I cried a lot as a child. When I was tired. When I got frustrated. When I fell and scraped my knee. I cried so much my family took to singing Madonna’s Cry Baby every time tears started to form in my eyes. Which of course only made me cry even more… I cried when the kids at school picked on me. I cried when I couldn’t stay up to watch a movie on a school night. I can’t believe my family put up with me for so long. But they did. Thanks guys.
It wasn’t until middle school, maybe 7th grade, that I finally grew a backbone and decided that maybe I should stop crying. In public that is. Ever since I was that little cry baby, I have always been a very emotional person. Some blame my star sign (Cancer). Some blame the positioning of Mars on the third Tuesday in March (crazy people). I blame being a damn human being.
I’ve said it before and I promise I will say it again: being alive is a very difficult thing. On top of depression and emotional life changes, I find that I am not a difficult person to make cry. But I also might be the most unpredictable crier? I never know when it’ll hit me, but it is usually not at the times I think. When I was 10 years old my grandma died suddenly from cancer. It was a shock and I was incredibly sad. But at her funeral, I didn’t cry. Cut to three years later and the episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer titled “The Body.” SPOILER ALERT in case you are an absolute fool and haven’t watch all of Buffy yet… Joyce dies. And Buffy comes home one day to discover her body on the couch. Buffy’s reaction is so raw and unnerving and I burst into tears. For some reason, the loss of my grandmother had less of an emotional impact on me than the loss of a fictional character’s mother on a tv show…
I believe that was the start of my history with irrational crying – or at least as far back as I can remember. I’m a tv nerd. That’s a given. I get very invested in tv shows and characters and sometimes I cry when said characters die (see: Lost) or leave the show (see: Parks & Rec) or even just finally kiss the man they love through a piece of cellophane (see: Pushing Daisies). I can’t be trusted not to cry during sad parts in movies either.
My most shocking crying fit came upon me at the end of Inception, the mind-bending heist film from Christopher Nolan. Again, SPOILER ALERT in case you’re 7 years behind in your movie watching: Leonardo DiCaprio’s character fights the entire movie to be reunited with his young children. He tests if he is awake or dreaming by spinning a top – if it falls over, he is awake. At the end of the film, he walks into a house and sees his children playing outside, so to test if this reality, he spins the top. The camera moves slowly in to the spinning toy as he walks off to hug his kids and we cut to black with the top still spinning. Cut to me gasping for breath and wiping tears away from my cheeks with my sleeves. My friends rushed out in embarrassment, pretending not to know me, while I gathered myself and met them in the lobby a few minutes later.
Why did this scene effect me so much? I’m actually asking, because I don’t know! I enjoyed the movie for the most part and was thrilled at it’s unique action sequences and headache-inducing special effects, but never once felt any serious emotion during the entire 2 hour and 28 minutes I sat in that theater.
I am also a big reader. I am always reading a book; often starting one the same day I finished the last. I also tend to read very sad, emotional or life-spanning novels. Very much like tv shows, I get incredibly attached and invested in the characters from many of the novels I read. The number of times I have cried on the subway platform, train or cafe is not to be mentioned. I have been stared at and asked if I am ok more times than I can count. And yet I still took on the task of reading A Little Life in public… Do I not learn?
So I have come to look within in an attempt to dig to the bottom of this pattern. And I have come to a conclusion that I think suits my issue. I turn to these characters for escape from my daily stresses and life. I turn on my tv or flip through my book in order to unplug from my own story and look in on someone else’s. I put myself in their shoes and connect with them – even if they happen to be a middle-aged housewife, a handicapped architect or an orphaned vampire slayer – and I allow them to take on the responsibility of distracting me from myself. Even if it is for 30 minutes or 30 pages at a time.
Thus, when they are abused, abandoned or even killed, I feel that harm is being done to someone very important to me. These characters temporarily become closer to me than family or friends because despite the fact that I did not create them, I make of them what I want (or need) to in my mind. I react so strongly when they feel pain or love because I have weaved myself within their lives and feel as though I am experiencing it too. I therefore diagnose myself with Fictional Empathitis – the feeling of having out-of-control empathy for fictional characters.
Now, don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not entirely incapable of feeling emotions IRL too. I have cried with and for friends and family members alike. I broke down at my grandpa’s funeral two years ago after seeing his coffin for the first time. And I still get upset and shed a tear or two over real life, actual sad things all the time. But this recurring theme of feeling deep emotional connections to made-up people has gone on long enough without me exploring exactly what it means. According to this very legit and clearly scientifically-sound online quiz it is “highly likely that [I am] an empath.” So that settles it.
All of this is to say that I would think twice before seeing a movie with me unless you can be sympathetic to my empathy.