• James McNeil

What tears can really mean, and why we should pay attention.

I grew up in the “walk it off” generation. That may sound odd but hear me out. When they got hurt, unless it was serious, boys were told to simply “walk it off.” This was true whether the pain was physical or emotional.

Yesterday while driving for Uber, I picked up a young lady and her two boys. One of them was chatty and pretty much spent the entire uber ride talking (or singing) at various volume levels. His favorite song seemed to be “10 little monkeys jumping on the bed” to which he seemed to know several variations. His brother came to the car crying and sobbed throughout the ride. I almost instantly noticed two things. One was that even though the sobbing seemed forced to me, he seemed genuinely upset over something. The other was that his mother was quickly losing patience with the two of them.

When we arrived, she apologized, and I told her it was okay. But as I drove away, I started wondering. What was bothering her son so much? I likely will never know the answer, even though I have a couple of ideas. But my mind kept going back to the idea that he was crying for help with something.

It’s something I’m familiar with. If you’ve read this far in my journey, you know about my history with suicide. And even though I may not have been physically crying, I was no less crying for help.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to make anyone feel that his mother was bad in any way. She is still human, and sometimes life can be too much for all of us. And there’s no way to differentiate between a sob of protest and a sob asking for help.

In much the same way, when I go back to talk to people I knew at the time, and they find out about my history with suicide, the answer is always the same. “I never knew.” Nobody did. I had become so good at internalizing it, that I kept those things to myself almost by instinct. It’s taken me a long time to get to the point that I’m comfortable going to therapy, asking for help, and showing emotion. But I got here.

You can too. You don’t have to be this perfect person who never experiences grief. You don’t have to be this perfect vision of yourself that never cries, and never asks for help. You can be imperfectly human.

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