A very personal story.
When I was little I would sometimes wake and immediately feel like crying; without any sadness. I just felt like my body needed to let tears out. I would run outside, watch the birds and walk in the hills, talk to the landlord’s horses. I fell in love with mornings. The crying need fell away quickly with each quarter I walked. There were still exercise tears and fluids in general, moving through my face. But it felt relieving and was a part of my happy morning in the yellow hills of northern California.
When we moved to a little retirement town (where my mother could afford a house), I was still allowed to leave alone before anyone woke, but I was not allowed to go as far. There was a golf course near and I would find animals there to talk to, ducks and geese in the water, crickets and frogs in the cattails, squirrels and neighborhood cats everywhere. The walk moved water through me, a water that could have been concerning but became relieving. My face leaked.
I grew up in a pop-psychology era. My kindergarten life goal was to live for the study of psychoanalysis; I was an unusual kid. But I’m pretty sure Freud was debunked in the 80’s and again in the 90’s. Listening to the voices of “reason” in my times meant looking at emotional health problems first. It was common time to hear a neighbor or parent verbally and casually diagnose a kid with whatever buzzword (mental health) condition was fresh on the papers and news.
So back to my story. I should mention that my mother was a climbing realtor, pulling us out of poverty. She also got married at this time and was happier and suddenly more involved as a parent. Maybe a little too available by my comparison to recently wandering alone. My new stepdad was kind but impatient, and loved nature with me. I was 7 or 8 by now, and for some reason I had many more mornings with a need to cry; without feeling any sadness. We moved house often. See above for “climbing realtor”.
Given my new stepdad, our increased sense of stability, and my happier parent, I assumed that I must have an emotional problem. Thanks pop-psych era. Now, my mom was happier but still the same person. She didn’t like to hear about my emotions. She still doesn’t. I was worried that I would mess “everything” up, if I mentioned my worry. I was also no longer allowed to wander alone in the early mornings, because we were more in-town than ever before. She considered it less safe. So my mother would tell me to just stay in bed and read until everyone else got up. That’s a reasonable thing for a mother to tell her young child at 5 or 6am. It’s not what I would do or did with my energetic son, but it’s still completely reasonable.
I learned to hold still and be very quiet, to not make a sound whenever I woke with the crying-but-no-sadness feeling. I developed anxiety and buried myself in the books that I treasured. I stopped getting up on time because I read for hours; I read everything. My family praised my intelligence and focus. My teachers were impressed. It was all supposedly healthy.
But my crying feeling started to build up and happen at other times too. I was an athlete. If we were on vacation and sat around too long, it happened. Every time I woke it happened. It was any time I held still too long. I still didn’t tell anyone. I held still more often and on purpose, trying to master it and follow my mother’s advice. I got to high school and forgot about it, or it blended into life…something like that.
I had aged into the freedom to walk again. I rebelled, smoked, walked city streets all night with my best friend and danced for hours at shows. But the feeling wasn’t a prominent concern anymore. I was a teenager who wanted out of my town: nothing was perfect, everything was a little uncomfortable, but it was pretty typical. Until I grew up and had a kid of my own (actually he was a year old by then) it really hit me again. We had landed in Eugene, Oregon.
I was better at talking about my feelings by now; probably too good at it. The kid and I were finally getting some real and regular sleep. It was to enough sleep to know that something was still up with this morning urgency to cry. I wasn’t very active. I drove a lot, and moved at the pace of my swift but very small baby.
The feeling blossomed into anxiety, re-carving old pathways of repressed concern and discomfort, of mornings in bed with 16 books around me, noticing the sunrise out my window and trying to focus on the joy of that. Repression.
I should explain that this feeling is as uncomfortable as holding in urine or gas. The body wants it out. So I went to the doctor. After many false assertions that I was suffering from panic attacks (which I was, but as a reaction to my issue-not as the cause), I was diagnosed with allergy-induced asthma. The allergen was mold, and my symptoms were progressing. But exercise and decreased exposure were the best medicine. I needed to move. I needed to move my water. My lungs and sinuses were full water, not heavy mucous, but water.
Now when I take my morning walks, and I feel pretty happy after the first 15-20 minutes, I know it’s not endorphins alone. My lungs are letting go of their physical anxiety. As their response to repression is released, water pours down my face without an emotional trigger, and I can take a slow deep breaths more easily.
Breath is life. And sometimes anxiety is a healthy physiological response to an urgent biological need. Maybe you have a repressed need that your parents didn’t happen to know about or understand. Maybe you have real emotional problems because of it, or in spite of it. And maybe you can finish reading this and feel supported in listening to your body’s asks, without judging them. Just by trying what your body asks for, you may relieve some emotional stresses, along with physical ones.
I move my body a lot. I don’t feel comforted at the idea of sitting still for very long. I’m still allergic to mold and have related asthma, but it’s managed. NW Oregon is where I will continue raising my son for the next two years. I committed myself to giving him a sense of place and home for the last 15 years, and Oregon is his. I guess it’s my home too. But come 18 and high school graduation my home may move East, or North or somewhere without a daily trigger for my lungs. Maybe somewhere colder and brighter. Maybe the mountains. Either way, I plan to live and breathe; deeply. And I plan to walk long. And maybe meet some animals along the way. See you out there.