I’m a crier.
Not just regular drip-down-your-face tears. I mean full on snotty, snivelling, deep-breathing sobbing.
I’ve been like this as long as I remember. I now know this is because I’ve had borderline personality disorder (BPD), or at least the seeds of it, as long as I remember.
Feeling emotions very intensely is a big part of the condition, and it’s my huge emotional reactions (combined with a strong sense of empathy) that drive the tears.
I cry at television programmes. I never, ever watch Long Lost Family; it’s too traumatic.
I cry at films. I actually wish Woody et al died in the incinerator rather than having to go through the gut-wrenching scene with Andy and Bonnie at the end of Toy Story 3.
I cry at songs. I can’t have Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Bobby Jean’ in my Spotify playlist in case it comes on during shuffle play and I’m not emotionally prepared. Even thinking about this song makes my chest tighten and a lump form in my throat.
Weddings I manage but naming ceremonies and children’s assemblies guarantee tears.
And I’ve never quite recovered from witnessing the despair of a child on the opposite platform at Nuneaton station dropping his favourite sandwich from his pushchair. I cried at the time and I’ve cried about this since.
The only time I don’t really cry is during the depths of depression, so in some ways I take the tears as a good sign.
Over the years I’ve attempted techniques to manage this trait, from avoidance (as with Long Lost Family) to containment (deep breathing before, during and after the potential trigger), with varying degrees of success.
But what about the things we cannot avoid – or don’t want to?
The news tops this list.
I’m not alone in struggling with this. Recently I’ve heard more and more people – intelligent, caring people – saying that they are deliberately avoiding the headlines and updates.
Is this the answer? Can we only cope by disengaging with what’s going on in the world around us?
Surely there’s another solution, a way to stay informed about current affairs without becoming a nervous wreck?
Imposing limitations on consumption is one strategy. I try to stick to a radio programme in the morning then a bulletin early evening. Switching from broadcast to a newspaper, preferably a quality one or a weekend edition, is an option. Not following news accounts on social media is another, as is turning off alerts.
This is all sound advice, as is encouragement to channel strong emotional responses into action. We don’t have to just be passive consumers; we can work to make changes, large or small, too.
However is actually trying to minimise our reaction to the news the right approach?
I’ve long felt that my tears are wrong: at best melodramatic, at worst a sign of weakness. But a conversation last night with my partner challenged this mindset.
We were watching a Channel 4 News report from Bangladesh. The journalist was interviewing Rohingya refugees who’d fled from neighbouring Myanmar, including a four year old boy who said his father had gone to be with Allah.
As stinging tears poured down my cheeks, I turned to my partner and instinctively apologised for sobbing. Why say sorry, he replied, adding that crying was a normal and natural response to such harrowing tales.
And of course he is right. I shouldn’t always be so quick to dismiss my emotional reactions as a sign of mental health problems or my personality disorder.
Tears of despair and heartache are a perfectly valid response to seeing children (and adults) caught up in violent conflict. It is not wrong to cry. It is human.