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?