The Case for Being Real

"...I want to be authentic and not hide behind my emotions," says  columnist Therese Borchard.“You,” he said, “are a terribly real thing in a terribly false world, and that, I believe, is why you are in so much pain.”

That quote belongs in Emilie Autumn’s psychological thriller, The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls.

I used it to describe Robin Williams when he died. His kind of brave living has inspired me to be real as well. Like the brilliant comedian, I want to be authentic and not hide behind my emotions. I guess that’s why I publish crying videos of myself and share my suicidal thoughts in blogs for fellow moms at school and family members and acquaintances to read. I want my living out loud to help people feel less alone and to embrace their sadness as the other face of joy, not to curse it as a defect or to run from it — because what would the world be if we were all just a bunch of phonies publishing “Cheers!” photos, wine glass in hand, on Facebook?

But being real is so very difficult in our culture today.

In 1959, when Victor Frankl published his book Man’s Search for Meaning, he discussed the research of one of his colleagues, Edith Weisskopf-Joelson, professor of psychology at the University of Georgia in Athens. She wrote:

Our current mental-hygiene philosophy stresses the idea that people ought to be happy, that unhappiness is a symptom of maladjustment. Such a value system might be responsible for the fact that the burden of unavoidable unhappiness is increased by unhappiness about being unhappy.

She believed that that the present-day culture in the United States gives little opportunity to the incurable sufferer to be proud of his suffering, and to consider it “ennobling rather than degrading.”

People are incredibly uncomfortable with any hint of sadness, depression, or illness. I learn this over and over again with each major depressive episode I experience.

Last night was a particularly bad night. Painful ruminations kept me up all night. With two hours of sleep, I made myself show up for my TMS treatment and then go to a 90-minute class of hot yoga. During each pose, I told myself I could get through this — that I was a warrior for showing up despite my utter exhaustion. The ruminations persisted, a war raging inside my head, but I fought back tears trying as best as I could to follow along with the instructor’s voice.

“How are you?” one of the fellow yogis asked me after class.

“Okay,” I said. I thought that was pretty positive, considering I wanted to start bawling right there. But I guess the expression on my face showed my struggle.

“You need to fake it more,” she said.

I know she meant no harm — she is a caring and loving person, and was perhaps thinking the “fake it till you make it” approach might help pull me out of my rut (I believe it sometimes can) — but I felt ashamed in that moment for showing my emotions, and for being transparent with my feelings. I had just spent the last 24 hours on the front lines of a violent battle — fighting intense suicidal thoughts and the strong desire to die — so all my energy was directed toward staying alive. I didn’t have any energy left to try to be anything else.

I had a similar encounter last week.

Having slept only a half-hour, I was a mess through class, crying through most of the poses.

“Where is that smile?” someone said to me after class. “I like that smile.”

I returned from yoga today and wrapped my arms around my husband.

“I love you,” I said. “I love you so much.”

I let the tears run down my face.

“Thank you for loving me as I am. Thank you for not brushing my tears aside. Thank you for listening to me without agendas or opinions or advice, and for not forcing me to be any different than I am. Thank you for being okay with my sadness, for acknowledging my illness, and for not thinking I am any less of a person for being depressed.”

I realized in that moment that I could be real because of him. He loved me enough to make me real, like the Velveteen Rabbit:

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

I decided even though the world is uncomfortable with real people, I was going to be real anyway, like Robin Williams. Because of the love of my husband and my spiritual mentor and a few friends, I had the courage to keep on being real.

It is very painful to be real in such a false world.

But those of us who are real really have no choice once we are real.

And there is so much goodness and beauty there, despite our crookedness and sadness and tears.

Join Project Beyond Blue, the new online depression group.

Photo credit: Don Farrall/Getty Images

Originally published on Sanity Break.

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16 thoughts on “The Case for Being Real

  1. What an amazingly, beautiful, touching post, Therese. Thank you so much for being real with us. You have touched and blessed thousands of lives, if not more.

    I wish you all the love, peace and joy possible even in the midst of all you experience.

    Thank you for blessing us with your honesty and courage, even when I know you probably don’t feel it inside.

    You’re a blessing!

    God bless you and your family!

  2. Wow, I wish I could be tbat honest to those around me. Growing up in a home when negative emotions were not allowed. And in christain circle o hell no…only one I can be honest with is my therapist.

  3. I, too, am fortunate enough to have a husband that I can be real with. After being with him for 25 years I still struggle some with believing that he could truly love me that much, but he does.

  4. Therese…keep being real and sharing..I am very glad that you have a husband that loves you unconditionally… I am sorry for your pain but know you are such a blessing to many people..may God bless you and heal you…and take away your pain.Sincerely.. Jan

  5. I am deeply touched by this reflection. I continue to keep a brave face because I have a family of hyper critics. I have been blessed with a good therapist and good friends. The cognitive therapies of Dr David Burns in the book Feeling Good have been a big help on difficult days, after sleepless nights. Be well

  6. Beautifully said. Your realness is your gift, for which so many of us are deeply grateful. A gift back to you, this quote I found — “A friend once told me that each of us and our unique fingerprints hold up the universe. And any missing fingerprint is a loss that the universe can neither regain nor afford to lose. As a mental health advocate, I have shared this with people often, as well as another: ‘Allow yourself morning.’ It means that today may have been a rolling ball of anxiety and trembling, it may have been a face wet and slick with tears; but if you can get to morning – if you can allow a new day to encourage change – then do it: allow yourself morning.” Keep allowing yourself morning, Therese.

  7. Therese, your writing style is so wonderful. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. It is so comforting to know that we are not alone in this struggle. Your writings are my main place to go for ‘remembering that it will be all right”. Love you girl.

  8. This was beautifully written; true, authentic, and real. And I tracked right along with you. Though I don’t have debilitating depression, I have the capacity to truly understand what your journey must be like. I do have dysthymia and anxiety.
    The words: “it is painful to be real in a false world” so resonate with me. It’s true; most people just can’t go there. So I’ve chosen to still be real, but also discerning in who I choose to be “real real” with.

  9. Thank you for expressing your truth — it’s helping me, right now, come to terms with my own possible depression. It’s mixed up with ADD — depression is often part of a cocktail, isn’t it? Maybe I should give it a clever name, like other cocktail, like “I’ll have a Blue Spacy, please”

  10. This is EXACTLY what I needed to hear! Thank you and God Bless You for being real in this somewhat fake world. I too, strive to be real. It is not easy with people telling you something is God’s will for you so you should be happy about it BUT I can still be real and feel down about that very thing. Yes prayer and positive thoughts work but there are still times when I am still fighting to stay above the water. No matter what, I will be the best me and stay real, even if it means speaking my mind and saying, sorry but I am having a difficult time today. Being real, seems to be a rarity today in this “Don’t worry, be happy” kind of world. Thank you Theresa and share away.

  11. I just found you and this is the second post of yours that I have read. Just like that (snap) you have touched me to my core and my weeping is not just from sadness but from pure selfish joy for finding complete understanding. I sneak around smiling and pretending not to have problems until someone says “Are you donating all those books in your car?”…things like that… I have problems. You get me. I love you already.

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