I’m not crying – an experiment

“If I wait for stormy skies then you won’t know the rain from the tears in my eyes” The Everly Brothers

“you see my smile it’s out of place, look a little bit closer and it’s easy to trace the tracks of my tears” Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

“you wished me well, but you couldn’t tell that I’d been crying’ Roy Orbison

I’ve been carrying out an experiment for the past few months on what it is like to cry whenever you are just a little bit sad

On the 14th March I had laser eye surgery. I paid someone a significant amount of money to prop open my eyes and repeatedly fire lasers at them. I paid someone to do something that in the 60’s would have seemed like a particularly sinister thing for a James Bond villain to threaten. 

The operation was a success and I now have better than 20:20 vision and my eyes are recovering well. One of the side effects of the operation was that for a few months afterwards your eyes aren’t able to create and distribute moisture in the way you would expect. To keep your eyes moist you use ‘artificial tears’ (a bit like fancy eye drops) and things gradually improve until you are back to normal. 

About a fortnight after the operation I got something in my eye and instead of welling up nothing happened. I had to squirt lots of ‘artificial tears’ into them until I could get the object out. It was at this point I realised that I simply couldn’t cry. 

So I thought about the saddest thing I could and attempted to engineer a situation where I might cry. After a few minutes of reflecting on very bad things I had an emotional response and there was no matching physical response. I like experiments, this seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up.

We are conditioned (rightly or wrongly) to keep crying to a minimum. I was now in a position where I could cry in public and nobody would notice. I could be talking to someone in a coffee shop, be crying and the other person wouldn’t be aware – as long as I didn’t sob. As this would be the only time in my life that I’d experience this I thought I’d attempt to puzzle out the situations where I might cry if nobody was aware. 

Context: I cry rarely. When people say ‘but we all know you cried when your first child was born! Everybody does!’. I didn’t. I’m not dead inside, but I have a high degree of self control. I’m don’t do crying. Or so I thought.

I found out how high my level of self control was it was by spending three months ‘ninja crying’ whenever I felt like I might want to.

Here are the situations when I found myself doing ninja crying

  • when I was working away for a few days and my daughter was worried I would forget her
  • when somebody explained a particularly unpleasant experience someone else had put them in
  • watching somebody else cry
  • when I saw a death in a recent blockbuster movie (it wasn’t even particularly well filmed)
  • when I get bad news about things happening to people I care about (primarily family)
  • when I hear about anything happening to children. The recent child abuse cases in the UK make me concerned enough about my daughter to cry
  • when somebody else opens up
  • just sitting on my own in a coffee shop when I thought about some of the above

Of the things I’ve listed above the only one that might normally make me cry is the bad news about people I care about. That means my TSI (tear suppression index) must be particularly high. It’s caused me to reflect on how genuine emotions we put on display are and how much they are simply what we consider to be a societally acceptable reaction to the situation we are in.

When are you making your true feelings ‘go ninja’? Would the world be a better (or worse) place if we all expressed stronger emotions with more regularity? It’s one to ponder.  

Two final points. Kate Griffiths-Lambeth pointed me in the direction of this fascinating article on types of tears and was also present a few weeks ago when I accidentally ate a big chunk of wasabi.

The level of wasabi consumed meant that I did manage to cry…despite medical science suggesting I shouldn’t be able to. We discussed whether starting training events with people eating wasabi to jerk them into alertness might be worth considering… 

The video below is worth a short amount of your time. It will make you realise the ridiculousness of hiding your emotions from others and contains the immortal line ‘my eyes are just a little sweaty today’. It’s so funny it could have you in tears. 

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