On Sometimes Feeling Okay and Sometimes Not: Grief and Cancer Diary, 12/19/12


So I’m having this situation. It has to do with my recovery from cancer surgery, and with my depression, and with my grief over my dad’s recent death.

There are stretches when I feel pretty okay. When I feel pretty good, even. My health is getting better every day, and I have minutes, hours, days even, when I feel like my old self: cheerful, optimistic, energetic, motivated, engaged.

And there are stretches when I really don’t. There are stretches when I can’t make myself get off the sofa: when I sit there thinking about all the things I need to do and even want to do, and cannot make myself do any of it. There are stretches when I’m irritable, anxious, needy, pissy, all out of proportion. There are stretches when I’m just tired, and have to rest.

So here’s the situation: When I display one or the other of these facets of my life right now, in the public sphere or even to my friends and family, I feel like a fraud.

When I talk about how hard the depression is; when I talk about my grief about my dad; when I talk about how my post-surgery stamina is still low and I need more rest than usual… I feel like I’m giving a false impression. I feel like I’m making it look worse than it is. I feel like I’m being self-indulgent, whiny, lazy. After all, I went to the gym for an hour and a half two the other day. I just stayed up until two in the morning writing about human rights violations against atheists. I’ve been joking around on Twitter about Hug Club. How bad could it be? What’s all this darkness and exhaustion about?

And when I’m doing better and am talking about the silly fun things that bring me joy in life, when I talk about music and atheism and politics and kittens and Christmas and going to the gym… I feel like I’m giving a false impression, too. I feel like I’m making it seem like everything is hunky-dory and awesome and totally back to normal now — when it’s really not.

Complicating things is the fact that one of my most common coping mechanisms, especially for depression, is acting more “up” than I really feel. It’s the whole “fake it ’til you make it” thing. If I feel the self-perpetuating downward spiral of depression coming on, I try, if I possibly can, to make myself be social, or go to the gym, or even just dick around on Facebook and Twitter. Acting as if I’m engaged in my life is a big part of what gets me genuinely engaged in my life. But when I’m still in the “faking it” part of “fake it ’til you make it,” it feels… well, fake. Like I’m putting on an act. And the flipside of that is also true. If I’m in a funk that I can’t pull myself out of, it feels fraudulent and self-indulgent: since I was able to pull myself out of it the last time, obviously I should be able to do it again now, and this whole depression thing is just bullshit, I’m really just a lazy, self-involved whiner and malingerer. (Yes, I know. People who aren’t depressed typically don’t spend long hours berating themselves for being lazy, self-involved whiners and malingerers.)

And because I’m generally a self-conscious person even at the best of times, and because so much of my grieving process has been about endlessly parsing how it looks and whether I’m doing it right, I’m worried about what these false impressions are going to make people think of me. When I’m being upfront about the grief and depression and illness, I worry if people are going to think, “Gee, she seemed fine the other day — was she just putting on an act?” And when I have a stretch of being more positive and upbeat, I worry if people are going to expect me to be all better now, to be like that all the time now… and if they’re going to get irritated and critical when I can’t keep it up. I worry if people are going to think, “Wait a minute, what do you mean you don’t have the energy to (meet a deadline, go out for drinks, blog about misogyny)? You were just (dicking around on Twitter, ranting about atheism until two in the morning, hitting the gym for an hour and a half)! What’s wrong with you?”

(And then I get into a pissy defensive argument with those imaginary people in my head. Always useful.)

Not sure where I’m going with this. I guess I maybe just want to say this, to put it officially on the record: I’m doing better — and I’m still sometimes having a hard time. I can do a lot of what I could do before the surgery, and before my dad died and the depression hit — and I can’t do as much of it, I still need long stretches of rest and can’t take on as much as I used to. I can do some work now — and I’m still behind on a lot of stuff. Where I am right now is very in-between: on the road to Wellville, but not there yet. And the in-between state, for the physical health stuff and the mental health stuff and the grief, doesn’t always look like a subdued but calm even keel. It sometimes looks like a seesaw. (So imaginary people in my head, cut me some slack already.)

And I guess I want to put this out there: Does anyone else ever get this? Especially if you’ve been having a hard time, if you’ve been recovering from a bad illness or have a chronic illness or are dealing with bad news or grief or something… do you ever feel like a fraud because you don’t feel the same way all the time?

Comments

  1. ischemgeek says

    I have a chronic illness, and, hm. I don’t feel like a fraud, but I feel like other people will feel like I’m a fraud if I don’t present ‘right’. And I’m usually right about that – there’s a balancing act between caring enough about my health to keep myself healthy and not seeming to care too much about my health lest people consider my high-strung. That I’m a young woman definitely does not help here: my chronic illness is moderately severe asthma, and there are more than a few doctors out there who genuinely believe that shortness of breath in a young woman is an anxiety attack until proven otherwise – and good luck disproving an anxiety attack to a doctor who refuses to review your medical record or run any spirometry. I’ve gone to the ER with severe flares, with my oxygen saturation so low I was turning blue, and had a sexist doctor sit me unsupervised and alone in a quiet, dark room so I could ‘calm down,’ despite the fact that the paramedics had measured my O2 at 82%. Normal, btw, is >97%. That was a life-threatening attack, and it’s sheer luck I didn’t worsen, pass out, and die right there in the ER. Why did he assume anxiety? Because shock and awe, not being able to breathe is scary, so I was crying.

    So I have to work at maintaining my health whilst not seeming like I’m working at maintaining my health. And I have to care about how I’m breathing while pretending to not care about how I’m breathing. Which is pretty much impossible in a really severe flare. But I have to wait until I’m in a severe flare before I go in, lest the ER staff ask me why I’m wasting their time. In so many words. Because we can’t trust the asthma patient who’s been living with this for twenty-five years that she’s going into a severe flare, nooooo. *eyeroll*

    And then when I do get sick but not bad enough to go to the hospital (which thankfully hasn’t happened in over two years), there’s a balancing act of when I go to work and when I stay home. I general, because I get sick more often than most people, I have to stay at work when sicker than most because if I don’t show I’m sick, I’ll start getting snide remarks like, “are you sure you’re sick?”

    And so on… I’ve called it chronic illness performance art in the past because if I don’t jump through hoops like a circus animal, people will think I’m faking and/or having an anxiety attack despite no history of anxiety. Because young, healthy-looking twentysomething women aren’t physically sick unless they’re coughing up a lung in front of you.

    See also: pretty much everyone with a chronic illness I’ve met hates the sentence, “but you don’t look sick!” Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll be sure to avoid sunlight and make myself sicker by shorting sleep so I look appropriately sick to you, person who does not have my lungs but seems to feel qualified to make decisions about my health or lack thereof.

    So, yeah. I definitely relate. And that’s without going into my rant about other people who are not in my body trying to decide what I am or am not physically capable of (if I’m not flaring, I’m as capable as those without chronic illness at my work – but until recently, I had a coworker who’d forbid me from doing physical crap in his presence because it might flare my asthma. Benevolent ableism in the same sense as benevolent sexism. To you chronically well people out there: Let the chronically ill person decide what xie is capable of that day. Because if you presume to judge for hir, I guarantee you’ll get it wrong).

  2. huntstoddard says

    Please tell me you don’t live in the UK, since i don’t want to believe what the wingers tell me about NHS. Any doctor who doesn’t immediately recognize asthma should be fired on the spot.

  3. ischemgeek says

    No, I don’t live in the UK, but I’ve heard stories from there, and in the States too. The problem isn’t my medical system (I live in Canada), but rather sexism and the god complex actively encouraged in med schools. Fact is that docs can’t know everything about medicine, but they’re taught to act as if they do (and I understand why – in an emergency, being paralyzed by doubt would be a bad thing). Problem: They’re not trained to know when they need to defer to the patient who’s been living this for twenty-five years. So if you’re anything less than cookie-cutter stereotype of your disease (and I’m definitely not a stereotypical moderately severe asthmatic because my baseline lung function is really high and I’m not a wheezer at all), they’ll probably mistreat you.

    Couple that with sexism about teh flighty wimminz, and it’s a recipe for experiences like mine. I’ve had similar experiences in other countries (the US and Germany), and other women with asthma from elsewhere in the world who I know also have similar experiences in their home countries. I’m pretty sure it’s not Canada-specific, I’m pretty sure it’s sexist-culture-specific.

    Also, Greta, I didn’t say this before because I hadn’t had my coffee and my rant button was pushed but I’ll say it now: I’m glad you’re starting to feel better, and just take things at your own pace during your recovery. A close friend of mine was killed in a car crash two years ago next May, and I’ll still cry about her sometimes. It takes time to recover, and it’s okay to still be hurting about it. Some things never heal fully, and the death of someone close to you is one of them, I think.

  4. huntstoddard says

    but rather sexism and the god complex actively encouraged in med schools

    Too many rocks stars, not enough humble physicians. It seems to be that way in a lot of professions these days, doesn’t it?

  5. ischemgeek says

    Erm, I’m not really comfortable continuing this conversation in Greta’s comment thread – it seems like a derail, and it strikes me that it would be really insensitive of us to talk about sexism in medicine when she started a thread asking for advice and emotional support. If you want, you could come over to the A+ forums and we could talk about it in <a href="http://atheismplus.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=3333&p=57662#p57662"this thread I've started. I won’t reply to this comment thread here anymore about this topic.

  6. says

    Yup… Another Chronic illness person here. I’ve been sick (with Lupus) for about a year, and have been unable to get my life back together. I’m behind, majorly behind, on things, and depressed. When I was really sick, it was easy to tell myself it didn’t make sense to worry about work (I’m a grad student) and that I should rest. Anything I did would not be as good as if I was healthy anyway.

    But now that I’m starting to feel better, that pressure’s back. I still have moments where I can’t get out of bed from the pain and fatigue, but I can go for a walk, or clean the house, or focus on a book for longer lengths of time. I seem to have this anxiety block about finishing my thesis, because whenever I sat down to do it in the last few months I’ve ended up in a pile of pain and frustration. I feel like, if I can go out with friends, I should be able to spend an hour on real work. And how am I ever going to get a job when I’m like this? And am I really sick enough to be resting reading a book right now? And am I doing the whole recovering thing the right way?

    There’s a book, Sick and Tired of feeling Sick and Tired, that discusses the flare-better-flare cycle that those of us with chronic illnesses have. It takes a lot of effort to transition back into better mode, and that can certainly cause anxiety, depression, and imposter syndrome (not sure they say it in so many words). FYI, the book leans Christian (which I pointed out on amazon, since I would have liked to know before I bought it, only to be told by a commenter that I shouldn’t complain about it because the bible quotes in it are “no different than Chinese proverbs”).

    I really hope we can both transition back to normalcy… And that we get the time and understanding with which to do it.

  7. huntstoddard says

    I think the thing is that when you’re feeling down, not necessarily from either chronic physical or mental illness, just “down” as in not feeling the energy that particular day, there is always the tendency to suspect that “this is it,” that you will be that way from then on. I can get that feeling even though I don’t suffer a chronic physical illness (tho I’m pretty neurotic, chronically). When I feel enervated on a particular day, that suddenly becomes what I am and will always be. I think this is a huge mistake, and from what I’ve heard and read, the single greatest psychological mistake for anyone in recovery. You will not always be that way, which is the entire point of recovery, and in fact, realizing that allows you to submit to the process of recovery without feeling fraudulent. This is my opinion, anyway.

  8. baal says

    “Gee, she seemed fine the other day — was she just putting on an act?”
    Thoughts like that don’t cross my mind.
    My wife has clinical depression and I’ve had major surgery. Both have ups and downs in terms of functionality and both of us were mentally wanting to go back to full activity well before we were really up to it. Part of what helped my wife was letting go of some of her self monitoring and trusting that I and her friends we actually ok with covering for misc duties of life (normally she pays the bills and sorts the mail, when she’s down or not all that ‘on’ I’ll do it with the message that it’s not a burden to do so). For me, I had to pick a physical objective measure and then stick to it – in particular, I used my heart rate & the steps / minute rate on the human hamster wheels. By sticking to a pre-defined limit, I could ‘know’ I was doing ‘enough’ and not have the urge to push my limits nor rely on how I was feeling to determine how much activity to do.

  9. says

    I’m going to answer this post as one of the “imaginary” people. I’m living with someone who is suffering from a disease that’s been ongoing for several years with an unpredictable schedule of recovery. Sometimes she’s “fine” (relatively speaking)–she’s able to go out and do stuff, or argue about world affairs or put together furniture–and other times, she can’t have a normal conversation about what to have for dinner without losing it and exploding at me in a fit of impatience, she goes to lie down for a couple of hours in the middle of the day, or spends all day watching tv with all of the lights off and curtains drawn. The main thing from my point of view is that I find it difficult to adapt my own behaviour to whatever is going on with her, because I can never tell in advance when normal is going to prove too much to handle. *I* end up feeling guilty for “forgetting” that she’s not her usual self, because often she seems to be acting normally. I never think she’s faking it, either when she’s pushing her recovery forward or when she’s feeling worse. I just try to react appropriately to whatever situation she’s in.

    Now, people who don’t have as much familiarity with the ups and downs might have different ideas, may not understand why she can come visit one day but can’t promise to come sometime next week or whatever, but if those people don’t get it, what can anyone do? It’s not worth fretting over and adding to the other stress.

  10. ronjaaddams-moring says

    Your experience sounds much alike what any sane and caring person would be going through after so much stress and loss, all piled up on top of each other in a short time. Supportive (((hugs))) if you want.

    I have felt a lot like what you describe during the time when our whole family (2 adults, 2 kids) had walking pneumonia on-and-off for about 6 weeks last winter. It was maddening to not know who would be able to go to school or to work next morning – we had to assess the situation each morning and only after that could one plan the day. And often the kids’ school called that one of them got worse during the day and had to be fetched home. Unfortunately we did not get “sick enough” so our family doctor never understood what was ailing us, and we never got antibiotics, which prolonged the ordeal.

    I tried to console myself and prop up my morale with that it is genuinely stressful to not be able to plan one’s activities like one has been used to and it is genuinely depressing to be disappointed several times every week. Watching one’s kids stress and disappointments, and waking up at night to help them cough more effectively and get a better position so they can sleep of course does not help, either…

    So, FWIW: you’re neither a fake nor lazy nor a whiner. You are in a trying life situation, and that takes its toll. Please be kind to yourself.

  11. says

    I don’t think you’re putting on an act. I’ve saved every one of your grief diaries on my computer, because I want to make sure I always have them, because I feel so incredibly validated by so many of the things you are saying.

    I know you’re doing them for you, but it feels like you’re doing them just for me :)

    I struggle a lot with the decision about when to try and think positively and force myself to engage and when to indulge in my feelings for a while, also. And I question whether I’m being honest when I’ expressing joy and whether or not I’m just not working hard enough to think positive when I express misery.

    It’s tricky and I don’t know why we do it, but I’m really glad I’m not the only one.

  12. says

    Haven’t had a chance to read the rest of the comments yet, but I have to get going soon and wanted to make a quick reply beforehand, so just going to pop in real quick. Not sure if these have already been mentioned by others yet:

    (So imaginary people in my head, cut me some slack already.)

    Bingo. This is the key insight you’ve had. Focus on this, and you will be headed in the right direction.

    And I guess I want to put this out there: Does anyone else ever get this?

    Yes, definitely. Many many people have got this. You’re definitely not alone or on the wrong track. In fact — and I know this can potentially sound woo-woo-ish, but hang with me for a sec — some people have ‘got this’ at some level for literally thousands of years. The ‘this’ you are experiencing has gone by many names, and the most recent/common/accepted/easy-to-understand one currently is the concept of the ‘ego’ as it relates to so-called ‘mindfulness meditation’ (not to be confused with the ‘ego’ of Freud, which is more like the ‘middle-man’ between the ‘id’ and the ‘super-ego’, a rather different, though slightly related concept). (Yes, I know that sounds very woo, but humour me for a second. What I’m getting at is decidedly not woo.)

    This page on Wikipedia is closest to what I’m talking about: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ego_%28spirituality%29 (please ignore the woo-ish stuff on that page, including the term ‘spirituality’)

    The source you will most probably get the most out of is Eckhart Tolle (yes, I know! trust me for a sec. ;-) ), described here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eckhart_Tolle

    Specifically (very, very specifically), the book you will most probably want to read (I hope, after taking my cautions into consideration) is The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Power_of_Now and http://www.amazon.com/Power-Now-Guide-Spiritual-Enlightenment/dp/1577314808

    I recommend Eckhart Tolle, and specifically The Power of Now, because he is the one who was finally able to explain to me what is meditation and *how* to do it, with *minimal* reference to actual woo concepts like souls and afterlives and all that bull. If you read The Power of Now straight (without reading anything ‘spiritual’ into it), and simply accept the idea of ‘ego’ as a convenient concept or metaphor for the purpose of explaining mindfulness meditation, then you can begin to explore the relevance of this concept to your current circumstances in regards to feeling ‘fake’, a ‘fraud’, etc.

    Another very good representation of non-woo mindfulness meditation, which I highly recommend for this purpose, is the movie (actually a pretty good feel-good movie in its own right) The Peaceful Warrior. Apparently there’s a book related to that as well, but I haven’t read it.

    By the way, mindfulness meditation is one of the very few previously-assumed-to-be-woo practices that actually has genuine scientific evidence to support it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness_%28psychology%29

    Along with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, this is one of the few psychological-based treatments that have genuine evidence to back them up: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_behavioral_therapy

    But, seriously, probably the most accessible introduction is Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now. I read it very slowly, over the course of several days, taking the time to relax and read it for understanding, not just to be able to say, “Yeah, I read that,”, and I did genuinely experience the effects of peace, calm, and happiness that he talks about. Of course, that’s only an anecdote. Grain of salt and all that; honestly, more like a handful of salt, to be fair, but still.

    One thing I will mention outright, however, is that I disagree with Tolle’s philosophy at a basic level. I find that he’s good at explaining the meditation part, but he doesn’t really have anything useful after that. He has no good answer for the obvious question of: “Okay, great! Now what?” He’s written another book, A New Earth, which attempts to answer that, and while it is a good book, ultimately fails to answer the question without resorting to woo (which, thankfully, he limits to a single chapter at the end). I have much higher hopes for “What next?” than that. His answer amounts to apathy and complacency, IMHO.

    Tolle is also a very intriguing speaker. Very quirky, but funny and human. Unfortunately, I can’t find the video I’m thinking of, as it’s a few years old, and there’s way more Tolle-related videos these days than I can bother to sift through to find it. Ignore any woo aspects, and you’ll probably get a kick out of some of his talks.

    I’ve got other topics I could mention aside from ego/mindfulness, but gotta get going. Hope this is helpful. Cheers!

  13. says

    When grieving for my own father’s death, it took months of up and down before I was anything approaching stable. The way I figure it, there’s things that make you feel better, but only for a while, and you can’t just use the same thing all the time. After all, over the course of a normal day, you’re going to feel less hungry right after a meal than a few hours after, and you’re going to feel less tired at 11 am than 11 pm. Feeling able to get up and be sociable, or go work out, or do extensive writing may well follow similar cyclical patterns- whatever helps you do those things helps, and then later it doesn’t, and it’s a rest time from those activities. Just have a little confidence that it came back before, so it’ll come back again. And if you want a really objective measure of whether you’re getting back to yourself, keep track of how often you engage in your activities- I think you’ll find it heartening to see that you’re doing the things you enjoy more and more as time goes on.

  14. says

    Yes, you are not alone in this. Your line about: “(And then I get into a pissy defensive argument with those imaginary people in my head. Always useful.)” is very very familiar to me. I don’t know what else to say, but I hope this at least is useful.

  15. johnthedrunkard says

    Greta;

    I think you are experiencing this pretty normally. I am finding ‘progress’ coming whether I am ready or not. September 16th I finally found my first lover’s whereabouts. 38 years after losing her, and being broken, the first news I found was her obituary. She had died in August, about three weeks earlier.

    The specific griefs: that this extraordinay woman was no more, that I had lost my youth in the aftermath of her loss, that I had loved her for 38 years without knowing it, that–at 56–I still have no clue how to be a man, that this is all entwined with the long progress of my alcoholism. All of these certainly hurt, and still do. I can and do cry just about every day.

    BUT: the deep, continuous depression, which landed like a stone on my heart when I saw her obit, has lifted almost completely. I work out daily, I get out to meetings with my fellows, I can make myself useful to those who need me. The direct pain is just as intense, but the atmosphere is different. I have, I think/hope, ‘come back to life.’

    In the first 2 months, the depression was so continuous that I could not register it as such. While I didn’t get suicidal, I DID think about death and on a couple of occasions I even thought of taking a drink–which in practice would BE suicidal.

    So I think we are both experiencing ‘progress’ of a sort.

    John
    PS: I HATE the cliche ‘fake it til you make it.’ How can anyone know what to ‘fake?’ I suggest the better notion: ‘act as if…’ e.g. ‘act as if your feelings will change,’ ‘act as if you are going to survive,’ etc. The art is in choosing to ‘act’ in ways that are contrary to your ‘feelings’ but rooted in what is actually true.

  16. johnthedrunkard says

    PPS: Act as if Ingrid loves you. Act as if Talisker, Comet and Houdini are thrilled to be with you.

  17. Michael Zeora says

    Greta,

    I get it. I have to admit I never been hit with a whammy like that in such close temporally, but yeah. It’s not easy. Hell I’m dealing with several spinning plates which are all pretty unstable ATM and that’s not considering my depression or my laundry list of medical issues.

    Somedays, I feel like a rockstar and have the ability to get things done. That makes me feel great. Other days I can barely make it out of bed. Luckily I’m starting to even out thanks to some medication on the depression front. At the very least the ablity to have my mind empty and not have it attack me is SUCH a game change. Even if this round hasn’t done anything for my energy.

    Either way, I wish you the best and good luck.

  18. ethyachk says

    I’ve fought with anxiety, depression, and sleep difficulties for my entire adult life. Lately I’ve been watching a loved one battle cancer. The stresses in my life sent me spiraling back into my dark ages. I’m getting better, corrected drugs, in therapy, working out more, but there are days that I feel guilty about feeling bad, and days I feel guilty about being feeling good.

    You’re not alone. You’re not the only one who feels like this. And you’re not a fraud, even if you feel like one sometimes.

  19. Karen Locke says

    I haven’t read the other comments, so I apologize if I’m echoing someone else’s reaction… but this is so, SO normal. It doesn’t help that there really are good days and bad days. It doesn’t help that those of us who suffer from depression tend to beat ourselves up. We’re up then we’re down. Things seem to be healing then some other issue surfaces. I, too, tend to “fake it ’till I make it” and feel like a fraud sometimes. But we’re not frauds, we’re doing the best we can to relate to the people around us. And I’ve discovered it’s okay to say, “Sorry, but this is a really bad day for me.” No explanation. The people who matter will understand. To the others, I just repeat the statement until they give up. My husband works late, and sometimes he comes home to find a note on my office door: “Do Not Disturb The Grumpy One”. He understands, and doesn’t bother me.

  20. Daniel Schealler says

    And I guess I want to put this out there: Does anyone else ever get this? Especially if you’ve been having a hard time, if you’ve been recovering from a bad illness or have a chronic illness or are dealing with bad news or grief or something… do you ever feel like a fraud because you don’t feel the same way all the time?

    Totally YES.

    I knew exactly where you were going with this too, it’s that familiar.

    I don’t want to go public with what I’ve been going through recently. Suffice to say: Not nearly as dire as yourself, but still pretty bad. Really bleak down-days once or twice a week, with very tolerable stretches of normative contentment and enjoyment in between.

    I was pretty hard on myself for a while over what I was calling inconsistency. But eventually I realized what was going on.

    Cognitive dissonance.

    I’m holding two contradictory positions at the same: Depression and happiness to be alive. Only one or the other will be dominant at a given time, because dissonance, but the other one is still there in the background.

    The trick here is that depression and happiness to be alive are both equally valid experiences of the universe given where I am right now. Turns out I’m capable of feeling more than one way about stuff at the same time. And that’s okay and human and even normal.

    So no need to beat up on myself for inconsistency. And no need for you to feel like you’re misrepresenting yourself.

    You’re feel more than one way about life in the universe right now. The universe is complicated, and our minds are complex and buggy. It seems almost disappointingly normal once you look at it that way, doesn’t it? :P

    Much <3 for the Greta. Glad you're having good days and, from the feel of it, that you're on the mend.

    Big virtual (consensual) hugs!

  21. says

    I feel like a lot of people’s reactions to this will be, “Holy shit, I’m not the only one who does that?”

    I struggle with pretty severe back pain for a guy my age – it’s relatively minor in the grand scheme of awful shit that can theoretically happen, but it’s bad enough that I’ve been in this territory myself, and wondered the exact same things.

    Once again- thank you -so- much for writing about this. It’s the sort of thing your heroes never write about, so you assume it doesn’t happen, or doesn’t happen to -awesome- people. And then you find out that it does, and- this sounds a lot weirder than I want it to sound but it’s comforting, in a way?

    Hang in there, and tell your case of impostor syndrome to jump in a lake! (I know I like to say that I’m wearing a persona most of the time -anyways-; faking it is an integral part of the human condition as far as I’m concerned.)

  22. Catherine Dixon says

    Thank you so much for writing this.

    I feel like this often recently. I just broke up with my boyfriend of 8.5 years about a month ago. We had been living together for the past 2.5 years and so what with dividing our stuff and him not having a permanent place to sleep elsewhere, I kept having to see him again which would make me almost unable to do anything for the rest of the day or even the next day. I finally got him to take the rest of his stuff out of my apartment (oh yes, I had been supporting him financially for about as many years as we had bee living together) and he spent the time with me that day gaslighting me and trying to make me feel guilty for having been asleep the night before when he wanted to talk to me. What had been a somewhat amicable separation turned sour. This weekend I experienced what I hope will be the worst of it, but I’ve been intermittently cheerful and productive and depressed and unproductive at work and I feel like I’m a fraud and that my boss and friends will judge me just as you say.

  23. fullyladenswallow says

    Does anyone else ever get this? Especially if you’ve been having a hard time, if you’ve been recovering from a bad illness or have a chronic illness or are dealing with bad news or grief or something… do you ever feel like a fraud because you don’t feel the same way all the time?

    Holy crap! You’ve pretty much described the last 30 years (or more) of my life. The last time you posted about depression, it hit a few minor nerves, but this time your description nails it for me! A fraudulent feeling, definitely. It’s sort of morphed a bit for me over time but the basic feeling of duality (phoniness?) has always been there. It seems as though the “faking it” scenario will eventually end, but it never does. It suggests that I’ve wasted most of my life in trying to figure stuff out by pointing, equating and justifying. I’ve had therapy (probably need more) and am on anti-depressants. I somewhat jokingly tell those who ask if the meds help, that I’m probably just as screwed up as I ever was but with Paxil around, I just don’t feel so bad about it.

    It’s good that you posted this Greta, and that others are also commenting. Thanks.

  24. Holms says

    I don’t know about the cancer / surgery recovery effect on your mindset, but I do speak from experience about grief: it fucks every person up. Anyone not fucked up by the death of someone close would seem inhuman to me.

  25. julezyme says

    Hi Greta,
    Yes, YES, a thousand times yes. I live with what you might call chronic relapsing-remitting depression – it’s generally lurking, but sometimes I feel pretty okay and other times I have a bad flare. Particularly from the end if November through the end of January, the severity of which is directly correlated with how far north I am, ie how many hours of daylight. (With a pleasant opposite effect in the summer in near-Arctic latitude Scotland, btw.)

    But here’s the thing: even at my very worst I can rally. If I can make it out of my apartment (past the panic attack and the lethargy), or I can make it off the subway at my stop (instead of riding around, paralysed), or I can get started on a task or get myself into a social situation and start talking – then I can look and function like a smart, fun, well person. Except, it’s like I’ve “borrowed” that energy … In the absence of rallying stimuli or the need to function, it’s so fucking difficult. So I feel useless, I feel lazy, and that exacerbates the shame spiral.

    And I think: “I must just be malingering, there’s nothing wrong with me. Wait, but why would I do that, what’s wrong with me?!” Because I *can* rally, I must be “faking it” … Except, what kind if fucking nutcase would act like that … So I’m a crazy lazy person, which is “proof” that I am right to hate myself and I should probably just die … (Yeah, see, the logic is questionable.)

    I don’t ever have a total breakdown – I just limp along doing the bare minimum.

    I’ve come to see it (when I’m thinking rationally, not when I’m castigating myself) as an energy problem. Depression – the chemical element of it – is an energy sink. It means less total energy in the system.
    Feeling, and even more so *not* feeling, bad feelings = huge energy cost.
    Presenting a facade of okayness in public when you’ve been crying in the toilet stall = huge energy cost.
    Keeping self minimally fed, watered, bathed, etc. = moderate energy cost.
    Humor, friends, interesting things that engage you = energy injections.
    But depression means that the fuel line is leaky so those energy injections don’t last very long – and it’s corrosive, so it makes the leak worse. (The more we berate ourselves.)
    On balance, then, it’s not surprising that you/I/one would feel this way.

    It’s like the Spoons model, with quantum spoons that flicker in and out of existence depending on your interactions with other wave functions. I’m never sure how many I’ve got when I’m in this state. The cat is dead-not dead; Julezyme is okay-not okay.

    But … that’s okay.

  26. karraflarra says

    I’m a nurse who works with cancer patients, and it’s my experience that many people go on an “emotional roller-coaster” during their illness and recovery from it. It can vary from day to day or even from hour to hour. Usually, when you get your diagnosis, you’re so focused on starting the treatment and getting (physically) well, you put everything else aside. Later on, the shock and grief and fear catches up with you. And the feelings come and go. Some days are good, some are bad, just like you describe. You are not a fake because you don’t feel 100% awful, 100% of the time.

  27. karraflarra says

    Or rather: you are not a fake because you don’t ACT like everything is 100% awful, 100% of the time. You need a break from thinking about everything that is bad in your life. Talking about your cats, your work, your hobbies, or spending time on these things, is a healthy thing to do. Life does go on, and if you spent every waking moment thinking or talking about the bad aspects of your life, both you and your family would go nuts. Truth is, things aren’t 100% bad, even though this time of your life is a very very tough one. To me, the fact that you are able to focus on the positive things too, is a good and healthy sign.

  28. wscott says

    do you ever feel like a fraud because you don’t feel the same way all the time?

    Only most of the time.

  29. movablebooklady says

    Stop beating yourself up. If today is a stare-at-the-wall day, be the best wall-starer you can be. Wallow in it. If you must have imaginary friends, try to set up a positive set that can do the debating for you with the negative ones. Nobody is the same all the time; there’s no fraud involved. My mother died in late 2007 and I haven’t cried for her yet. Why? I don’t know. Occasionally I wonder if I’m a bad person, but mostly I just think that I miss her from time to time and that’s how I’m processing her absence. And that’s okay. Just do your thing. You’ll be fine. You *are* fine. Ask us — we know.

    Go dancing.

  30. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    Greta you are SOOOO not alone in this. When I do get to doing the things I love and having some fun (tennis, playing with my band etc.) I wonder if I’ve been exaggerating the challenges (long-term unemployment, fiscal stress and the recent loss of my mother) because well, if I was THAT bad I wouldn’t be out here in the sunshine playing tennis etc., right? It’s an attitude that I think most humans have (especially towards others) to always be skeptical of excuses. “That lady has a handicapped placard, but she looks fine to me!” That kindof thing. Only in this case we’re turning the focus around on ourselves. I’m guessing that it’s probably a device we use to beware of free-riders, but it sure does bring out the worst element in how we see others. And right now you (and I, and many others) are pointing that sharp, unfair and needlessly critical laser at ourselves and feeling how much it stings. And it’s a hard thing to stop doing. I wish I had better advice, but I think with alot of this stuff (as you have mentioned before) the best you can do is just be aware of what you’re doing. That seems to help limit the damage.

    And for FSM’s sake remember that it is ok to feel good one minute and terrible the next. That is actually completely in line with the way reality is. It is just our assumption that we need to have some sort of consistent narrative that makes things so difficult. At the heart of most psychological suffering there is usually some expectation.

  31. zan says

    Whether it’s grief, chronic illness or other struggles, people expect others to behave certain ways, and some people are jerks about it. You shouldn’t have to follow other people’s expectations, but it can be very useful…

    Like several other commenters, I am a young healthy-looking female who has a chronic illness, or “invisible disability.” Mostly mine is physical pain while using my body, especially when walking/standing. Sometimes it’s less painful than other times. Some activities are harder than others. Sometimes I use a manual wheelchair. Sometimes I walk. On good days, in certain situations, I can pass as healthy and life is pretty good. (Or people ask, “Are you all better now? Cured?”) When I have a bad day or struggle with something, people are such judgmental jerks about it. “But you were fine yesterday. I saw you do x, so why can’t you do y? You just don’t want to do y! I don’t understand, so are you faking it?” So those worries about people saying these things is well founded. People act on their negative thoughts.

    When I don’t use the chair, the perceived context is that I’m healthy, so not acting healthy has a lot of stigma. If I tell ppl that I’m limited by pain, they can’t believe it because I “look so healthy!” In those situations, people tend to be unsympathetic and unhelpful. They question my requests for accommodations, my statements about my body and the legitimacy of everything about me. They are impatient and harsh when I don’t do what a physically healthy person in their early 20’s should be able to do. They often don’t help me, or are reluctant and openly show their scorn when they do. They think I’m lazy or making things up. (Doctors mostly think I’m psychosomatic, esp because I’m depressed. Who the hell wouldn’t be depressed if they’ve been debilitated by pain since they were 19? A young person with a great education, job, friends and partner does not have a reason for making up debilitating pain! Argh!) There is huge stigma when you look healthy and don’t act healthy, so people treat me better if I meet their expectations by acting healthy. Or look unhealthy…

    When people see me in the manual wheelchair, I look like a person who had the bad luck of being in an accident. In that perceived context, stigma is much lower. People are so nice to me in the wheelchair! If I ask for help, they do 50% more than what I asked. I rarely get questions about my health problems, why I need help or do things differently. Because I’m vaguely cheerful when in the chair, they admire me for taking my problems in stride, instead of telling me I’m just “being a baby.” On my extra bad pain days, when I say, “It’s extra hard to be in this body today,” people are kind, extra helpful and don’t question me further, unlike when I don’t use the chair. So, yes, there is a need to act certain ways and present myself in ways that people will be more sympathetic toward.

    Context and social stigma matters. Since you’re grieving your father, a person who people recognize as an important person in your life, people will cut you more slack than if you were grieving for a pet turtle or your childhood dance teacher. And many will be jerks when your process is erratic and not consistently getting better (roller coaster emotions). Context of low or zero stigma (death of father) = better treatment from others.

    Worries about how people perceive you in times of struggle are totally legit. It shouldn’t matter, but it does. People’s perception of you and your problems has a huge impact on how well they treat you.

    *hugs* to everyone.

  32. Erin Irving says

    Greta, this makes perfect sense to me. While my situation and the reason for my grief, depression, whatever you want to call it, is very different than yours, I am dealing with it in very similar ways, and experiencing a lot of the same self-talk you describe. My husband and I are going on 3 years of infertility with 5 miscarriages and no living children. At times, (especially now), the grief, fear, and depression seem unmanageable. Yet I feel like I’m overreacting if others see that side of me. Other times, when I’m busy at work or enjoying an evening with friends, I’m able to “fake it ’til I make it,” and do sort of feel like a fraud, and wonder how those close to me perceive how I am handling all this.

    I’m sorry you are going through a rough time. But thank you for sharing your thoughts and helping me to see that I am not to the only one having trouble working my grief and depression into my self-image, and the “me” that I portray to the rest of the world.

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