TBI and Tears

June 22, 2022


Justin used to write a blog on a fairly regular basis, called “The Simple Things“. Then my health tanked and one of the things that got cut was his writing. With the restart of our posting here he is writing again which makes ME incredibly happy! We will be adding in archived content from old blogs both of us have written so we have it all in a single place for easy access. One of the last posts he wrote about was how much more emotional he was, often crying when he never used to. 

Orange pulp hook stuck in the side of a log

I mentioned last week that I have a propensity to cry, especially over emotional situations. Rarely for physical injury, almost always due to emotions.  To illustrate this, a couple years ago when cutting firewood I stabbed my self with a pulp hook in the shin. Not that it matters but it can happen when hurrying and not paying proper attention. It hurt bad enough that I went to the ER to make sure I didn’t have a fracture; after I finished the load of wood I was working on. No tears, just annoyance combined with a hole in the shape of the end of the hook.

Compare that to me watching some movies and tv shows. And not just sad scenes, but triumphant ones. Yes, sometimes I get tears watching GOOD things. It’s like my emotions overload and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

What’s interesting is that while it was never quite to this level before my accident in 2016, emotional tears have been a thing for me for a long time. And knowing what I know now, I think it was because of my first accident that happened way back before I was even school age. Back then I fell off a couch onto a heating register, head first, full weight. It’s actually a wonder I didn’t injure my neck given where I hit. I then followed that up years later when another fall, this time in a clawfoot cast iron tub. In that case I came directly down on my chin, causing a whiplash effect . These were both before bike accident’s without helmet’s (80’s kid) and years of football would add to my trauma.

The reason I mention the initial accident as a child is because of something my mother would say years later to my step-father while I was getting scolded for crying. She told him that when I was little, I never cried and my tears as I got older were just making up for that. Now, some of that of course is just a mother trying to protect her child. But, it’s also not out of the realm of possibility and dare I say even likely, that I had a change in emotional function following that first injury. I literally landed full weight, on my head, on top of a heating register at somewhere between 3-4 years old. The scar from the stitches is still visible when I shave my head and it’s actually a common trait that emotional responses and personality traits change post brain injury (comedian Sam Kinison is an example).

And that brings us to today. Emotional crying has nearly always been a thing but after my accident in 2016 it’s escalated. As I mentioned in the beginning, even watching a movie with a triumphant ending can elicit tears. Sad endings now seem to be a given.

The Avengers: Endgame is an example of that. When Ironman sacrifices himself (spoiler alter though if you haven’t seen it yet, no sympathy), yep, tears. Right there in public in the theater. No choice. Tried to hold them back but to no avail. Hell, watching Miracle the last time, when they beat the Russians and Kirk Russel as Herb Brooks was in disbelief at doing something so momentous, tears. Not necessarily crying but I was misty.

This has all come to the forefront this week as we set up for Christmas because a year ago at this time we found out that our Shepard, Kane, was dying of cancer (he crossed the rainbow bridge January 9th of 2020). Placing his ornament on the tree and hanging his stocking brought out, you guessed it, tears. Now it’s not unusual of course to cry over the loss of a beloved pet, but for me, I feel like my emotional response to him passing and still today was overly strong. I question it enough that I’m actually wondering if I have what’s referred to as Pseudobulbar affect, a disorder that causes laughing and/or crying uncontrollably or at questionable times. It’s certainly something I plan to ask about at my next neuro appointment.

So, why do I write this? I write it because it’s embarrassing if I’m being honest and it always has been. I’m a big dude. I’m a beard wearing, weight lifting, gun shooting, deer hunting, woodcutting, car fixing red blooded male. While definitions of the sexes have and continue to change, my definition of masculinity includes such things.

Christmas stocking with "kane" and a german shephard embroidered on it, over a paw imprint

It does not, however, include crying at the movies.

And I know I’m damn sure not alone on that one. Knowing this, I could also see how such a scenario could have not just a drastic effect on someone, but potentially a fatal one.

So I share.

I share my embarrassment. Because by doing so it:

  1. Removes the possibility it can be used against me. It’s hard to weaponize an admitted embarrassment.
  2. Because someone else out there may be fighting a similar battle and by saying it out loud and admitting it, it’ll perhaps allow them to do the same.

It’s embarrassing, it also just is. The only way to control it is to avoid.

?Avoid going to the movies.

?Avoid watching a tv show or movie with your family because you don’t want to explain why you’re crying.

?Avoid not just bad feelings, but good ones as well because you’re scared of embarrassing yourself in front of others.

Avoiding life for fear of of presenting an uncontrollable act is no way to live. I’ve done it and frankly, it’s exhausting. If you’re reading this and you deal with it, you understand. If you’re reading this and don’t deal with it but do have issues that present physically beyond your control, you get it too. 

It sucks but let me tell you, even just writing this is cathartic. Knowing that someone may read it and feel better about themselves, feels great. Acknowledging that my issue is not just mine but others out there will understand provides acceptance.

And revealing such a personal trait to the world that can either be accepted or potentially used against me is empowering because it’s beyond my control how this is received by others. 

I can only control how I handle myself. 

And that makes me happy. Maybe even happy enough to cry. 

Written By Justin B.

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