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The Tear Box

The Tear Box

Written by Sheila Startup, Author of The Tear Box

It was 1976. I was a 10-year-old girl heading to her first day of school after
having moved from Illinois to Pennsylvania. I was experiencing what I now know
as my first panic attack. I was so anxious that day that I became sick and was
sent home. Long before it was something society talked about, anxiety had
grabbed my stomach and my mind. I knew the pains that big feelings could
cause children. At that time no one was using the words anxiety or panic attack,
certainly not to explain childhood’s complicated emotions. There was no
discussion of feelings, just chin up. Walk it off. Get back out there. And I did. I
tightened my belt and soldiered on. Anxiety and unease came back off and on
throughout middle and high school, but when I moved out on my own, the panic
arrived with greater consistency. I tried medications but nothing helped. I just
kept stuffing my emotions deeper down inside me. When my daughter was born,
I knew that I had to deal with this. I took a sabbatical from teaching and wrote this
book. At the time, I was seeing a social worker, and The Tear Box was born out
of a session led by her. The ideas in the book flowed from me all at once that
day. The Tear Box tells the story of the trials of a little girl. She is bullied on the
playground. Her goldfish dies. Each time something emotional happens, she
cries into a box that her grandmother gave her. However, the box grows bigger
and bigger, taking over her bedroom. While being a literal holder of emotions,
the box also serves as a metaphor for what happens when these emotions go
unattended. It is my hope that the book will encourage kids to explore and
understand their emotions. I like the phrase “let them be.”

In addition to seeing a social worker, I had a wonderful mentor at work. She
gave me books by Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron and mindfulness
practitioners, Jon Kabat-Zinn and Jack Kornfield. I began meditating and letting
my emotions hang out with me. I attribute my meditation practice to helping me
allow my anxiety to become a part of me and not something I am ashamed of or
want to hide. I welcome all my feelings to the party! I try not to label them as
good or bad, but as just feelings and emotions. When I am able to do that, I
notice that the more uncomfortable emotions often dissolve.

As a high school teacher, I am aware of the anxiety epidemic. I see it in my
students, as well as my colleagues. Rates of depression and anxiety have risen
sharply. If we can help children understand that their emotions are just a part of
who they are, and neither good nor bad, then we may be able to get ahead of
this epidemic. Teens and adults alike are so quick to replace so-called bad
emotions with a quick fix from social media or other coping devices, yet the
emotion is still there, humming in the background. It is my hope, that having
tools and conversation starters, such as The Tear Box, will abate some of what
we are seeing.

I still feel anxiety, as well as worry, joy, sadness, peacefulness, and many other
emotions at any given time. But I embrace them all! They will always be a part
of who I am- a sensitive human being making her way through this one precious
life. If I can help another to understand this truth, then The Tear Box has done
its job.

Perhaps 13 th century poet and Sufi mystic Jalaluddin Rumi said it best with his
poem The Guest House:

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

July 2024

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