We lift the lid on why it's OK to cry
As a documentary presenter, Jenny Kleeman can keep her cool even in the most unimaginable situations, but she has a shameful secret – off-camera she cries at the slightest thing.
It should have been my moment of triumph. I was about to finish the documentary I’d been working on for months. Instead, exhausted after days accommodating everyone’s wishes into the finished script, I was sitting next to the most senior man in the company when I realised I was about to do one of the most shameful, embarrassing, career-wrecking things you can imagine.
All he said was, ‘You don’t mind if I take a quick look, do you?’ and that horrible but familiar lump rose in my throat and my cheeks turned hot. My eyes began to prickle and brim, I stared at my screen, determined not to look at him, but it was too late, he knew I was crying. He watched in disbelief, awkward beside me, as the other heads in the office turned towards my desk.
Now, I’m sure most of us have cried in public at least once, but it’s not an option for me. It’s my job to be brave. I’m a TV presenter who reports from little-known, often dangerous places. I’ve interviewed murderers in Turkey, paedophiles in the Czech Republic and corrupt gurus in
India. And none of this made me break down.
Television critics have described me as ‘fearless’, ‘dauntless’, and even ‘ballsy’, but the truth is, I can burst into tears with little warning. It’s a secret that threatens to undermine each working day.
When a woman cries at work, people perceive her as an overemotional, volatile wreck – the last person you’d trust with a demanding assignment – or a scheming manipulator who knows that tears are the trump card that will make everyone back off and let her have her way.
When I began presenting, it was not the documentary’s distressing scenes that made me cry, but exhaustion, frustration and stress.
I ended up in a comfy chair in Tina’s consulting room. A psychologist friend recommended her, as he thought that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) could solve my problem in four sessions. CBT teaches you how to deal with thought patterns that lead to certain kinds of
‘What goes through your mind before you’re about to cry?’ asked Tina gently. ‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘That’s the point. I just feel like it’s going to happen and then it does. I can’t control it. That’s why it’s so humiliating.’ ‘We need to work out what thoughts are triggering those feelings,’ she said. ‘Why do you think you get so stressed about things?’ ‘Because I want to do a good job and make the film a success,’ I replied. ‘Then we need to get to the bottom of why success matters so much to you,’ she insisted.
After five sessions, I decided it wasn’t for me.
Meditation seemed a better option. A local group taught me the basics. The first time I did it, I felt energised, alert and in control. Meditation is no magic cure – it takes daily practice and concentration to see the long-term benefits – but it came surprisingly easy to me. I was sure I’d be able to carry this peace with me into my daily working life and banish office tears forever.
Meditation hadn’t stopped me crying, but it had taught me to accept it for what it is – a coping mechanism my body uses to get rid of pent-up emotions. I wasn’t crying because I was weak, I was crying to allow myself to be strong, to expel the tension so I could complete the task in hand with a clear head. A minute later, I walked back into the office with confidence.
I’ve discovered that, when you’re brave enough to be so honest about yourself, no one thinks you’re weak.
Have you ever cried at work, or do you keep your emotions buttoned up during the day? Tell us your stories in the comments box below.