13 votes

Considering the silence of teenage boys in the wake of my son's traumatic injury

5 comments

  1. smores
    Link
    This was... a little devastating for me to read. My little brother was this boy, and it almost killed him, too. He had so much anxiety and discomfort and dysmorphia that it was eating him from the...
    • Exemplary

    This was... a little devastating for me to read. My little brother was this boy, and it almost killed him, too. He had so much anxiety and discomfort and dysmorphia that it was eating him from the inside out, and he almost never said a word about it.

    I think my mom thought she was like the author. She thought she had a secret language with my brother, that she knew how he really felt, despite his silence. But no one could have predicted just how good he was at holding it all in.

    When he was nineteen, he had alcohol use disorder, he had extremely unhealthy cocaine usage, and he was at least recreationally using narcotics. Nineteen. And no one really knew. My parents knew he drank too much, and that he didn’t look as healthy as he should given how fit he was. My mom was anxious about the fact that he was smoking pot.

    My brother is better now. He survived nineteen, he’s getting A’s and B’s in college, even though he had to start over as a 22-year-old. He’s probably one of the best college lacrosse players in the northeast (though, the age difference probably helps a little). He’s not suffering as much. He can drink just a little, just sometimes, and then stop. Like a normal 23-year-old.

    I think being older than his peers helped a lot. It gave him a unique perspective on teenage boy silence, being able to see it happen with boys so much younger than him. And he’s not silent anymore. He ends phone calls with “I love you”, unprompted, which brings me to tears about half the time. He hugs me whenever he sees me, and it’s a real hug, like he doesn’t need to flinch away from physical affection anymore.

    I don’t know how my brother survived nineteen. I know that some of his peers didn’t. I know that he saw masculine silence modeled in my dad, but I don’t know why I didn’t follow that model, and he did. I’m sure organized sports had something to do with it, but I’m also sure some of it was just luck. I know that my family was willing to drop everything to help him when they finally understand how much pain he was in, and that my dad took off work with no notice to drive him to a rehab facility 9 hours away when he said he though he needed rehab. It all still feels like it was so close to not being enough.

    Anyway, thank you for sharing this. It hurt my heart to read it, but I never want to stop thinking about the journey my brother went through, and the quiet pain in the silence of teenage boys.

    13 votes
  2. [4]
    Comment deleted by author
    Link
    1. [3]
      joplin
      Link Parent
      Yeah, I get pretty tired of hearing "men need to show more emotion/stop being so silent, etc." but not really seeing anyone suggest ways of helping men to do that, and at the same time putting the...

      I don't know how to drop the stoic act. I transitioned into becoming emotionally self-reliant and affectless as a teenager, after a history of undiagnosed panic attacks and other circumstances.

      Yeah, I get pretty tired of hearing "men need to show more emotion/stop being so silent, etc." but not really seeing anyone suggest ways of helping men to do that, and at the same time putting the entire onus on men to do it without recognizing that the other side of the equation is how people react to us. I often speak about my feelings at work only to be told, essentially, "Nobody else is complaining about it. Why are you being such a baby about this?" (I mean they say it more delicately than that, but that's what it amounts to.)

      One reason I stopped showing emotion, particularly as a teenager, is because it became abundantly clear that nobody in my life cared what I thought or felt, so there was no point in sharing my feelings. They would only ever be interested in my feelings as a way to manipulate me into doing what they wanted, so it became a net negative to share them. When that changes I'll be happy to open up more. In the meantime, I've tried my best to cut out the people in my life who do that, but that's not always possible or prudent.

      9 votes
      1. [2]
        Whom
        Link Parent
        I see it put on men for expecting stoicism and such from other men, not necessarily for their own inability to express emotion. Surely that kind of misplaced blame happens, I don't mean to say...

        I see it put on men for expecting stoicism and such from other men, not necessarily for their own inability to express emotion. Surely that kind of misplaced blame happens, I don't mean to say that your experiences are fake or something, but a HUGE part of the problem is a never-ending cycle within masculinity itself pushed onto every young man by their fathers and peers. That's not to say that there aren't contributing factors outside of masculinity itself, of course, but other than therapy and other personal measures like that, the main way to fix this problem is to get men to stop expecting it of each other (something which has gotten a bit better with younger generations), not really forcing themselves to show more of what they feel.

        I'm not a man but I was raised as one, and I at least know I can trace many of my problems with emotional vulnerability to the men who tried to teach me to be a man.

        6 votes
        1. joplin
          Link Parent
          I should have been more clear. When I said: I was trying to get at what you've said here. When you act in an "unmanly" way, other people will be sure to put you in your place and that's part of...

          I should have been more clear. When I said:

          putting the entire onus on men to do it without recognizing that the other side of the equation is how people react to us.

          I was trying to get at what you've said here. When you act in an "unmanly" way, other people will be sure to put you in your place and that's part of what needs to stop to make this better. Sorry for the confusion. I think I agree with what you've said here.

          5 votes
  3. knocklessmonster
    (edited )
    Link
    I feel like part of the silence here was simply situational. The kid didn't know what was wrong, had no reason to think he was seriously injured because yeah, he landed on his neck, but he was...

    I feel like part of the silence here was simply situational. The kid didn't know what was wrong, had no reason to think he was seriously injured because yeah, he landed on his neck, but he was able to ride back to the car. The kid's logic checks out somewhat, "I hurt myself, but you guys keep having fun, I'm gonna go chill over here." He didn't try to walk it off and keep going, he knew he hit a limit and respected that. If this was an issue of toxic masculinity, it would've been him pushing himself to keep up, and becoming a quadriplegic. Frankly, I would've made the same call in that situation not to be a tough guy, but because if I don't think I need help, I'm not going to ask for it and will actively deny it when offered.

    Everybody did everything they should have in the situation, it was just a nightmare scenario. Yeah, there may be some some issues with how the teenager sort of turned inward, but that could be due to anything, including toxic masculinity. However, I think it's only toxic if it causes a problem. An example, that I think matches somewhat with the teenager: I nearly destroyed my shoulder a few years ago. I actually relate to the kid somewhat, and think his mom has the wrong idea, and would like to tell a story to explain why I think this is the case.

    In April 2017 I was cycling home from work. I got myself thrown from my bicycle, landed on my shoulder, and was convinced I had destroyed it. It was the worst pain I'd ever felt. I kept myself from crying not because I was scared of being called a pussy, as I was alone, but because I had to get through the situation. I can't get picked up if I can't say where I am, and I knew if I started crying, I wouldn't be able to stop myself. I had soft tissue damage and a separated shoulder.

    I had actually calmed down significantly when my friend showed up, and I was simply relieved that I was on my way out of the situation. I broke down in the car, but it hurt due to the injury, so I again had to stop myself and regulate my breathing.

    Another situation that should tie the rest of it together: I was running between bus stops in March 2015, got back home, stood up a few hours later, and my foot hurt. I thought I had tendonitis, which was pretty regular for me being a tall, fat man. I found out that August after months of pain that it was a hairline fracture on my fourth metatarsal, and minor degeneration where it joins the talus. I didn't push through to be tough, I simply wasn't aware of what was wrong in the situation.

    With the benefit of hindsight, yeah, I can say I made a bad decision, but I, and the teenager, and even the author, don't deserve to be judged through this lens by anybody, especially ourselves. The reason I'm bringing this up is that while there are many unhealthy reasons to not cry or show emotion, there are also many situations in which it is simply better. I don't see a "just suck it up" attitude from the teenager. He realized there was a serious issue and made it known. I'm willing to call out toxic masculinity when I see it, but all I see here is an unfortunate situation with a couple of innocent mistakes whose danger was only revealed looking back on the situation.

    6 votes