Playing pretend

I have spent large swathes of the past week in tears. Starting with tears of exhaustion following another stupidly early morning, and failed job interview. Tears on the bus that managed to perturb the five year-old child sat in front of me, who kept glancing back nervously. Tears of bitterness at a the situation I find myself in, where I am not good enough for appointment at the level my qualifications allow. Broken promises. A broken life that I do not want to be living anymore.

In the midst of this, in a compliments-based game at junior church,

“I like S– because –  you are always happy and smiley and positive”.

She turns her head to look at me as she speaks. And I suppress the wave of sadness that threatens to overcome me, its bitter irony.

I assume it a genuine compliment – and why not? This child won’t have been in church services at times when I was, in the Elder’s words, ’emanating pain and disturbing members of the congregation’. So, she sees me as a truly happy person.

The sadness is because I am not. Because her comment makes me realise that if that is the way that I come across to her, a child who sees me in a place where my guard isn’t always up in self-protection, then I am pretending to be OK (and effectively) more than I thought.

I know I pretend to be OK at work. The stigma surrounding personality disorder in Psychology is too great not to be pretending. To psychologists, I am manipulative, and attention-seeking and impossible to treat. Or, so I was taught ten years ago. Aside from that, work is not the place to unpack the mental health rubbish in which I am mired. I am there for the students, to help them through their degree. It’s an acting role. It’s all an act.


I don’t always pretend in the therapeutic community. But if I don’t pretend, then I get overwhelmed by a barrage of simultaneous unnameable emotions, whipped up in a perfect storm, where no one can reach me. So suppressing the emotion there is easier, than untangling it. There often isn’t the time to untangle it, anyway.

I don’t pretend in prayer. There is no point in pretending. So, I am real. But being real can be exhausting, the questions of the pray as you go app, searching. Some of them may be too so. And I end up crying to sleep, which probably isn’t honouring God at all.

Underneath the pretending, or in the midst of the overwhelm, I am not OK. I am dangerously close to self-harm, for self-loathing, for feeling lazy and exhausted, and not being able to cope with not having a job. For not having tried hard enough. For being stupid enough to believe those who said I was good at my job. For not being able to communicate how bad things are. I want to get out of my head. But I can’t. So I pretend that things are OK. But they never are.

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