A quiet power we all seem to possess, in some degree or another, is to fool others. In one measure, we do this on a daily basis, but not with any malfeasance behind it, right? It’s the mask we wear, and the different hats we don when we’re in different situations and around varying people; it’s also the protective layers we put between ourselves and others. At least, it seems a fair way of thinking about the daily ruse.
But within that power is the ability for it to be put to purposes that, upon reflection, are frightening. While there are many areas where such a statement can be apt, I think the area that most perplexes psychologists, sociologists, neurologists, geneticists, families, friends, co-workers, and so on, is the way we can fool people about what’s “really going” on with us. This doesn’t necessarily mean to the extent I’m going to take it — suicide — but we’re all walking with warts and blemishes nobody else can see.
For example, I work as a journalist, and I was interviewing someone recently about their job because it was an open house/ribbon cutting. It was one of the best interview subjects I’ve had in a long, long time; he was passionate, funny, and smart. And of course, talkative. All those characteristics make for the best interviews, and stories. On a personal level, they also get me jazzed because talking to passionate people who love talking about their profession (which I often know nothing about) is jazzy.
A few days later, I found out that only a few days prior to my interview with him, his mom died. And he was wrecked about it. But good God, you never would have known it talking to him. Because, of course. It’s the mask. It’s the little power to fool, to hide, to obfuscate what’s really simmering beneath. Even for those five minutes it takes to talk to some reporter.
Of course, society wouldn’t work, I don’t think, or make any sense if every minute of every day, we were being that true, authentic self on full display. Forget for a moment the reasons we do it — privacy, maintaining a sense of self, and the more nefarious ones — and consider that being so authentically present and on display would also be unhealthy. After all, we all know that person who overshares when we see and hear them.
Even a great friend can overshare and be a burden on someone by being too on display.
But still. That small power to wield obfuscation when necessary is something that’s been sticking in my brain for a while.
A year ago, I signed up to donate a kidney. Through that process, one has to talk to a psychologist to ensure that you’re not being coerced into donating and that you are of sound mind to donate otherwise.
And while it was a year ago, I think about sitting almost knee-to-knee with that young psychologist almost every day. Because sitting there, with a professional, mind you, it was so easy, far too easy, to fool. To wield that power to hide what’s simmering beneath.
I mean, part of the test was the cognitive test they gave the president back in January 2018-ish, aka, the Montreal Cognitive Assessment. It’s a test often done to detect cognitive decline and screen for such diseases as Alzheimer’s and dementia. That doesn’t even require yielding the power.
But what does is when they start checking for suicidal ideation: have you thought about suicide in this time frame? How are you doing? How would your rate X, Y and Z reflective of your mental state? Things like that.
It’s far, far too easy to breeze past a test like that. It’s like when you’re at the work office, and someone in passing goes, “Hey, how’s it going?” and you respond, “Good.”
Rote. Memory muscle. Thoughtless.
Or, there was the time I interviewed a more seasoned professional in the realm of mental health. I’m talking about someone that has literally decades of experience battling the stigma of mental health, helping people with depression, and suicidal ideation, and so on.
And yet, I found myself unsatisfied. To be fair, I “reached out” in my own vague way to gauge her response, and her response was wanting.
Depression, that thick mucous molasses doing the “simmering beneath,” reminds me of that scene in Halloween II (1981). It’s toward the end, where Jamie Lee Curtis’ character, Laurie Strode, is trying to evade Michael Myers, who wants to kill her, by going out of the hospital.
By that point, Laurie had a bum leg, and was on a lot of sedatives, so her voice was shot. She realizes she can’t drive out of the hospital because Michael had killed all the tires on the car.
Unbeknownst at this moment to Laurie, Michael is coming.
Fortunately for Laurie, at least she thinks, is that Dr. Loomis, a sheriff’s deputy, and a nurse are walking toward the front entrance. If only she can get their attention. So she calls for help. But her voice is shot, and nothing really comes out. They don’t hear her.
Just as Loomis and the rest of them move into the hospital, she’s able to get the scream out, but they don’t hear it.
That’s depression. It’s wanting to scream it to everyone in the vicinity, but nothing comes out.
It’s wanting to tell everyone around you, but not knowing how, or with the right volume, if that makes sense.
It’s also wanting to not tell anyone about it because of the usual reasons of they won’t get it anyway and their responses will be wanting, and so on and so forth, Mr. Rationalization.
But you know the realization I came to? This power I’ve been talking about to quietly fool people, even trained and seasoned professionals, isn’t the thing that scares me most. It does scare me, because it’s so easy, but it doesn’t scare me most.
What scares me most is when you do tell someone. Lots of someones, in fact, about the suicidal thoughts in your head. When you tell the actual plans you’ve constructed in your head. When you tell them you’ve been Googling how to suffocate yourself. How easy it was to find instructions on how to do just that.
And nothing changes? In your head, you worry about letting that little piece slip out, because you think if you admit to those things, then this machinery begins to move, and the next thing you know, you’re strapped to a gurney, and people are looking at you like a combustible freak.
But it’s not like that. They seemingly listen, they read those words that are peppered with “suicide,” and …
I think what scares me is that they don’t believe it. They either don’t believe those thoughts and actions actually existed or they don’t believe that even if they did, it would manifest into the ultimate action. Or both.
But what if they’re wrong? And, of course, you can’t blame them. Why would they want to be right? Why would they want to assume the worst? And even if they assumed the worst, and took you literally and seriously, what are they supposed to do, in reality?
It’s not their fault.
That’s the scariest thing of all. There’s a breach in the dam to do the “reaching out” and … the breach is still there, the water’s still flowing out, and the masks still suffocate, the hats still tighten, and the power still gets wielded to fool.
Nothing changes because how could it?