Friday, November 6, 2009

Tears and Empathy

A lot can be said for a friendly cup of coffee with someone you care about. There's a lot to be said for people who just want to be heard. The issues that many of us who face depression come from places that are chemical, genetic, situational, and even diet based, can often be alleviated by being heard- really listened to- and through the shedding of tears. Sometimes I wonder if the answer to milder forms of depression area as close as the ducts in our eyes.

Tears that come from emotional release have a different chemical make-up than those which come from a reaction to an allergy, a response to an onion's odor, and just about any other form of crying. The emotional tears release a remarkable number of hormones in that salty flavored water. The hormone that produces lactation in women, prolactin, is higher in emotionally created tears. ACTH, adrenocorticotropic hormone, is one that appears to go haywire in people with adrenal issues. Lab numbers in those who have thyroid disorders, and adrenal disorders include measurement of ACTH because depression is so prominent within those conditions. Leu-enkephalin helps work almost the same way morphine does, by alleviating pain, and it is released in emotionally derived tears. When someone says, "You'll feel better if you can cry" they're not yanking your chain.

Like most people who have battled depression, I've gone from feeling as if the sadness was manageable, to feeling like nothing would ever be better, ever. And, like most of us who have depression, I was put on medications before learning if the illness was a manifestation of a side-effect of another medication, if the depression was a matter of female hormone fluctuation, or if it was a symptom of a bigger illness. The problem isn't always the doctors, but it isn't always the patient's either. It is clear that the medical profession has no idea what it is that causes mental disorders like this.

A couple of years ago, a university in North Carolina made it a point of describing Efficacy Rates of Antidepressant medications. Most of us are familiar with everything from Amytriptaline to Zoloft because we're given them to try out- not to see if the medication works for us, but to see if the side effects are tolerable. I remember that Lexapro, Wellbutrin, and Zoloft each made me feel like my skin was crawling, I was agitated, and that nothing was happening fast enough. Whereas, Prozac, Paxil, and Celexa were just making me swell up rather than calm down. I finally settled on SAM-E, partly because it was available without prescription, and partly because it seemed to have the same affect on me that Prozac had without the bloating feelings. I also could take it for a few days at a time, rather than weeks at a time, and feel just as fine. It's probably a placebo affect, but rather than argue that point, I accept that I feel fine on it.

But just as some people like chocolate, better than vanilla, some people prefer blondes to brunettes, some people are happy in the morning and others are night owls- none of us seems to have a single response that makes one pill the answer to depression. My husband shakes his blues away by running at the gym, or having a piece of chocolate. Both give him a satisfied feeling and he seems much happier- except when the chocolate is gone. If I started running, the knees would be so mangled after just a few steps, I'd be more depressed. His answer isnt' mine, and my answer may not be yours either. Except in the case of tears.

A year ago, Science Daily posted an article regarding the power of human tears. It points out that those who have serious mental disorders don't seem to have the same emotional release from tears, but those who are experiencing situational depression and sadness can feel better by crying. Yet some studies state that crying is gender specific- men don't do it, women do. That's simply not the case. The chemicals in depression that cause us to cry don't care if we're male or female. We decide if we are able to cry- in front of others or not- and sometimes our emotions are better accepted if we are female than if we are male. Women are "allowed" to cry. Men may just be better at hiding when they do it.

This comes back to the first paragraph, the title of this week's blog. Sympathy is the ability to feel something for someone based on your own understanding of the human condition. Empathy is the same ability based on shared experiences. Men who sit together and talk with a friend, a spouse, a family member- who need to feel human can and do cry. Women who want to share feelings, who can't express them verbally, and just need the release can and do cry. And, if you're like me, sometimes sitting alone at a beach, or taking a walk, or just being alone for a few moments gives you that key that unlocks tears. The cathartic feelings that flow with those tears are priceless. It can be moments of release or it may last for weeks, months, years. It's just a matter of letting yourself be empathetic- to yourself. It's not a cure for depression- it's just a bandage that life has built into our biology. Sometimes that bandage is strong enough to help us get past the roughest of slices into our psyche.

This week's question- What makes you cry? What do you feel like after you cry? Do you know men or are you a man who likes to let out tears?

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