Crying Like a Girl with a Skinned Knee: Why stoicism isn’t all its cracked up to be

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I am tough. I can handle whatever comes my way–whether its a torn ligament, a mouse trying to nest in my hair, or my husband’s brush with a deadly cancer. I can take it.

At least that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

I’m not sure when I decided I couldn’t show my weaknesses publicly. It has taken me years to learn that sharing my little flaws actually helps me connect with people. Who wants a perfect friend? You know the one. That guy or gal with flawless hair and skin? Chances are if you know someone like that, you secretly hate him or her. My husband reminds me that it annoys him when I’m perfect (although I have to admit that even in this context that perfection-striving ego of mine always loves these comments). He’s specifically referring to my ability to be calm under pressure, tough in an emergency and generally “get all Zen” when the s**t hits the fan. But I’m like a dog working for a bone. I love positive feedback.

I was twenty-two years old when I got my first dose of positive feedback for being tough. Rollerblading was all the rage in the late 90s and I was getting the hang of it. Too cheap to buy knee pads and a helmet, I preferred to roll along the Sammamish River Trail unencumbered by such nonsense, listening to Hootie and the Blowfish on my Walkman and weaving around pedestrians.

Up ahead I noticed a grate covering a drain and figured I’d just ride around it. No problem. The Sammamish River Trail was busy that day. It was one of those rare early summer warm days when the entire population of the Greater Seattle area goes outside to dry out the webbing between their toes.

The grate was just a few rolls away, so I glanced over my shoulder before making my move. Thanks to the rocking tunes in my earphones, I didn’t hear the cyclist as he passed me. He was one of those bearded recumbent guys–all geared out and chill. I couldn’t veer around the grate, I’d have to go straight over it.

I hadn’t yet mastered the brake on my rollerblades, and instead of slowing down, I sped up as if to launch across the four foot expanse. The recumbent guy and I were neck and neck. There was no room for error. I had to go for it. I would have to clear the grate by jumping over it.

I almost made it too.

The wheels of my right blade nearly made it across the grate. But instead of landing of solid concrete, they landed on the drain and wedged neatly between the metal bars. My foot stopped instantly. My body flew forward and I landed hard. My right knee took the brunt of it, and my palms absorbed the remainder of the impact.

It took me a while before I could stand. My right knee was splayed open in three distinct flaps and I could see the white bone of the patella flashing obscenely inside. Later I would find out I’d chipped and cracked the knee cap. But at the time, all I knew was that I was a long way from the car.

A couple stopped to ask if I was okay, their eyes wide and their nostrils flaring in disgust. I smiled and cleared my throat. I looked down at my knee. Blood oozed from the gash, creating a long line that soaked my sock and disappeared into my rollerblade.

“Wow,” the woman said. “I can’t believe you’re even standing.”

I kept smiling. My knee hurt, but she was impressed. I could tell.

“Do you want us to call somebody?” The man asked.

“I’m fine. Really.” I left the couple and started back towards the car. I passed numerous runners and cyclists, each alternately horrified and amazed at my toughness. I kept rollerblading. I put my earphones back in place and held my head up high. Later, my knee would stiffen up and the wound would someday look like a pitchfork splitting my kneecap. But for the moment I was numb, I was headed home and I was tough. I hadn’t cried like a girl with a skinned knee.

Of course now, all these years later, I would have taken the couple up on their offer to call somebody. I would have received a ride and put ice and a bandage on that wound right away. I don’t have to be so tough now.  I’ve found that stoicism isn’t all its cracked up to be.

Specifically I’ve found that if you are always tough, then others expect it. No longer amazed by your stoicism, friends are confused when you do show weakness. More than abandoning stoicism I’ve also learned to ask for what I want. If I need a ride because I’ve split my knee open and just looking at the wound makes me want to throw up, I’ll just go ahead and ask for it.

But I probably will, at a later time, look to my husband and ask if he thought I’d “been tough enough”, to which he will roll his eyes and answer “Yes Kim. You’re always tough enough.” Which is yet another reason why I love this man.

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7 responses »

    • So true Joann. We all want to be needed and allowing someone else to see your weaknesses gives them that opportunity. I know that know, but it took a long time to learn.

  1. Oh wow! Glad you didn’t get any serious infection from the wound, I assume, based on you being here to tell the story and skiing hard. This is an interesting topic. I think it’s instinct to tell people you’re fine when you’ve had an accident, unless you’re seriously injured and out of it. We were trained young by our peers that it’s not good to be “wimpy.” Or at least those of us who are athletic and love the outdoors, etc. Silly pride. I’m glad you’ll ask for help now more easily. It’s hard for me, too.

    • So true Jill. I still thought I was invincible. Brushing up close to mortality changes a person. We become more mature, more responsible and much more cognizant of potential hazards such as infection and long-term damage. In my case I was lucky. Sadly this is only one of many stories I could share with a similar motif. For a while there I figured that if I never admitted I was hurt, I would get some shiny medal or something. Stupid.

  2. I let ski patrol haul me down in the sled when I sprained my MCL. I was grateful someone else was asking the questions, making decisions, and generally being capable. They made it easier.

  3. I can really relate to this post. Somehow we think that by letting others in on our weaknesses, they’ll use that knowledge against us, to judge or discriminate, or just plain not like us. You are one tough cookie, but thanks for also being so human. We like you that way.

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