Uncontrolable crying
March 3, 2011 4:40 PM   Subscribe

Why do I always start crying when I improvise a song or joke?

For as long as I can remember, whenever I sing a made-up song, I start crying. I also start crying when I make up some sort of far-fetched joke and tell it to someone. I almost never cry ordinarily.

Right now I have a lump in my throat and my eyes feel like they do before crying, just from writing this question.

Further info:

- I've been able to do this since I was seven years old (perhaps younger)
- I've never had any serious illnesses, emotional disorders, etc
- my eyes start watering and I have a lump in my throat, but I don't get sad/emotional in any way
- I can trigger the reaction with 100% success

I'd really like to know why I do this. I'm happy to answer any follow-up questions.
posted by mattn to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Wild ass guess: Synesthesia -- "a neurologically-based condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:43 PM on March 3, 2011

That is not synesthesia at all -- singing a song & crying are not senses (synesthesia is like when you see colors while you're tasting things, or hear music to match certain colors -- it's stable and it perseveres). I don't know what it is, but it's definitely not synesthesia.
posted by brainmouse at 4:50 PM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well, we often joke about the things we truly care about. It sounds like in some strange way, getting into song/joke mode lets your guard down and releases all the emotion. Like how songs and jokes are formulaic, yet they elicit wild reactions (mood shifts and spontaneous laughter). We know how to fill those formulas with all the songs and jokes we've heard before. Maybe when you ask yourself to fill it with something spontaneous and creative and new, this is what volunteers itself. And because that's worked before (i.e. elicited the wild reaction) the stimulus-response gets reified.

It's a neat mindhack, really...like you've found a trapdoor between seemingly unrelated domains in your emotional psyche.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:54 PM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

i do something similar to this. for me, it's related to embarrassment. my face flushes, and the tears start. it's not crying like upset or happy crying. it's something else. the closest thing to it for me is when i cry when i'm angry. it's like a whole lot of other hot head things are happening and so the tears join in.
posted by nadawi at 4:57 PM on March 3, 2011

I cannot stand to be in the immediate (eye-contact) vicinity of someone who is singing, reciting poetry, or to a lesser extent playing music. I think it's an intimacy thing, making me really uncomfortable, though it's not exactly embarrassment. I'm just overwhelmed, and I cry. Perhaps you are experiencing something similar from the other side?
posted by Lyn Never at 5:03 PM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

When I thank someone profusely or give someone a really sincere compliment, sometimes I tear up a slightly. I think it has something to do with emoting—I think this started to happen, actually, after I read somewhere about how people can read sincerity in people's expressions, esp. through things like shining eyes. And then my body just started doing it...not sure whether it was the suggestion or whether I was doing it anyway and started to notice it or was doing it anyway and sort of got into a feedback loop once I noticed it or what. But it happens; happened earlier when I was complimenting someone on something, actually, to the point where a tear actually ran from my eye.

Maybe you're really trying to emote or put the right emotion out there when you're singing or telling a joke and it's somehow resulting in something similar?
posted by limeonaire at 5:05 PM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I cannot stand to be in the immediate (eye-contact) vicinity of someone who is singing, reciting poetry, or to a lesser extent playing music.

Yeah, along these lines, I was actually going to say, my father is now at a point where he can't listen to even recordings of music that has anyone singing most of the time—it makes him so emotional he cries.
posted by limeonaire at 5:07 PM on March 3, 2011

You are channeling the/a muse. It's a gift from the god/s..
posted by ovvl at 6:05 PM on March 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

If it interests you, I have a similar reaction to public speaking. I don't do it often anyway, I'm really pretty good at it, and I'm not conscious of being overly nervous, but I shake during it. Like, a lot.
posted by cmoj at 6:19 PM on March 3, 2011

I tear up sometimes if I'm telling a joke or a funny anecdote. It gets worse if people find the joke funny! Are you very shy? For me, I think it's about vulnerability. If no one laughs at your joke, you've failed, and that's embarrassing. If everyone laughs at your joke, suddenly you're the centre of attention which might make you feel uncomfortable. So either way, when you're telling a joke it's lose-lose. Singing, which is also very personal and intimate, might make you feel similarly exposed.
posted by Rora at 6:27 PM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Growing up, did you experience any particularly disapproving feedback from doing this sort of thing? Or conversely, were you particularly doted on, and is the emotion perhaps one of nostalgia?
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:35 PM on March 3, 2011

I get this with - wait for it:

Movie trailers.

It mostly doesn't matter what it is. I have no emotional connection to what I'm watching whatsoever. It's purely a physical response, like somebody dropped a giant metal canonball in my throat and then comes nigh uncontrollable urge to sob. Why trailers? Why doesn't it happen if I watch the movie? It's stupid.

I hope it's not a tumour.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:38 PM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Damned if I can find it, but there's a similar response by Jack Aubrey, when anticipating the telling of a "good one" of his horrible lovely puns somewhere in the Master and Commander series. Anyone?
I didn't blink at reading that whenever, wherever, because I know the same from my experience.
Crackpot theories about this: I am a very nervous performer, generally, and when I'm coming up with a really novel, good thing, or idea (I get this often when asking questions in seminars) I think there's a physiological reaction to having to contain and evaluate this crazy good idea, so excitement abounds. The only way for me to know if it's truly golden, however, is to speak it, which means performing it somehow, so the anxiety of performance, combined with the frisson of this crazy good thing I'm about to say makes the throat tighten and the eyes water.
I've seen others who manifest a facial tick, prior to a good one, and so I think that whatever your particular brand of anticipatory physical weirdness is will manifest at these moments.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 6:53 PM on March 3, 2011

I am not overly emotional, nor am I nervous in front of people (my best friend even calls me "Spock" sometimes).

Yet, I often tear up when I'm frustrated, or really involved in something in a group setting. And I will tear up without fail if I have just successfully accomplished any major/stressful task for someone. My "phew, it's finally over" moment of triumph is... being on the verge of crying.

I chalk it up to a weird expression of adrenaline.
posted by Wossname at 7:47 PM on March 3, 2011

I do this as well, although I'd never pinned it down as precisely as you have to improvising a song or joke, but that's totally it. I don't get the lump in my throat at all though, just the teary eyes. And I think I experience it much less now as an adult, but I distinctly remember being puzzled as to why this would happen when I was a kid.

I have no idea what it's about, but it never felt to me like a strong emotional reaction, as some people are suggesting. It just feels like some kind of weird physiological response. In fact, it doesn't really feel like crying to me, just uncontrollable tearing in very specific situations. And I say that as someone who cries a lot for all kinds of reasons.
posted by Ginkgo at 10:01 PM on March 3, 2011

i become choked up when i am not thinking about feeling things, but rather just feeling them... intensely. my theory is that it has something to do with how i usually try to keep myself so under wraps, emotionally -- i don't really like exhibiting ANY strong emotion. it makes me uncomfortable. along those same lines, i will become tearful when i sing improvised songs, spout off freely otherwise. i always thought it was because i was just allowing myself to stumble gracelessly forward instead of so carefully stepping just so. not sure if this is anything like your stuff, because you mentioned that you don't get emotional at all. mine doesn't sprout from emotion usually. i think it is my body/brain's way of telling me to loosen the grip i keep myself in.
posted by quiteliterally at 10:15 PM on March 3, 2011

The triggers don't seem to fit, but could it be elevation?
posted by Zozo at 12:02 PM on March 4, 2011

Response by poster: Growing up, did you experience any particularly disapproving feedback from doing this sort of thing? Or conversely, were you particularly doted on, and is the emotion perhaps one of nostalgia?

No, neither of those.

Thanks for the helpful answers, everyone. It is pleasing to read that I'm not the only person who does this, and that it is probably not symptomatic of some awful undiagnosed neurological illness!
posted by mattn at 2:53 PM on March 5, 2011

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