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"It took one message from a stranger for me to shed the tears so many women in lockdown have been holding back."

For more than six weeks I have not allowed myself to cry.

Every time I felt a salty sting behind my eyes, a flush of heat through my cheeks or a lump of dread begin to form in my throat, I would hold my breath until the tears disappeared like water down a drain. 

Basically, my life had turned into the equivalent of standing in a kitchen and holding my hand over the hissing lid of a shaken Coke bottle. 

I was stopping the explosion from taking place, but now all my energy was directed at keeping that lid from bursting.

I didn’t cry as the borders around Sydney closed and I was cut off from my family or when I waved goodbye to my friends in the office as we packed up our things to work from home, not even able to exchange a quick hug before I walked into a world where I would not touch another human being for months.

Watch the moment Sydney found out it was going into lockdown again. Post continues after video.


Video via The Today Show.

I didn’t cry when my mother was admitted to hospital in a state I am no longer allowed to enter or when my little nephew blew kisses to me over the phone and then asked when I would visit him so we could hunt for treasure.

It was both an act of self-preservation and an unfortunate learned behaviour that comes from being a single woman who lives alone, in a world where people still like to share 'you go girl' quotes on Instagram while also quietly clutching their pearls in private, echoing your aunt's concerns that you 'failed to marry'.  

There's a sense of being proud of the independent life you've built while also knowing that if you were to crumple onto your bed and cry into your decorative pillows, it would elicit the one public sentiment you've tailored your persona to avoid  - pity.

On the other side of the no tears spectrum is the new conversation rule that the COVID-19 pandemic has enticed us all, singles, couples and parents alike, to follow. 

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A rule that stopped us from talking about our own pain because we felt it showed a lack of empathy and understanding for the people in the world who are far worse off than we are.

"I didn’t cry as the borders around Sydney closed and I was cut off from my family or when I waved goodbye to my friends in the office as we packed up our things to work from home, not even able to exchange a quick hug before I walked into a world where I would not touch another human being for months." Image: Laura Brodnik Instagram 

For more than six weeks it felt selfish to cry, when just outside my apartment doors people were risking their health to carry out essential services, watching their businesses close, and even dying in their homes before they could receive medical help.

And then, during one sunny locked-down day in Sydney, I had to break the no tears rule.

It started when I reached for my phone in the morning and was surprised to see the battery level was hovering near the extremely problematic 3 per cent mark.

I rolled my eyes at my own inability to properly plug in a cord, checked the charger was now actually in the power outlet, and then shuffled into my kitchen to make an enormous cup of coffee that I could covertly sip throughout my first work-from-home meeting of the day.

After a hectic morning that included recording a podcast in a very precariously built home studio made from blankets, a rogue tangle of bras and my closet doors and I decided to reward myself with a little break via some Twitter doom scrolling and so went to yank my phone from its charger.

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Still on 3 per cent.

For the next forty minutes, I dashed around my apartment with my phone in one hand and a tangle of chargers, at varying degrees of wear and tear, in the other. 

Desperately shoving chargers into different outlets in multiple rooms like some kind of deranged Prince Charming forcing glass slippers onto the feet of unsuspecting women, but never finding Cinderella.

Eventually, after hurling the chargers across the room in order to punish them for this uncalled-for act of betrayal, I dusted off my laptop and fired off a message to Apple Support, asking why I was being held hostage by a 3 per cent battery reading.

After exchanging messages with a very polite person named Kirke, I was told the best course of action, given Sydney's hard lockdown was to send the phone away for repairs.

Meaning it would be gone for 10 working days, at the very least, they informed me.

Listen to Mamamia Out Loud a thrice-weekly podcast about what women are talking about. Post continues after podcast.

Now, I know this seems like a ludicrous reason to finally cry, to shed tears over a broken object that can be fixed or replaced, especially given all that's wrong in the world, but often individual bouts of pain and panic transcend logic.

"I really can't do that," I typed back to the suggestion that had popped back up in the little chat box. "I'm in the Sydney lockdown and I live alone. None of my friends and family live near me and I don't have a spare phone. I really need this phone or I'll be completely alone." 

It was a message to a complete stranger sent through an online void, but because it was an admission of sadness and fear that I would not normally allow myself to say our loud, it instantly induced an ugly bout of crying.

I cried at the thought of not being able to easily hear my sisters' voices on nights where the world felt particularly lonely and dark.

I cried at the thought of my mother lying in a hospital bed and not being easily reachable if something went wrong, knowing that even if I wasn't allowed to jump on a plane to see her, as least I was only a phone call away.

I cried about bigger worries, like the thought of needing urgent help in the middle of the night and having no way to call for it. And I even cried for the little annoyances it would bring, like no longer being able to fill my afternoons with voices on podcasts while I walked the streets by myself.

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For the first time in lockdown, I felt like I would be truly alone.

And so, every tear that I'd saved up for six weeks came rushing out. 

It was safe to say that the lid had burst from the proverbial Coke bottle in spectacular fashion, coating the kitchen from floor to ceiling in dark fizzy liquid.

"And so, every tear that I'd saved up for six weeks came rushing out. It was safe to say that the lid had burst from the proverbial Coke bottle in spectacular fashion, coating the kitchen from floor to ceiling in dark fizzy liquid." Image: Instagram.  

"Ok," said Kirke, in response to my highly emotional/slightly inappropriate message. "Let's try something else."

Thanks to some tech wizardry, the phone did eventually start working again, and it was a good reminder that even though it always hurts to break, a good cry is never really a selfish act.

As we go through such a collective hardship, it's no surprise that we've all tried to put ourselves on watch when it comes to the way we speak about our own circumstances.

I've heard some politicians refer to the pandemic as "the great equaliser" and that's simply just not true, because wealth and privilege will always allow you a certain type of safety net.

But for many of us, we've course-corrected too hard the other way, unable to share our sadness and pain for fear of surrounding weak or entitled.

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Over the last few weeks, many of my friend's replies have mirrored my own when I've asked if they are okay. I've noticed that they too start to admit they are not doing well but then quickly check themselves before their admission makes them appear ungrateful. 

"It's really hard working with the kids at home, but I shouldn't complain because I'm lucky to have them and a job...".

"It's really hard not being able to work at the moment, but at least I'm not a frontline health worker, they have it really tough...".

"It's really hard living alone and not being able to see any family or friends, but I'm lucky to have my own space...".

Throughout this joint hardship, we sought to get rid of our complaining, but all we really lost was comfort and empathy.

So, here is the permission you've been seeking: It's okay to cry when your world feels like it's broken, even if those tears are triggered by a stranger. 

If you would like to listen to Laura from under her bra and blanket fort, be sure to tune into The Spill, Mamamia's daily pop culture podcast. Here's the latest episode for a sneak peek of this daily greatness!


Feature Image: Mamamia + Laura Brodnik.

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