mood & emotion
Robin Weis never thought crying was a big deal until her brother tried to commit suicide in February 2014. She then began a remarkable personal study to track her crying for almost 2 years. Throughout her tracking, she cried a total of 394 times and detailed how intense the cries were, and where and whom she cried with. Robin shares her deep learning about life, relationships and the human experience at QS17.
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As a kid in school I would cry over making a simple mistake or receiving a piece of criticism, but was stoic when receiving bad news or in a face of cruel playground antics. I never thought that crying was a big deal, but it felt important to me to understand the distinction between the things that made me cry and the things that didn’t.
Then in February 2014, my little brother tried to commit suicide. He was found by police officers past out in a parking lot early in the morning. He had taken more than 100 pills, and I know this because the note that he left us said so. It took him a few days to regain consciousness, and shortly after that he was carted off to rehab.
I was very self-conscious about the way that I was dealing with all of this. I felt numb and that’s not how I wanted to feel. Not what I thought proper grief was to look like. I figured in the way of what happened hit me eventually, but I was curious to know when exactly that would be and if there was a way I could see what was happening in the meantime. So I came up with a way to track my crying. I defined a cry to begin when I first started physically shedding a tear and to end once I generally regained composure.
There are a lot of different shapes that a cry can take, so I came up with a scale to measure the intensity. A one was the least intense, like literally shedding one tear, and a five was the most intense, like crumpled on the floor, gasping for breath, ugly crying.
I decided not to count crying caused by physical stimuli like pain or even laughter because I was really just interested in emotional responses. So every time I cried, I would very discretely take out my phone and check the time. When I finished crying, as soon as I had privacy I made a little note about the date, time, intensity, duration, location, and any contextual information. I tried to keep this pretty minimal in order to make it more manageable. And every so often I would transfer these notes from my phone to a spreadsheet and I did this for a year and a half.
So at the end of the period, I had cried 394 times on 216 unique days, which meant that on average one out of every three days was a crying day during which I cried two times. There were a few days which I cried pretty much all day like in November 2014. And then most days I really wasn’t crying at all.
The longest I went without crying was only 23 days, and the most consecutive times I cried was eight. The average cry just lasted under six minutes, but that was skewed by some really long like hour long cries. And in the year and a half I cried for a total of 38 hours or two hours per month. And I managed to do this at every single hour of the day. I was a student at the time, so this wasn’t completely unreasonable. But you could also see that there were crying hotspots on Tuesday evening’s right after therapy.
So in case you’re wondering what it looks like to cry for two hours a month, it’s not all that interesting at least for me. More than half the time I was by myself in my own home, 20% of the time I was crying openly in front of someone else but it was usually the guy that I was dating at the time. The other 30% of the time, I might have been around people in various capacities, but it was more likely than not that I was not drawing attention to myself.
In general, what I was finding is that my crying was a pretty small part of my life, and an even smaller part of other people’s. That being said, even although my crying was a pretty low intensity, it’s still a lot of crying and probably shouldn’t be brushed aside.
So I took all 400 of these cries and I relived them a bunch of times in order to kind of categorize them, and attached different categories and emotions to analyze them further. So from the get go, you can see breakups and relationships caused the vast majority of my crying, and considering this was supposed to be a project about how I dealt with my brother’s suicide attempt, this wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but so is life.
I found out in November of that year that the guy that I had been dating for the past year was actually married, and that he had been lying to me in that entire time. So you can actually see the trajectory of this grief in a really fascinating way. At the onset, I was totally devastated and I cried all the time. But during the next couple of months, I barely cried at all, and I think it was because I was totally overloaded. And when I did, it was because I was feeling hurt or miserable.
That quickly turned into anger, which also simmered down into sadness. And over time, that sadness turned into this really soft mourning over this relationship that I really enjoyed but was a total lie.
You can likewise see the life-cycle of the relationship in a similar way. At the very beginning I didn’t cry very much at all. And when I did it was because I missed him because we were doing long distance. And then as soon as the honeymoon phase ended, we started fighting. And as we worked through those arguments, we realized that one of these fights was actually an impasse. And it turns out that this impasse was actually a lie to cover up his infidelity and so on. You can kind of see the phases of the relationship.
I had been mostly talking about grief and trauma, but this year and a half of my life consisted of a bunch of different emotions and not all of them were bad. I was including 44 unique emotions in this analysis, and it also included joys at weddings, R and R, nostalgia of childhood, compassion and other sweet sorts of things. So this was actually pretty inspiring and to see the diversity of emotions that were able to make me cry.
So I had to stop tracking after a year and a half because it became kind of disruptive to my life. I had started doing analysis, and what I found when I started crying, as I started thinking about what type of cry it was, and as you could imagine it’s not the healthiest thing. So probably the most important thing that I learned from doing this project is that it’s much better to kind of sit presently with your emotions and not try to over analyze them and think about what it says about you as a person or the way that you grieve.
By sharing this project with other people, I also learned that on the people cry a lot less often than I do and usually that when they do it’s a more unpleasant experience. Obviously not for everybody, but even although I disagree with stigma around crying I personally have a better understanding of why it exists.
And I also learned that the reasons that I cry change over time which was actually really reassuring for me. So all that being said, I still think it’s better to share your emotions than to suppress them. So I hope you all enjoy a cry today, thank you.