Sweet Emotion

October 2, 2012

I am a crier.  I cry all the time.

I recently cried while watching “The Blind Side,” “Crazy, Stupid Love,” a random “Friends” episode and almost cried when listening to a random movie theme.

Truth be told, I have been meaning to write a post about emotion for quite a while, but the interns started a couple of weeks ago, and things have been a little crazy.

Here we go…

To be in this profession, empathy is key.  We all know that.  We need to be able to make the right decisions about how to handle a situation based on our ability to read someone, and putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes is how we do that. Duh.

There are situations when our own emotions come out at unexpected times, and I think we have to be okay with that, at least for the most part.  One of my interns said to me recently something to the effect of…the more we cry at movies and weddings and Hallmark commercials and anytime anyone else is crying, it reflects how empathetic we are as people.

I agree.  But sometimes we miss the boat.

Last week in the psych unit, we had a group singing session.  I have piles of lyric sheet copies which are laid out on a large table for patients to choose from (I know there’s a better way to do this) and a few tissue boxes.  I encourage patients to choose a song that speaks to them or that they enjoy, and to take the entire pile of copies to hold on to.  Each person shares their choice, and I ask them why they chose that particular song.  Sometimes there’s a deep and meaningful story attached and sometimes they “just like it,” but regardless, we sing the song (sometimes using small percussion instruments, if the person wants us to) and when we are finished, I thank the person for choosing that song and we move on to the next patient’s choice.

Last week during our group singing session, a patient began to cry during “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which was a song chosen by another patient in the group.  I thought to myself (during the song) that I should process with her when we had finished, but I stopped myself.  I didn’t know this person, and since another patient had chosen the song, I didn’t want to make the other patient feel that her choice wasn’t honored.  We finished the song and I moved onto the next patient’s choice.

Following the session, when we were all processing, the intern I mentioned above posed an extremely good question, wondering why the tearful patient was crying during that song.

I forget sometimes…I forget that crying is an individual’s situational outpouring of emotion or pain or joy, and that in a psychiatric unit, it might be something worth asking that person about.  So many people cry when music is present (especially in those forums) that I forget how new it is to my interns, and how much better I should be about making sure I process those feelings with patients.  Not only that, but spending the time at least asking the person if they want to talk about how they’re feeling, which I have done in the past, but didn’t that day.  I forget that not everyone is attention seeking, like a patient who was in the unit several weeks ago.  I forget that crying can be significant, even if it’s an every day occurrence in my life because of sitcoms and pictures of cute animals and human interest stories that turned into movies.

After I responded to my intern’s question, I went out to the milieu and, sitting down next to the crying patient, asked her if she was okay.  She responded with “Yeah, I’m fine – that song always makes me cry – I have it on CD…but I’m okay.”  I thanked her for coming to the session and told her I hoped that she would come to the drumming group on Monday if she was still there (she did).

I thought about my lack of good judgement in that moment all weekend and realized that I got lost in the structure of my session and forgot the important parts.  Having tissues on the table is not enough.  Surely, some people just want to be alone with their tears and are crying for no reason in particular, but what if someone was crying about something very specific?  What if someone was crying for the first time in years?  What if someone was crying for attention? Or out of frustration? Or anger? Or despair?  The significance of any of those may not ever matter.  We don’t have to pry if we think the person may need that solitary safe space to cry in, but we should at least ask.

Everything seems new-ish again with my interns asking simple but poignant questions, and I feel so happy that I’m able to share my knowledge with them, even if I make mistakes sometimes.

I’m so happy, I could cry 🙂

(But I won’t because I met my quota today during an old episode of “How I Met Your Mother”)

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