Two things make me cry. One is hugely annoying.
The first thing that makes me cry is strictly emotional stuff. Life, death, love. The Lion King. Fall of the Berlin Wall. Man walking on the moon. Hell – I get choked up when an underdog wins a race, not because I give two monkeys about sport but because you can see the weight of meaning, feeling and passion it means to another human. (On which note, Mira Rei might be my new hero.)
Then – annoyingly – it turns out that I cry when under heavy physical stress.
This is deeply exasperating, as when it occurs I’m rarely having an emotional response. Fear tends to require more direct action than sniffling – so when a cyst burst, it was a question of rolling around in agony while wondering really quite calmly if the time had come to dial 999. Equally, when I got electrocuted with 240V of bare-wire voltage, it wasn’t until actually in A&E that I got a bit wobbly, because the practicalities of getting a paralyzed hand to medical support overrode stopping to think about what might be going on. (I’m fine. But there’s nothing like the phrase ‘you almost certainly don’t have electrical damage to your heart’ to make you hear the words ‘you’ve got electrical damage to your heart and are going to die now’.)
However! Sustained physical stress tends to make the tears roll down, regardless of whether I feel they should or not. This could be prolonged periods without sleep, or sustained stress on my physical body. Like learning tomfa.
Oh tomfa. My least favourite martial arts weapon. I mean, don’t get me wrong – I see how it’s a) useful and b) worth learning. But to be a weapon of any real strategic merit whatsoever, you need to use it to destroy your enemies asap. Because if you don’t, you’re going to start to get it bouncing back onto your exposed forearm, onto the bones in your wrist (especially if you’re double-jointed, as I am) and onto your elbow. Where, if it’s taken a few too many hits, you might damage something squelchy inside which then ruptures and leads to two weeks of what your teacher lovingly describes as your ‘saggy granny elbow’.
Sure – there’ll be a point where my wrist joint is starting to turn purple from rebounding tomfa activities where I’ll get tense. But I’ll keep going. Then there’ll be a point where my wrist is getting swollen. And I’ll probably still keep going. And shortly after this, as strike after strike rebounds into this messed-up mass of tissue, I’ll start crying.
And I’ll keep going.
‘Cos these aren’t actually emotional tears. They’re not even tears of remarkable pain. I mean, sure, it hurts, but it’s not that bad. It’s not up there with cysts, or electrocution, or a condition I’m not even going to attempt to spell but is a some-time side-effect of asthma that makes breathing agony occasionally.
It’s just a moment where my body turns round with a cry of “nope. Screw this shit.”
“But what?” asks my brain. “I objectively know that I’m going to be ok! This isn’t scary pain, this isn’t life-threatening pain, this isn’t even joint-threatening pain. Look! When it’s all over you’ll have extensive bruising but then you can do that insufferable martial arts thing of being ‘look how bruised I am rraaarrrggggh aren’t I tough?’ and you like that sorta thing, in a weird way. Come on!”
“Nope,” replies my body. “I’m gonna cry now.”
“Why? Look – you’re still even fighting. See that guy? You’re about to punch him in the face and yeah! You did that! You’re perfectly capable of keeping going.”
“I know I am, but I’m going to keep going and cry.”
“But that doesn’t even make sense!”
“Deal with it.”
So I keep on fighting. With floods of tears running down my face, while hastily explaining, “No, honest, it’s fine, really! Would you like to be attacked now?”
But here’s the thing: in these circumstances, I’m often the only woman in the room. The only one. And what do we know about women? It’s that they cry. They’re weak, and weeble, and need special care because of their frail little bones. And I can’t be having that shit.
I mean, yeah, there are some biological differences between me and the blokes. I’m not as physically strong, or heavy, or big. I’m also more flexible and much more likely to compensate for my lack of strength by kicking men in the nuts, which hey, I also don’t have! I also have way less flesh between my skin and my bones, and appear to have a body that will cry under physical stress.
“But guys!” I wanna shout. “Ignore the tears! Attack me and I promise I’ll bite and gouge like no one’s business!”
But I don’t. And I’m aware that I look like a weak and weeble little girly, and that pisses me off, but sure, also brings with it that other great side-effect of gouts of water running down your face: shame.
I don’t really feel this so much, ‘cos I’m aware that this just is a physical thing and mentally I’m all with it. But sometimes it’s still there, hovering on the edge of perception, and if there’s one thing that will tip a bit of a sniffle over to an emotional rout, it’s always shame, and fear, and embarrassment.
So. Here I am, wondering what I can do about it. And I suspect the immediate, short-term answer is: not much. I’m not about to waste time and energy on holding back tears, since actually, crying isn’t affecting either my ability to endure pain, or my ability to keep on fighting. It’s just… happening. And the most sensible thing I can do emotionally, is just not give two shits.
But as a lone woman in a room of men with weapons… I’m aware that the optic sucks. And I’m aware that there is pressure, especially as I sneak gently up the grades towards being someone who really should seem awesome sorta perhaps one day, to be awesome in everything to do with this martial arts business, including the cultural baggage that comes with it. Cultural baggage that includes, let’s face it, a macho tolerance for pain and stoic endurance. I can tolerate pain – anyone who worries about this is welcome to experience the condition I can’t spell but makes breathing hurt – but my face still goes squelchy.
And I don’t have solutions. Save to remind anyone who I’m fighting with that if I say I’m ready to keep going – I am. I just feckin’ am. And when I need you to tone it down, I’ll ask, and if I don’t, you can also keep going.
And to stamp my foot once again and exclaim ‘this is not a girl crying at pain’ but rather ‘this is a stressed body doing its autonomic thing!’ However that’s not a great catch-phrase. It doesn’t zing off the rafters.
So I don’t know.
And that just pisses me off.