Not long after my first marriage ended I was taking a course in psychodynamic counselling and it was tough. I held it together while worrying about how to pay the fees and whether or not I could cope with the mind games that the tutors would play on us students. On one occasion the entire room turned on me and I broke down in tears. The woman who had led the onslaught jeered that I was faking it for attention. In my supervision with the tutor I said I had been shaken by this. He told me it was probably because, "You give the appearance of being bulletproof." I looked at him in disbelief. "No one is bulletproof. How can anyone think it's ok to do that ?" I never went back to the course. I couldn't face it. Also I had to deal with this characterisation of me as this ice maiden with no feelings and no capacity to be hurt.
Years later I worked for a man who clearly didn't like me. I was always polite to him and offered to make tea and joined in with the boyish chat in the office, but it was pretty awkward. In a meeting with him one day he told me, "You're a fake." I asked what he meant by that. "You pretend to be ok when you're not. You smile and make tea and it's all fake." It was like a kick in the belly. How dare he call me a fake ? I was offended. However, when I thought about it he was absolutely spot on. Of course I was faking it. How could I not be ? No one is happy and cheery all the time. It isn't possible. I was making the best of things and ensuring the office atmosphere wasn't unpleasant and frosty. I worked with some alpha males who would 'banter' and practically chest bump their way through the working day. I couldn't join in with that. I didn't want to.
So why did it bother me being seen as fake ? I'm not sure being real was an asset I wished to cultivate. Being real just didn't appeal. My messy, out of control, unmedicated self just wasn't safe to unveil at work. In what possible way would it be of benefit to be myself ? I was used to having to pretend to be ok. To not be unhappy, or angry, or anything other than polite and friendly. After a while it becomes the way you see yourself, so when the mask slips you are just as shocked as anyone else. I have had entire relationships based on the image of myself I wish to portray. The kind and generous and lovely person I want to be seen as. Not the flawed, angry, unreasonable, unremarkable person I really am.
One the years I found ways to manage the unpalatable - running, swimming, going to the gym. I would pound the treadmill, lift weights, do whatever it took to unfetter the badness. When I swim I process all the unpleasant thoughts I can't have on dry land. I furiously work out why this rubbish thing has happened and keep going until I am physically too tired to do any more. People have asked me how I can run for hours without any music to listen to. Well in yoga we use the term 'monkey mind' for those random thoughts that just keep flitting into and out of your head:
- I've got to cross the road there - maybe I can do it without pressing the light
- Oh that's the shop where I went it for a tissue once
- Isn't that the dog that lives two doors down from Jill ?
- Next time I go to the theatre I can leave my car there.
- The hedges are all trimmed back - when did they do that ?
There is so much going on in my head that I just don't need music. It gives me space to work out how to deal with things that I can't give my time to otherwise. Often I get home shattered, but feeling better about something that I was upset about earlier.
It's really only been in the last year that these two worlds have collided. The one inside my head and the one outside. The mask of "I'm ok" "Like me I'm nice" has melted away and it's like I'm standing yelling into an abyss. No filter, an overwhelming sense that things are out of control and a startling inability to manage my own emotions. It's like 40+ years of crazy have just escaped and I now can't get them back inside the bottle.
I'd give anything to be able to go back to before it was all out there. The "No, I'm not ok actually." "Yes this is me in all my crappy and unpleasant glory." I've been all, "Leave me alone ! Why are you ignoring me ?" A bit like Olivia Colman's Queen in The Favourite when she chastises a valet for not looking at her then for daring to look at her. You think it's a pain to be on the receiving end of it ? Well it's no picnic on this side - believe me.
There is no reward for sharing the bits of yourself you don't like. I think I preferred when it was ok to fake it and I thought I was getting away with it.