I would say I was a pretty good example of what British “stiff upper lip” looked like; when I was upset, I did my best not to show you and presented my poker face. But following my brain injury, I can find myself crying even when I don’t feel like the subject warrants that response from me. This isn’t me trying to get attention or make people feel sorry for me like a “drama queen” does; it’s an involuntary response. Inside I’m still that Brit who wants to save face by controlling my emotions, so dissolving into a blubbering mess about something that isn’t that emotive is definitely not what I want to be doing.
Don’t believe me when I say I used to be good at not showing emotion? You will after I tell you this story:
In my early twenties, I was an Assistant Manager at a large Pharmacy, which was one of only a handful of nominated needle exchange points in that town for drug addicts who needed to collect their prescription of methadone to help them kick the habit. That meant every day, the local addicts would visit us, which in the most part, was a good thing. We wanted to help these people get their lives back on track and offer them clean needles to help keep them safe from disease, and giving them their prescriptions was an important step in their journey. However, kicking a drug habit is more complicated than that, and some would steal from the store to fund a top-up of illegal drugs.
One day, a patient who was a known shoplifter got upset that one of the staff was clearly monitoring him. He began shouting and took an aggressive stance. The manager wasn’t in that day, so I needed to deal with the situation before it got out of hand. I got between him and the staff member and asked him to leave. He was still holding his dirty needle, which he had brought in to be exchanged, and he held it up to my neck, telling me he had AIDS and would stab me with it. Most Pharmacies have a panic button under the main counter, which goes straight through to the local Police. This is because they can be prime targets because of the many drugs they stock. Knowing that the button had already quietly been activated, I calmly told the man to go ahead and stab me if he wanted, but the Police were already on their way and he would immediately be arrested. He continued to shout at me, and then the Police did arrive and took him away. I was unharmed and told the staff to go back to work as the drama was over. Confidently, I walked into the manager’s office, showing no emotion in the hope that the staff would be able to settle by following my lead. Only after I’d shut the door did I break down as the shock hit me.
Sometimes when I cry, I’d rather you carry on like it’s not happening.
When these moments of emotional lability take over me, I don’t always want you to show me sympathy. Particularly if it’s one of those moments when I don’t actually feel that upset and don’t know why I’m crying, I recover faster if you ignore what I’m doing. Now, I’m not suggesting that every time a brain injury survivor cries, you should ignore them. Ask them what they need and carefully listen to their answer. They might need a hug at that moment to comfort them and help them to calm down. Or they might be like me, and that compassion hits me, making me have a fresh wave of tears.
I’m sorry there is no easy procedure to follow in this circumstance as every person and situation is different. The one thing that I do want you to take away from this is this: We are not doing it to be drama queens, and there isn’t an ulterior motive; it’s an involuntary response. But in time, our brains can relearn to handle it better, so please bear with us.