Complete Catharsis

By Rose Helm
This past weekend, I cried for the first time in a long time. I’m sharing this not because I want sympathy or to say that I’m suffering any more than anyone else. I am blessed with health, a loving family, a supportive community, and a job that I am beyond grateful to have. Rather, I want to normalize the fact that sometimes we all become so overwhelmed that the only response is one of complete catharsis.
I remember studying Greek tragedies in graduate school and looking closely at the Greek word catharsis. Aristotle wrote that tragedy causes “the purgation of…emotions.” This purgation or catharsis is considered a sudden emotional climax that evokes overwhelming feelings of an extreme emotion, resulting in relief, renewal, and revitalization in members of the audience. Catharsis causes us to feel simultaneously conflicting emotions, such as pity and fear, admiration and judgement, or isolation and connection. The two feelings I’ve always associated most with catharsis are feeling both dispirited and uplifted, and this is precisely what I experienced from my big cry. After giving into despair, I rebounded, able to take on a more positive perspective.

While our family would normally spend Presidents’ Day weekend skiing (or snowboarding in my case), we were homebound due to quarantine, and initially I let this get to me. By midday on Saturday, after spending all of Friday and the better part of that morning on the phone or email dealing with one thing or another for work, I completely broke down in tears of frustration. I was resentful that the pandemic was costing us special family time, even while homebound. After my cathartic deluge of tears, I realized that had we been on a mountain somewhere, I may have been unreachable and not able to help those who needed me. Worse yet, I would have had to sit out from the day on the slopes, disappointing my family and causing me even more resentment. Instead, I pulled myself out of my pity party, turned off my email for an hour, and went out for a walk with my family. It was exactly what I needed to change my perspective.

I share this story again, not to receive anyone’s sympathies; whatever you do, do not write to me with them! Instead, I hope that it might encourage others to be vulnerable–to have the courage to cry or at least tell someone that they did–and that it might inspire others to see that they have the power within themselves to change their perspective and choose to see life as a gift.

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