education and Promotion — which had not responded to requests for an interview as of press time — the “This Was [So and So]” posters fail that test.

November 29 – I went to a Survivors of Suicide Loss conference, and it was SO SAD, and I wrote a column that was sad too:

Some people had outbursts during the psychiatrist’s PowerPoint presentation. Some had to leave the room to compose themselves. Strangers cried in each others’ arms. This was an educational conference, not a group therapy session, but many attendees — some of whom had lost their loved ones only months before — had never attended therapy to help them cope with their loss or met another suicide-loss survivor in a therapeutic context.

December 4 – I wrote something fun for once, and it wound up on the site with a really redundant headline, but mostly you should shop at Groceria Merante because they are amazing.

Oakland is home to a great selection of small grocery stores with great prices and awesome food, belying the need to take the bus to Giant Eagle every time your cabinets are empty. I don’t know what it is that makes students decide it’s easier to schlep their bags home from Shadyside, but in case it’s fear of the unknown, I want to take you on a tour of just a few of the best local places to take your grocery list.


My column on the stark underfunding of the counseling center

So of course, I’m crazy excited about the election. But I’m going to write more about this when I post the link to the latest WPTS on the Radio discussion, in which my fellow columnists and I were asked, “Does the Republican Party have any hope of getting back the youth vote?” My answer: “Probably not without changing practically everything they stand for.”

But for now, this column. I am proud of this column; I wanted to write it over a year ago and was repeatedly blocked from bringing it to fruition.

I don’t have a lot of reporting experience, and it was very awkward for me to interview Counseling Center representatives for a piece that was ultimately about their failure to meet student need for services. But I hope they (and readers) realize aspersions aren’t being cast on them – they don’t decide how much funding they  get – but on the people at Pitt who decide how the money is used. In short, the Counseling Center is the rugged hero of this story, not the villain.

The Talk About It program, whose very success is likely reflected in the increased demand for services, becomes a cruel joke when sufferers who decide they do want to talk about it learn that they’ll have to wait until next month. Outreach is no substitute for treatment, and Pitt has talked too much talk about promoting mental wellness on campus to fail to provide for its students in this area.

To Meet Increased Demand, Counseling Center Needs More Resources


my Survival Guide to Horrible Things

This column is dedicated, with great sadness, to a close friend of mine who lost her brother in between when I wrote it and when I published it.

Concept lovingly stolen from Sady Doyle’s “Ruining Your Life” post over at Rookie, which I quoted.

My column from today has been shared around a lot (I mean… by my friends. but it’s not like they share everything I write) which I really appreciate, even as I am busy non-appreciating the fact that I have no idea whether the new Pitt News site is going to have any kind of record of the things I wrote that were published on the old site, so a lot of my past year’s work may or may not be Lost Forever. Which would be a bummer. But either way, here is today’s look at What I’ve Been Doing With My Life:

Captain Awkward, my favorite advice blogger, stresses the importance of having people on Team You. Team You should almost always include a therapist, but it’s equally important to have a strong network of friends. These are the people you can call up when you’re freaking out and say, “Can you get coffee with me in five minutes?” They won’t judge you for being negative or complain that all you talk about is the horrible thing, because they understand that you’re going through a temporary crisis and that you need support.

If you don’t have those friends, find another way to build a strong Team You. If you haven’t made friends like that at college yet, don’t be shy about calling your high school friends. Start group therapy. For most horrible things, there are online forums for people to support each other — find one that suits your needs, whether it’s a website tailored specifically toward your problem or a special forum on a site such as Reddit. The people who form your online support network can become lasting friends, or they can be a crutch to get through the hardest part until you have more allies in meatspace. The important thing is having a network of people who can listen to you talk about your arrest without offering unsolicited amateur legal advice, or tell you that it’s okay to be angry at your ex, but for the love of God, do not send them that Facebook message to that ex you’ve drafted.

It is preferable to have your parents on Team You, but sometimes they are not.

“Survival Guide to Horrible Things,” October 2012


Today’s Column Is About Self-Esteem

I was going to refrain from mentioning this column aside from burying it at the very bottom of the Mental Health round-up because it was honestly not my favorite. Also, the title makes it sound like I am just instructing people to like themselves, when what I really meant to do was deconstruct the reasons we continue choosing not to.

But I got a lot of positive feedback, including from a very tough professor, so I’m going to make it a Special Feature anyway. Here we go.

I’m not quoting the whole thing, because the Pitt News is losing money and that makes me sad, so I don’t want to steal a page view from them. Please click through!

 

Something really frightening happened yesterday when I looked in the mirror.

In fact, it’s been happening for weeks. More often than not, for almost a month now, I’ve looked in the mirror and felt … basically alright about what I saw.

Getting comfortable with my own appearance is something I’ve been working toward, with no small amount of struggle, for years. And now that I seem to be arriving at my goal, the emotion I feel is less triumph than fear. Where do I get off feeling good about how I look? Who gave me permission to go around thinking I’m some sort of hot property? What kind of conceited jerk am I turning into?

On Why Hating Yourself Is A Bad Decision, Basically