Integrity is an often-overlooked causality of mental illness. It covers a pretty broad spectrum in my opinion so I want to narrow down this article on one thing, honesty.
First, I want to state that people with mental illness are often forced to use deception to protect themselves from harmful situations or ignorant people. Being honest and open about one’s illness can be great and liberating but all too often it opens those who suffer from mental illness to a lot of criticism, rejection, and hurt.
This article is in no way judgment on anyone but myself. I want this to be a cautionary tale of the potential destructive power of lies, not only to one’s self but the effect it can have on others. This is something I wanted to get off my chest for a while now, to help release some of the anguish and pain I hold inside from the lies I’ve told over the years. I never meant to be a liar but I allowed mental illness to slowly make one out of me. It starts with the lie you tell yourself about depression, the self-denial. This is often the seed planted within yourself. If left unchecked, it can grow to eventually consume your mental health. Often it doesn’t just stay there either, it spreads.
this was the starting point for my downward spiral in life
The first time I lied to myself that had long term harmful effects was during one of the darkest moments of my life, the day someone else’s life ended. I was a Sergeant at the time and the Battalion required an NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) to be present at the enlisted barracks 24/7 during peacetime training periods back in the late ’90s.
It was just another 24 hours shift that day. I was a pretty responsible NCO at the time, I took my duty seriously. I followed my instructions to the letter, I did my hourly checks, I talked to soldiers who came and went. But still, a soldier died of a drug overdose on my watch. I remember seeing him clearly today as I did back then, both before and afterward. He was so happy and friendly that day, I just thought at the time he had a little to drink.
Later after he was found and the flurry of trying to save his life passed, I started to tell myself that his death was my fault. If only I had done or said something different. If only I had walked the hallway one extra time, I would have heard something, If only….. But they were all lies I whispered to myself, and lies I still hear whispered to this day.
I know I did everything I should of before, during, and after the event. I didn’t buy those drugs nor did I put them in his body. When he was found early the next morning, I took charge, did what I could, told everyone what to do and who to call, I put myself in the best position to lead and guide personnel during the crisis. Even though he was already dead when he was found, I still tell myself it’s my fault that boy never grew old, never met and married someone, and never saw his family again. It shook my confidence and created doubt in who I was. This was the starting point for my downward spiral in life.
decades later, I try everyday to show her that I still love her every chance I can
I want to tell you the first time my lies hurt my wife. It was within a few years of us getting out of the service and deciding to move on with our lives. We had a grand plan, build up some money for college, find a job, buy a house and possibly have kids. Through it all I thought I had hid my depression from everyone, even my wife.
I failed to see the few serious indicators I was getting ill the last few years. I would randomly disappear for hours, sometimes leaving my wife alone with the car in the middle of the city and just walk home. I would spend hours and hours alone in my back yard shed. Secretly I tired to hang myself there. I grew emotional detached. My wife knew I was getting depressed, just not how bad the problem actually was.
Then one day I had this personal schism. I just broke inside somehow. I told my wife I didn’t love her anymore. I knew I still loved my wife but part of me thought this would make it easier to commit suicide. I seemed like it was all planned out. She would start to hate me, I would hate myself and then I could do it without any qualms.
I moved out to a friend place where access to the firearms that were just sitting there on the table. I drank heavily, building up the nerve to take the next step. But that step didn’t happen. I was very fortunate that I had a moment of clarity a few weeks later and I told her I made a mistake. Even though she took me back, it took her a long time to heal and forgive me. Since then, decades later, I try everyday to show her that I still love her every chance I can.
I vowed never again to let anyone know I had mental health issues
The first time I lied that hurt us financially was when I had my first panic attack. I was going back to start my 4th year of college. Out of the blue, I had my first panic attack in the parking lot of the school. I was so shaken by it I drove back home. The next day I tried again to go to school but I freaked out a block away from the college. This left me in tears for the entire day. I skipped the rest of the week and tried the next Monday, again the same thing. I never went back.
Unfortunately, I never told my wife and I lied about it for a whole semester. I failed to drop out of school and just hid from the problem. It cost us dearly, not only did I waste a whole semester of college, we lost a lot of money over that.
I started counseling pretty regularly after that. I had a counselor tell me to be honest and open, to let people know that I had depression and a panic disorder. I did, and within a year I received so much criticism, ignorant remarks, and cold shoulders I was devastated. The worst was my best friend at the time, a grown man, literally ignored me, He would act like I wasn’t there, wouldn’t talk to me, wouldn’t look at me. I was shocked and deeply hurt. I had lost 3 jobs and most of my friends because I didn’t know how to handle my worsening depression. Shortly afterward, I went through the darkest years of my life.
For years I mistakenly blamed that counselor for my misfortune. After that, I vowed never again to let anyone know I had mental health issues. I know now that it was my depression and anxiety that created most of my job issues and had shallow and ignorant friends I had gained through where I worked not because they really liked me.
hindsight is 20/20 and ironically that’s when it would end
Years later, after another series of failed jobs, well after our life fell apart, I started the next harmful lie of my life. It was the early 2010’s by then. As I started to feel more and more isolated in my ever-shrinking life I, by chance, met up with some old online friends I met before college. They were a small but friendly online gaming clan. I instantly clicked with them again, it was a great feeling to have friends again.
Soon the talk of what I did for a living arose. I lied. My prior disappointment over losing friends that knew I suffered from mental illness still stung my feelings and self-worth. I told them I was disabled from a vehicle accident. Everything seemed fine, to me it was an innocent lie to shield me. I felt it all made sense, that was the reason why I was online nearly 12-16 hours a day, 7 days a week, not because I had been so lonely for years and craved having outside friendship again.
Then my service career came up in discussion. I doubled down, again, I lied. I told them I was a Desert Storm vet and hinted at having PTSD. I thought it would explain away any irrational behavior I may exhibit or strange things I may have said. Most importantly, it could explain why I couldn’t hold a job. I was terrified of losing my friends because of those past experiences. So, I justified all these lies to myself. Honestly, at the time I felt this was the right thing to do. I had a solid wall of deceit to hide behind from any ‘judgment’. Who would question a physically disabled veteran? After 9-11, Iraq, and Afghanistan, no one would.
But by protecting myself from reproach from others, I inadvertently created another issue within myself. Who I said I was, is who I became. Sadly, years later did I realize that it probably wouldn’t have mattered to most of those guys, they are a great group of people. Hindsight is 20/20 and ironically that’s when it would end. Things seemed fine for quite a few years, I relished the time spent with these guys. But slowly I grew to hate myself over such deceit. I thought if I came clean, I would blow it so I just kept going with my story. It slowly poisoned what little self-worth I had.
By spring of 2020, I was morally exhausted from my lie, along with everything else going on in my life and the world. I gradually stopped hanging out with them. Early November, I finally broke from them in shame. I told them I wasn’t doing well mentally and physically and I wasn’t planning on coming back. I finally felt that weight released, and the last thing I told them wasn’t a lie. By November, I was suffering badly from rheumatoid arthritis since its start in March and had severe depression as a result. Within a week of all this, my medical cannabis license was approved, and shortly afterward both conditions improved greatly. I wonder if I had held on a bit more if I would of still broken ties? I’m glad I did, I can’t carry that lie anymore.
I have a problem with the desire to emotional hurt myself
Now for my final confession. This ties somewhat into lying to friends. The first time I realized I lied because of my emotional pain addiction. This one hurts a lot for me. In late 2019 I met a few guys from a different online gaming group and met some great people there. I thought for sure I could make a fresh start there. But that old defensive habit of protecting who I was surfaced quickly. I just couldn’t stop those words leaving my mouth, by then it was part of my online persona. I decided to just leave it at that. I vowed I wouldn’t talk about it anymore and I would stop the lies. For a while I was successful.
Like I stated before, by mid-2020, my onset of rheumatoid arthritis, the state of the country, the pandemic, and my declining mental health made me feel that I had lost a lot of the progress I made over the last 10-12 years. It was the day I had just finished talking to my doctor about my grandfather’s illness, polymyositis, a deadly muscular degenerative disease. I was concerned I may have it due to all the physical symptoms I had at the time.
That day I had something planned with these new friends so I got online to join them. I had a panic attack the very instant I started talking to someone. What came out of my mouth next created such turmoil within me. I wish I had just not shown up that day, I wish I could take it all back. The first thing that came out of my mouth when my panic attack started was, I had polymyositis. I lied, again. It was the first thing to flash through my head, I told a few friends that to cover my shaky voice and the tears coming out of my eyes. I used that excuse to skip out on the group raid we regularly did. For the life of me, I don’t know why those words left my lips. I should have gotten offline, tore off my headset, said I was sick, something…anything but that. But I didn’t. I got offline afterward and cried my eyes dry. Soon I felt this strange but familiar sensation of relief.
Over the next few months, as my arthritic pain rose and fell, I occasionally mentioned the lie to these new friends as an excuse to skip out on stuff or as a reason I didn’t want to play. Afterward, I always cried and often felt that strange relief. However, by November the shame from all my lies to all my friends built up to point, I finally had enough of it. The last I told any of the new guys, I was done going online, it was getting difficult to play anymore.
What hurts me is I just threw away a group of new friends, a new start, over a panic attack and a lie. Its worse that I continued to feed this strange new lie to get that relief I wanted. Only after I gave it a lot of thought did I start to see the pattern of years of emotionally painful self-abuse to make myself cry. I have a problem with the desire to emotional hurt myself. It finally manifested itself outside of my thoughts into a lie that I used to hurt myself and unknowingly, others. But what I consider my emotional pain addiction is another topic for another day.
I am tired of the lies, tired of being someone I’m not
At the time, during the last half of 2020, I didn’t take into account what my actions did to others, to people who might actually care about me. Only after a close friend texted me, to ask if I was okay, did I start to realize that by distancing myself from friends I created a lot of anxiety, worry, and hurt in other people.
So here I am now, opening myself to you. I am tired of the lies, tired of being someone I’m not. I’m tired of the harm I’ve inflicted upon myself. And now I’m sick to my stomach to what I’ve done to my friends. All done because I felt I had to hide my depression and anxiety panic disorder from online strangers who became great friends. I don’t know what to do. I’m scared to tell these guys the truth, but I feel they should know. Maybe I will someday. For now, I’ve cut all ties to my online friends till I get to a better place, one where I don’t have to worry about covering my illness to avoid pain and rejection. But I am alone again and that hurts. But I need to learn how to live without the lies.
Becoming a liar is what some people who struggle with mental illness have to do sometimes. The lie is a seed we plant and one we keep harvesting. At first, we use lies to ignorantly blind ourselves from the truth of illness. We lie to cope with pain and loss. We chose to lie to shield ourselves from criticism, hurt, and rejection. Some of us use lies as a misguided tool to bring temporary comfort and relief. But it’s dangerous. Not only can we end up hurting ourselves more because of it, but we can also end up hurting others along the way too.
Honesty is just one other causality of mental illness.
I would like to apologize to myself, my wife, and my friends for all the harm I’ve done. I’m sorry.