The Guardian of London has an occasional column, anonymised, called Diary of a Separation. (They have lots of wonderful features columns, the way few American papers do, anymore. It’s really a wonderful paper.) This week’s was particularly good, as she talked about her own fears of the future, her self-image, and then– this bit, right here:
“Are you really OK? You look a bit …” he trails off and raises an eyebrow.
There’s something about that question, from him, the real concern in it, that engulfs me in unmanageable emotion, a wash of sadness I had no idea I was feeling. Suddenly, I’m blinking back tears. There really isn’t anything terribly wrong: life just seems quite hard at the moment, and sometimes a little sympathy is a dangerous thing.
I attempt a casual shrug.
“Ah, I don’t know. I’m just feeling really, really old. And looking really old,” I add. I rub my eyes with feigned tiredness, to get rid of the tears, the heel of my hand grinding into the thin skin under my eyes. When I look back at him, I feel exposed, vulnerable.
I can’t say how many times I’ve walked that precipice of feeling like I’m a wide open window and everyone knows– and desperately wanting someone to ask, so I can say “No, I’m not okay,” just so I have someone to talk to, but needing the excuse of someone to ask– and feeling like I don’t want anyone to acknowledge what we’re all completely aware of, that I’m more than a bit of a wreck, clingy and prone to TMI blurts, because if someone’s kind to me at just the wrong moment, I’ll lose the tenuous grip on myself that I’ve managed to find and that– that’ll be it, maybe not just for that moment but for– well, forever, because some days are more desperate than others.
Some days, I say– “No, but thank you for asking.” Some days, I blatantly lie. I don’t expect that it’s anything except known for gospel truth that I’m telling a falsehood when I say I’ve got a bad headache or I’m just not feeling well because of my arthritis– I almost always have some physical hurt going on, but there are some pains you get used to. Still, they are kind enough not to press. Some of my closer friends (boy, are they saints) even let me get away with ignoring the question and pretending like I didn’t hear them/ changing the subject/ working on in sullen silence. I try to return the favor when they’re having bad days, though there are days/weeks/months when they/I/we will say– “Ok. But if you change your mind…”
One day, though, when the blame, blame, blame and just the sheer volume of daily mundanities to be gotten through was too much, someone asked me if I was okay at work and for once, I said no, I was pretty depressed, but I was working on it, and thank you for asking. I intended to leave it there because– well. Burdening people with TMI, versus telling the truth? It’s a hard balance. Still, we ended up talking a bit when this person pressed the issue, shared an experience of their own. It made me feel a lot better and also made me see the person who asked in a different light– not that I hadn’t liked them already, but– nevertheless. And the world hasn’t imploded– yet– for admitting aloud that I’m human.
Maybe I’ve reason to believe/ We all will be received.