A while ago, I saw a meme that said, “If it still makes you angry, you’re not over it.” I wasn’t bothered by this message when I first saw it. In many ways, I could get behind that idea. I had spent many years being angry about everything that had happened to me, and when I started healing, anger cracked open to show other, more vulnerable emotions: fear, sadness, and even joy.
What irked me was another meme that I started seeing recently. It said something like, “If it still makes you cry, you’re not over it.” This didn’t line up with my experience of the world. No matter how much I’ve healed, I’ve continued to cry about the things that have wounded me. What changes is the reason I’m crying.
A great example of this is my relationship to the letter I wrote to myself back in 2012. I decided to share this letter in chapter 8 of The Art of Talking to Yourself, and from the very first drafts of the book, I cried every single time I read it. As you can imagine, this made editing difficult.
I edit a lot. I’ve learned, over the years, that if I let my work sit until I lose my attachment to it, I can come back with fresh eyes and edit even better. With The Art of Talking to Yourself, I vowed to continue this process (edit, leave it, edit, leave it, etc.) until I was only making tiny changes. Put in a comma in, take out a comma out. Put in the word “that,” take it out. This took four years and hundreds (literally hundreds) of edits. And every single time I read that letter, it made me choke up.
As I was reading, I would see the indented margins of the letter approaching. I’d feel tears starting to gather. As you can imagine, this became inconvenient. So I started skipping that passage. It was simply unproductive to end up so emotional every time I read that chapter!
But even though I stopped reading it on every edit, I continued to feel moved by its presence. I remember on my first edit of the hard copy, my eyes watered when I flipped a page and saw the letter out of the corner of my eye.
Then, it came time to record the audiobook. A few weeks before going into the studio, I pondered my reaction to the letter. Would I cry when I recorded? Would my voice shake? Would this take away from the final product?
And most importantly of all: why was I crying?
There’s another thing that always makes me cry to watch or even think about. In The Notebook, there’s that one scene in the rain where she accuses him of not writing to her, and he says, “I wrote you 365 letters. I wrote you every day for a year. It wasn’t over. It still isn’t over.”
You know that speech, I’m sure. It tears me apart. They are words she has so longed to hear and he has so longed to say. It’s like a supernova, an explosion, a tearing down of the walls of illusion to find passion, love, strength.
That’s how writing that letter to myself made me feel. It was like time stopped, and there was only me and myself in the rain, saying the most fiercely romantic words anyone had ever said or would ever say to me. My saviour had finally come. She wasn’t what I expected, but she swept me off my feet.
That is why I cried. Why I still cry. I cry because the memory of catharsis evokes cathartic feelings within me. I cry for all the pain I released by standing up and taking responsibility for loving myself. All the pain that so many people walk around with day to day. They are tears of joy, release, compassion, and love.
So when I recorded reading that letter, yes, I cried. And yes, my voice shook. And no, it didn’t harm the recording. I think it made it better.
My family used to always tell me to stop crying. Whenever I would tear up, they would say, “Don’t do that.” When my grandfather describes happy people, he says, “You know, the ones who never cry.”
It’s nonsense. It’s culturally ingrained nonsense, and it keeps us from healing. Tears are essential. For some more than others, but for all of us, to some degree. Tears are emotional lubricant. They help us feel our lives, feel others’ pain, feel the moment. Being open to life is a tear-jerking experience. And there is nothing bad about that.
There are so many bodily functions that we jokingly claim are “better in than out.” I remember being in an Uber once and suppressing a sneeze when the driver told me, with concern in his voice, that it was dangerous to do that. He learned it in medical school.
I think it is potentially dangerous to suppress any feeling, and much of our suppression begins and ends with our beliefs about what we “should” feel.
The first meme said, “If you’re still angry, you’re not over it.” Maybe this is a harmful idea too. Maybe for some people, anger isn’t toxic. Maybe it comes up to help them remember to set boundaries or fight for justice.
If I end up in a situation that reminds me of the past, I might experience old anger bubbling up. Does that mean I’m not over it? Or could my emotions be trying to help me identify the similarity of my experiences and warn me that I might be repeating unhelpful patterns.
The second meme said, “If you’re still crying, you’re not over it.” Maybe both parts of that sentence are wrong. Maybe the most dangerous belief of all is that we should “get over it.”
Am I over my self-love issues? I write about my experiences. I coach people through their journeys, feeling the intensity of their pain with them. Sometimes, I cry with them. Many of my poems chronicle my healing process. Every day, I find new ways to relearn the same lessons. And I still cry all the time.
Does being “over” something require that I sort through my emotions and then quietly sweep the whole thing under the carpet, go on with my life, and never show anyone what happened or try to connect to people that it’s still happening to? If that’s being over it, count me out.
I choose to feel. I am not afraid of my emotions. And I will not stop crying.