Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Stiff Upper Lip

Yasmin le Bon has been in the press a lot this week talking about how the strains of juggling a career and motherhood led to her having a breakdown.

Yasmin admitted that, when it all got too much, she would often hide in the bathroom and cry.

Under the same circumstances I would have drunk a bottle of Chablis. It strikes me that Yasmin's reaction is altogether healthier.

But it's not very British. I'm sure it's no co-incidence that the land of the 'stiff upper lip' is also the home of heavy drinking.

The British see crying as a form of - at best - weakness, at worst - mental instability.

When I started work in the early nineties, it was perfectly okay for my boss to quiz me about my sex life, or to pat me on the arse. It was 'banter.'

Another senior director stroked my thigh under the table during one formal dinner. I discovered afterwards that he was doing the same to my friend on the other side. How did he manage to actually eat anything?

All that sort of behaviour was totally acceptable, but one thing I was warned about in no uncertain terms was crying.

I asked one of the (few) female directors for her advice when I first joined. "Never cry in the office," she said. "Your career would be over. If you feel like you're going to cry, go to the loos and whistle. It's physically impossible to cry and whistle simultaneously."

I whistled a fair bit, and drank an awful lot, during my twenty year advertising career, but I never cried. Not once.

Then, exactly a year ago, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I discovered the miraculous power of crying.

Weeping is nature's pressure valve.

You know those old pressure cookers your Mum used in the seventies? The steam builds up and up until you need to release it with the valve on the top and it makes a really satisfying whooshing sound? That's what crying does.

Last year, the children were on half term and I was getting to grips with the idea that I might not be around to see them grow up. I couldn't cry in front of them, so I would take the dog out for a walk and weep in parks.

One day I was standing alone on Eel Brook Common howling like a banshee when I was spotted by one of the mums from the school playground.

I didn't know this mum well. I didn't even know her name, but I'd always been rather in awe of her. She looks a bit like a rock chick, and at a school where everyone calls their children names like Octavia and Joshua, hers are called Spike and Buster.

Anyhow, she starts walking over to say hello, then realises that I'm falling apart in front of her. She freezes, not sure whether to come over or to escape as quickly as possible.

Understanding how terribly awkward this situation was (for a Brit), I went over to her.

"I'm so sorry," I said, through the howls (another British trait: always apologise for everything, especially if it's not your fault), "I've got breast cancer."

She was utterly lovely and we've been friends ever since (in that building up gradually to eventually meeting up for coffee way that the British make friends).

Anyhow, my point is: CRYING IS AWESOME. And it really works.

So, next time you're finding life just too overwhelming and you can't turn to booze to take the edge off, have a damn good weep instead. Much more effective.

Love SM x

P.S. Check out a fab new blogger I've come across: www.sobersphere.blogspot.com


  1. it was only discovered in the last decade or so that tears contain natural opiates. that's why everyone feels better after a good old cry! love your blog SM, have read every post xx

    1. Thanks, Fiona! And thank you for the science bit! Love an opiate ;-)

  2. Coming from Ireland, where crying is allowed ("howling like a Banshee"), at first I found the British aversion to tear a bit puzzling and knew I would never be able to adapt to that. Yes, Fiona, I became aware of the science behind tears about 20 years ago. Our bodies are amazing, aren't they? Sometimes we find it difficult to just allow the tears to come, and I often advise people to listen to a song that guarantees, for me, that I can't hold back the tears. It's Eva Cassidy's version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow (and there's actual live footage of her singing it on YouTube). I too was diagnosed with breast cancer, SM, 7 years ago and fingers cross still clear of it now - and sober too. I cried and cried and cried. I still cry sometimes when I think about it. Find that bit of Irishness (that I am convinced is in all of us) and let those tears flow. Thanks for another great blog. Nana Treen xx

    1. Hello, lovely Nana from Soberistas! I totally agree with the music tip. Nothing like howling to a good tune. And so pleased you're 7 years clear. As a lady said to me at the breast clinic recently 'no-one really gets it unless they've been there, do they?' Hugs xxx

  3. Have been fighting a weepy week or two, thank you for permission to let go..there is a bit of me that feels if I do, I will just dissolve, but of course I won't,,,slipping through my fingers from Mama Mia, will get me every time......7 months AF tomorrow...sing your praises whenever I can...

    1. Huge congrats on 7 months Pheonix! Awesome! The Winner Takes it All on the same album gets me....

  4. Thanks for mentioning my blog!! I hope it can sometime be as helpful for someone as your blog was for me!! You really got me to think more about my drinking and coming to terms with never drinking again.

  5. Having been raised by very British-like Canadians, I also know better than to EVER cry in public (or private, really). I am so uncomfortable with it that I have created a layer that protects me from betting overemotional. In movies, I just distance myself from the story so that it won't affect me. Wow, I think you've made me self-diagnose as emotionally numb. I refuse to be vulnerable!
    Thanks for the wake-up call.

  6. Not much to cry about at the moment - things are generally OK, stand fast being in my digs in West London and having just been out to Waitrose to get some food and then my usual treat in Costa. I even get to head south a bit early this week as I have to go to Andover on Thursday. I was re-reading your old posts last night and I loved the Dolphin piece. It has been said that I am something of a cold fish (not drawing an analogy with a warm blooded mammalian Dolphin) but I really get the emotional release piece with crying but I now look for life's Dolphin moments as well. Hope all you parents are having a great half-term!!