Your Body

Don’t EVER Suppress A Sneeze (Seriously, This is Important.)

By December 18, 2015 2

The other day, I was in the middle of an interview when I suddenly had to sneeze. The woman I was interviewing was telling me a long, deeply personal story, and not wanting to interrupt I tried desperately to hold it in.

Eventually, when my eyes were just about ready to pop out of my skull, I caved and let out the teeniest, tiniest, as-polite-as-I-could, baby sneeze.

My subject stopped talking immediately, and stared at me in horror.


I stared back at her, in equal horror, until she told me what the fuck she was talking about.

She went on to explain that 15 years ago, a friend of hers was sitting in a funeral, and, like me, in an attempt not to be rude, he suppressed a sneeze.

It paralyzed him from the neck down. 

The spasm that occurred when he tried to hold it in apparently did something to his spinal cord, and left his arms and legs immobile. He’s severely handicapped and has been in a wheelchair ever since, and was never again able to lift his young daughter.

I know this sounds like an urban legend — some made up old wives’ that you’re hearing from a friend of a friend of a friend — but whether or not it’s true (which, based on the way she told the story and the fact that it made me cry, I really think it is) I guarantee you you will never suppress a sneeze again, just in case.

But more importantly — and hear me out, because I know it’s kinnnnnnd of a cliché — what if sneezes are actually a metaphor for life? 

Think about all the stuff you suppress on a daily basis: Crying when your boss says something horrible. Admitting to your ex-boyfriend that you still have feelings for him. Letting your passive aggressive friend that she’s acting like a bitch. Telling the guy you’re sleeping with what you actually want him to do in bed to get you to orgasm. Reminding your roommate to DO HER FUCKING DISHES.

Isn’t keeping all that stuff in pretty paralyzing, too?

There’s an old John Mayer song called “Say” (I love him, sue me.) that talks about how “it’s better to say too much than never to say what you need to say.” Yes, it’s John Mayer, and yes, he’s basically telling millions of teenage girls to admit their feelings to their 17-year-old boyfriends, but he really is onto something.

John Mayer, and the lady from my interview, are right: keeping your mouth shut is overrated. Ask yourself, seriously, when the last time was that you walked away from a conversation thinking “wow, I’m so glad I bit my tongue back there.” More likely, you’ve walked away with a knot in your chest thinking “dammit, I wish I’d been more honest.”

Biting your tongue is bullshit. I know, I know — you can’t exactly tell your boss to go fuck herself, and you can’t tell your sister that her already-paid-for wedding dress is heinous — but you can challenge yourself to stop lying to the world about the way you feel about things that actually matter. What good does holding it all in do for anyone, anyway? It’s suffocating.

From now on, I pledge to sneeze loudly and proudly. And if you’ll excuse me, I have a strongly worded e-mail to write to an ex-boyfriend. Because why the hell not, right?