Having a Good Cry
I don’t think I understand what having a good cry is like. People have often said to me throughout my life that it helps to have a good cry. They recommend having a good cry. But for me, as an autist, crying doesn’t DO anything to help me deal with feelings of sadness or frustration or grief. For me, crying is a physical response to being overwhelmed and mostly when I’m finished crying I have a migraine headache and am tired. I don’t feel better. I certainly don’t feel good.
I’m convinced that this is an autism problem. It’s difficult for me an autist to name my emotions. This has always been true. Even in childhood, I struggled to figure out what I was feeling. Good or bad — yes, I could get to that level of delineation, but not much further. My dad (who I suspect is also autistic) used to joke around by asking us how we were feeling and whatever we answered, he’d say, “No, I mean are you feeling with your fingers or toes?” Haha, autistic dad joke. Except it’s more than that. I think he also struggled to understand his feelings.
Even as an adult in my twenties and thirties, it sometimes seemed like other people understood my emotions better than I did. My kids would tell me that I was angry, to which I immediately responded, No, I’m not. Because anger wasn’t an emotion that seemed socially acceptable for a woman in my religious system, so I suppressed it. But grief also didn’t seem like something that I figured out easily. Or just plain sadness. Or disappointment.
I’m a writer, so I know all the words for emotions. I’ve read thousands of books, so I know, theoretically anyway, how emotions are often displayed physically in the body or in the face. It’s much harder for me when I have to read faces in person, especially if my own emotions are getting in the way.
Crying in public causes other people to want to hug me or to tell me “it’s OK,” or to offer me advice or to have other social interactions with me that make it so that I feel I have to mask and that requires extra energy. Crying in private is better, but it still disrupts the patterns of my life, the schedules, the habits. It makes me pay attention to a thing I don’t want to pay attention to because it upends everything else.
If I spend an hour crying, then what about what I was supposed to do during that hour? I used to tell people that I didn’t like vacations because I’d already set up my life in the way in which I liked it. I needed stability and I needed predictivity. I needed to know what was going to happen when. But guess what? Emotions aren’t like that. They just take up space.
Emotions are human, but they don’t have a work value. If I hadn’t been crying, I’d have been able to walk several miles, something that always helps me feel grounded and in control of myself again. I could have written some words that made me feel connected to humanity in ways that I can control. Crying — doesn’t do that. It just gives me a headache and leaves me feeling drained. I don’t think I know how to have a good cry, only a bad one.