A week ago I cried (with only brief pauses) for over 8 hours, while on a plane and various airports, on my way home after presenting at a professional conference. When it first started I hid in a bathroom stall and tried to stifle the sounds while other patrons were using the facilities. But over the rest of the day tears found their way down my face even while I was just sitting silently. The barrier had been breached and that was that.
A snarkier, clickbait article about this might be written for various mental illness advocacy websites. The article might be called “X things not to say to a crying stranger,” and would shame the various people who ineffectively tried to help me that day for their ignorance or at least lack of subtlety. But I didn’t know what to do in these situations and can’t find fault in the strangers who didn’t know what to do either.
- One startled bathroom attendant started shrieking when she saw my swollen, bloody eyes and wet face; I think she was truly upset that some crisis might be under way.
- The woman next to me on the plane kept trying to reassure me, or to reassure herself, that I was “just having a bad day, that’s all, right?” I shook my head, thinking: ‘I have a serious illness that was in remission and now it is back and I’m frightened about what is going to happen’. But not wanting to have to explain that I don’t have cancer, I forced a teary smile and said nothing. She probably repeated that phrase 3 or 4 times.
- The flight attendant asked if I was OK and gave me a pile of napkins, which I really appreciated. She also offered to escort me off the plane or get assistance. I said no, all I really need is to get home, and she assured me that she would get me home. This was actually comforting, but the silent tears nevertheless persisted for the entire flight. Before landing, she crouched in the aisle beside me and said “I don’t know what faith you are but if you want me to pray with you, let’s do that.” I thanked her with another weird, wet smile, not having the heart to tell her that I’m an atheist.
Remember it’s true, dignity is valuable
But our lives are valuable too
– from “Fantastic Voyage” (Bowie/Eno)