In the house where I grew up, you had to do a lot to get noticed. I was the classic “negative” attention-getter, screaming, lying, and throwing things. My sister had some other method that I still don’t understand, but which seemed to involve punishing herself first before anyone else got to her. We are girls, so we cried a lot. However, crying did not necessarily carry a lot of weight in the attention-getting wars, especially because it was literally never possible to out-cry my mother.
You could not out-drama her either, although I did come dang close. Mom could beat anyone at the pain game. You have a skinned knee? Well shut your pie hole, mama’s kneecap exploded, help her to the couch. Your head hurts? Turn out the lights child, your mother has a debilitating migraine slash aneurysm, now go outside. Someone hurt your feelings? Mom’s devastated on your behalf and can’t make dinner. My childhood of being out-cried and out-hurt taught me two things: people who cry look stupid, and people who don’t feel good are faking.
I’m the jerk who showed up to work with bronchitis, coughed (loudly) for a while, and went home after everyone understood that I really WAS sick. I’d sooner throw up on my desk than call in with nausea. Something had to really, really hurt before I would ask for help. I actually walked around for 2 days with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy and internal bleeding before I let Coach take me to the hospital. Not to be outdone, Mom showed up to my hospital room sporting a neck brace, whispering to my nurse to dim the lights for her. I stopped asking for pain meds after that, lest someone think I was another faker…like her.
It wasn’t until a therapist turned my self-labeled “stoicism” into “a possibly fucked up response to living with a narcissist” that I truly learned how to just be hurt or sad or frustrated. I used to hide from Coach when I was upset because I could NOT let him see me cry. Crying looked ridiculous and fake to me – how could I be sure that he was sure that I was really upset? There were so many weird thoughts going through my head when I was sad/mad/frustrated, that I was never quite sure if I WAS faking or if I was truly emotionally bereft. How could I know? I would have these out-of-body moments where I would watch myself sob and think “well…you could stop but you won’t because he isn’t really sure that you’re sad, which you might or might not be, in fact you may be lying and just enjoying sitting on this soft bed with tissue and your man’s attention.” Honestly, what husband could hope to penetrate THAT labyrinth?
So I finally got my girl-card; I learned how to cry and now I’m rather adept at it, although it isn’t pretty and wears me out. In fact, there are many moments when my children will look sharply at me, convinced that I’m about to break down in a movie or while watching a sports event or eating delicious food. I do carry tissue and eye drops. It’s possible that my new abilities are just hormonal fall-out. It could be that being a mom and a wife has softened me and reassured me and taught me how to be loved. There’s a chance that I have just learned to be nicer to myself and to validate my gut responses. Getting older has opened my eyes to humanity and suffering, including my own. I only know for sure that I have a big heart and that a lot of things touch me — deeply. I take Tylenol at the first sign of a headache and make appointments with my doctor. I am not a faker and if I’m crying, I might let you watch.