We Don't Cry - the story
The way I remember it, when I was younger, I cried all the f*cking time. I cried so much I used to get ribbons at swim lessons on the rare days that I didn’t cry. The ribbon was rainbow, and embossed in gold foil it said, “I didn’t cry today!”.
I had my prime emotional breakdowns between the ages of 5 years old to 12 years old. I know it might seem normal, but I can assure you the tears were frequent and unnecessary. It grew to be a big problem when I started using tears as a crutch anytime I felt scared, frustrated, hurt, self-conscious, or anxious. It got especially bad in the later years. Around 10 or 11, all of my girl friends played sports, and everyone was getting used to just sucking it up. Everyone was getting tougher, more mature, and seemingly more composed. I, on the other hand, still turned to mush every time someone so much as looked at me sideways.
It was at this age that sports also started getting much more competitive. I had advanced to playing soccer at a club level and quickly realized I was no longer the fastest, nor the strongest, nor the most aggressive player out there. Honestly, my interest in soccer started declining pretty fast when our coach felt we were finally ready to start learning more advanced skills. You can imagine a 10-year-old learning how to slide tackle is anything but clean, and my ankles and knees already seemed a good 20 years senior to my peers’. Plus, I wasn’t a flimsy little kid anymore. Falling was really starting to hurt. With every physical hit I took, my confidence took a blow as well, and I slowly started to loath soccer. At a certain point, every fall came with tears of frustration. I would lay motionless on the grass, my face pressed into the pitch and my tears soaking the dirt beneath. I would heave with sobs until I was helped up or carried away. My teammates would watch with faces of concern that a bystander would mistake as genuine, but really, I knew these worried expressions were just them thinking “what the hell is up with her?”.
Once I fully hated soccer and had accepted the fact that I was really just average at it, I chose to dedicate myself to an entirely new sport - water polo. And, please, don’t laugh at the irony of my choice. Yes, in looking for something a little easier on the body, I chose to take up one of the most physically demanding sports to exist. But what I didn’t realize at the time was that starting water polo immediately after my emotional rollercoaster of a soccer career was the best thing for me and my wicked crying habit. My crutch of tears was ripped away from me and I was forced to, not walk, but run.
I learned a few things fairly quickly. You physically cannot fall to the ground dramatically in the game of water polo. So, the first thing I was stripped of was the opportunity to flop. The next is that you also can’t sob while you’re swimming. You can try, and believe me I did, but you learn fast after you inhale a few quarts of water and subsequently vomit and fear drowning. You can, however, get away with a few streaming tears if you really must. Just pop underwater and no one will be able to tell the difference. So, the second thing I was stripped of was the heaving and emotionally hysterical spectacle making of myself.
The game of water polo for me, was also one that required a lot of focus, awareness and discipline – which in turn helped me get a grip on my emotions. While I still cried sometimes when I was frustrated or angry or hurt, as we do, it was far less often. I think a lot of things were put into perspective for me. Both water polo and soccer are physical games but in very different ways. To me, a swift kick or punch underwater still isn’t comparable to falling full force on the hard ground. For someone else, the challenge of staying above water might not be convincing enough to make them hang up their cleats. There are many different forms of strength and physicality. I wasn’t weak for choosing one over the other. This enlightenment opened up a new world of growth for me. Gone were the days of unnecessary tears and sob stories. Confidence and diligence were ushered in. Strategy became essential, over physicality and speed. By the time I started high school, I had established myself as a new athlete and a new person, prioritizing a positive mentality.
Today, I still cry. It’s so cathartic, how could I not? But each time it happens, I usually have a good idea of why. It’s not for show, or a crutch, or an excuse. It’s a healthy release, which is totally valid. So, I no longer need a rainbow ribbon to show me that I’m strong. I just know.