Tomboys Don't Cry
I am a tomboy and the first rule of being a tomboy is to suppress any outward signs of girliness. No sequins, no pink, no frills no skirts. I tossed away purses given on my birthday, I decapitated Barbies. I announced to any and all that I did not possess any of these traits and I thought it was convincing until one day when I was playing soccer with my 5th grade crush–– Tanner. I was rather stocky for my age and didn’t know how to react to the little butterflies I would get around him. Tanner was on the opposing team and we were face-to-face, he came for the ball but I had my guard up, swerved and consequently knocked him to the ground. Nervous, I went to him to help him up but he scoffed and mumbled, “fat cow”.
The second rule of being a tomboy is to suppress any inward signs of girlyness–– showing emotions. I knew I wanted to cry, I knew that it hurt. I looked at Tanner and said, “you’re stupid” before walking away, swallowing my tears as my throat constricted. Crying is for girly-girls.
Circa 2003, my tomboy self and girly girl sister
I’ve outgrown most of my tomboy features, I’ll wear skirts and pink but am still hesitant about sequins, outgrown almost everything except for my trepidation for showing emotions. For most of my life I associated expressing emotions as a sign of weakness, so I bottled it up until it exploded at once. I would be sneaky about when I’d release my emotions, I would do it in private like an addict embarrassed by their substance abuse, locked in my bedroom and would cry until my face went numb. Then feeling guilty, I’d walk out with a brave face looking unfazed, like a con artist I artfully hid that I could feel pain.
Bad grade? Unfazed.
On the surface, I was unfazed. I am a tomboy and tomboys don’t cry-- until the day I did. On October 21st, 2016 I had a mental health crisis while at work. I had felt uneasy that whole week, I had tried to be the girl that could do everything through my work and school schedule and completely overwhelmed myself. I was hanging by a thread until my LSAT score came earlier that week, I felt like I got hit by a bus but I didn’t let myself cry, I didn’t let myself feel.
On the morning of my mental health crisis, I felt happy, a delirious sort of happiness that I knew wasn’t genuine. I saved face during my first shift at work at eight in the morning and could feel myself hanging on. Lady Gaga’s album Joanne came out that day and I tried to listen to it but felt too sad and turned it off. At 10 AM it was time for my other shift at my second job at the writing center. I had no consultations so I spent my free hour browsing the internet. I can’t remember what article I was reading but I came across derealization disorder and began to look it up. I could feel my heart palpitating as I read the symptoms.
Feelings of being alienated from or unfamiliar with your surroundings, perhaps like you're living in a movie
Feeling emotionally disconnected from people you care about, as if you were separated by a glass wall
Surroundings that appear distorted, blurry, colorless, two-dimensional or artificial, or a heightened awareness and clarity of your surroundings
Distortions in perception of time, such as recent events feeling like distant past
Distortions of distance and the size and shape of objects
I was disconnected with myself, I was disconnected with reality. I felt like I was facing a wave and as I reread the symptoms I could feel myself drowning. I rushed out to call the CMHC, it felt urgent that I needed help. Nothing else mattered except getting a diagnosis, getting some sort of verification that what I thought was normal was actually not. Eventually I connected to the line but was given a complicated list of rules before I could make an appointment. I tried to explain how urgent it was but I couldn’t bypass their protocol. It wasn’t until I hung up that I realized I was sobbing, a text came and I was notified that my consultee had arrived. I cleared my face and went to my supervisor’s office to ask to skip that appointment but as soon as I opened my mouth my voice began to crack and I had broken.
I spent the next five hours bouncing between one counseling session after the other. Everything had come out, everything that had been festering in my system from the summer until that moment had spurred in an aggressive fury. LSAT, school, dumb boys, increasing work hours, trying to be the perfect girl. I told them how helpless I felt, I told them how disconnected I was, I told them how I didn’t want to live but not necessarily die. I wanted to lie down and fade so that the screeches of my emotions and the responsibilities I faced would blow against the current, so that I peacefully revert into a state of nonexistence.
My counselors didn’t say much, they just listened to a lifetime of emotions. Towards the end of my last session my counselor didn’t so much give a piece of advice but threw a thought I hadn’t ever considered, “It’s okay to feel”. She then asked me what I planned to do once I got home, something to reassure her that I wouldn’t hurt myself. We brainstormed activities–– walking around a park, going shopping, hanging with friends–– but nothing seemed right.
“I’m going to get a piercing,” I blurted without thinking. “I like the pain because it reminds me to feel, the pain reminds me to take care of something as it heals”. She smiled and soon enough I was allowed to leave.
I put on my headphones and listened to Joanne as I rode the bus to True Blue Tattoo on Red River. My feelings hadn’t changed since earlier that morning and the album made me sad, but that was okay. I let myself tear up on the bus but ironically enough, I didn’t cry when I got my double helix pierced. I ate dinner by myself at Daruma Ramen and walked home to West Campus with Joanne on repeat as the sun began to set. I am a tomboy who gave myself permission to feel and instead of feeling weak, I was beginning to regain some of my strength.
Disclaimer: I’ve spared you a lot of details of the events leading to the mental health crisis and I’ve oversimplified my recovery. I didn’t just walk home with my new piercing, wipe my hands and announced that everything is fine and dandy. I was still in pain and as of writing this am still learning how to face my emotions. The biggest takeaway is that you are not alone and are entitled to feel whatever it is you feel.
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