Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for December 1st, 2010

Teary Subject

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on December 1, 2010

       “What happens if you can’t cry?” Sandra, sixty-three, a new early morning patient to me,  and a new patient to psychotherapy, asks me. “How do you mean that?” I ask, confused about what Sandra is talking about. “Well, I get sad, but I just can’t cry. I feel that if I could cry, I could have a release, but I can’t do that now. I mean, I used to cry like a normal person, but now when I get sad, I get tense, and I feel worse,” Sandra says, sounding frustrated and bewildered. “When did you notice that you can’t cry?” I wonder, trying to think about a time line to gain perspective on this issue.  “Oh, ever since menopause, about ten years ago, I realized that my emotional reactions really changed. I used to get really teary before my period, and I used to get embarrassed about how easily I cried, but when my periods stopped, so did my crying and now I really miss that.”  “Wow,” I respond, “that is so interesting. The change in your hormonal cycling, changed the outward expression of your sadness, and although you did not appreciate your hormones at the time, looking back, you really see how your hormones helped you release your feelings in a positive way.” “I guess so,” Sandra replies, “but I never really thought of it that way.”

       Mind/body issues come to the foreground of my consciousness at this moment. The endlessly fascinating interplay between biology and emotion excites me, even though I only have questions, and no answers. I do not understand how hormonal cycling causes teariness, but many women report this. I do not understand crying, or the biology of tears and sadness. I do not understand why some people feel better when they cry, whereas others feel worse. Although I momentarily go off into a private reverie about crying, I return to thinking about Sandra. “Does talking about what’s bothering you offer the same release that crying might?” I ask, wondering if the verbal expression of emotion gives her the same benefit as a biological expression. “Gee, I really don’t know,” Sandra says. “I am new to this therapy thing. I have to think about that.” “OK, let me know how that goes,” I say, encouraging her to think about this concept of emotional release. The dynamics of aging, as an active agent of change in emotional expression, makes me pause again. I want to think more about that, I tell myself. Sandra and I share a few intense moments of silence. “It is time to stop,” I say. “Yes,” she says,  as if she is in a dream. “We both have a lot to ponder,” I say, wanting to help her ease back into her daily routine. “Off to work,” she says, almost as if she is reassuring me that she can handle this transition. “Have a nice day,” I say, as we part.

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