In Defence of My Empathy and My Tears (rough)

For me, it really all comes down to people being impolite. A cruel word, an inconsiderate action, a lack of empathy are all things that have brought on that salty waterfall which makes us all nervous in some sense. While I’ve come to accept my own tears, I cannot deal with those of others and I bet the same can be said for many. But at the very core, I don’t need to know how to deal with the gamut of crying habits of the world, I need only cease being scared of my own. After a lifetime of refusing to cry in front of people and being raised to see public crying as a sign of some sort of weakness or inability to be strong, I have said fuck it to all that and now weep freely whenever the moment strikes.

Except, the reason I’ve adopted that way of thinking is because it’s far easier than the alternative. Ever since that first year when my still-undiagnosed-depression suddenly kicked in and I had perpetual wet cheeks for seemingly no reason at all, I’ve found that being okay with my crying is much easier because it happens too often for me to keep hiding it. That cruel word, inconsiderate action or lack of empathy needn't be directed at me for me to feel the pain that can cause and resort me to a weepy mess.

While I’ve always been an empathic person, my depression somehow heightened it so that it’s almost as if I can feel the pain and joy of everyone around me. When I read about women who have been violated or put down or made to hurt, I hurt with them; when I read about animals who have found unconditional love or people who have gotten the happiness they deserve, I cry happiness with them. Sometimes I’ll be walking down the street and see a dog showing love to its owner and being shown love in return and my vision will blur with the burst of tears that will fill my eyes. When I’m on the subway and someone offers up their seat to someone else, my heart aches with happiness and my eyes water with joy knowing that kindness exists. Alternately, when I see a man say something inappropriate to a woman walking by, my anger takes over and my tears fall because I can’t see why people can’t practise decency. Or if a customer is being unnecessarily aggressive and rude to a server, I want to run away and bawl because I hate that must be associated with a species like that.

I had a psychologist once who pointed out to me that my depression heightened my empathy, but gave no reasons for why. I’ve also failed to get reasons for how to control it aside from the very pointless and unhelpful, “Just stop feeling so much.” No one seems to understand that I cannot stop feeling and that if I ever did I may as well die because my life will have no use. The only reason I am me is because I have always felt so much and so strongly. Even though most of the time it is extremely painful to feel the unhappiness of the world on my heart, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Even though I often think I am not strong enough to survive the gamut of emotions that course through me daily, I wouldn’t want to give it up because if I’m not feeling then I’m not living.

So, since I cannot stop feeling, crying is how I cope. Crying has always been a way of letting off steam for me. It’s like I’m a balloon that’s been filled to the brim and is at risk of exploding and crying is the untying of the end to let a little bit of air out. Sometimes the cry goes on for what seems like hours and is accompanied by my X-Acto knife (as if the release of blood is akin to the release of tears) and other times it’s over before it even begins. I’ve escaped classes, work, social events, family gatherings and even solitary walks to run to a bathroom or a street curb and just weep. To let it all out and allow the load of sadness melt out through my tears. I’ve begun prioritizing my own well-being over anything else and one of the ways I do it is with these little escapes of surrendering to my emotions.

Only two of my loved ones know of the extent of this habit and they both agree that it’s not worth all the effort. While I’m happy to have found a way to cope with this potential shortcoming, they think I need to find a way to get rid of it altogether. They think I need to stop feeling every little thing, that I need to find a way to stop being so empathic. I know this need for them comes from a place of eternal love for me and from their own empathy towards me and the harm I sometimes bring myself while in the midst of such tears; however, I strongly disagree with the idea that I need to tone down my empathy. If anything, everyone else should have as much or more empathy than I do. Through my eyes it seems like people don’t have enough empathy and the fact that I can feel so strongly for the plights or others is an advantage that more people need to have. It’s more than just putting myself in someone else’s shoes, it’s coming disturbingly close to how another human being may feel. I have empathy for the world, I have the ability to empathize with everyone and everything, but I often feel that I lack the mental strength to do it. That then forces me to choose between tending to my own empathy-inflicted wounds or just “rub some dirt in it” and keep fighting the good fight.

This excess of empathy has made me a warrior in my own mind. It’s made me start standing up for those who can’t or won’t speak out for themselves. I have girlfriends who avoid putting themselves out there for fear of harassment and I know why they do it and it makes me angry. I put myself out there and when I’m treated inappropriately, I loudly shout “NO!” The fact that I have to weep out my agony after that confrontation is neither here nor there: it simply comes with the territory. But the fact that I felt that and the fact that common sense tells me that I’m probably not the only one this person treats inappropriately inspires me to stand up in the hopes that it will keep some other human being (who maybe isn’t as strong or brave as I am) from suffering the same way.

I’m told it’s not worth it, that I should look out for myself first and the rest of the world can take care of itself. Maybe that’s true, but the rest of the world may not be as strong as I am. Crying doesn’t make me weak, carrying the burden of universal empathy doesn’t make me weak, insisting on talking back to those who don’t show respect doesn’t make me weak or an antagonist. In my mind, it’s given me the unofficial duty to realize that if I’m brought to insufferable tears because of something, there’s a good chance someone else will be too. And if I can stop someone else from feeling the pain that I felt then, goddamnit I will at least try. If having to escape to a bathroom for a few minutes to have a cry is the worst result of it, then so be it. My body can use a good cry like a dry summer can use a good rainfall.

No one should ever need to stop crying, but rather to finish crying. Even if it’s multiple times or just once in a blue moon. Crying is just a way that some people deal and it’s a lot healthier than some of the other vices people turn to in an attempt to cope.