Below is the personal essay I submitted to the Globe and Mail, for the 25th anniversary of their column Facts and Arguments, the theme Moment of Truth. Re-reading this, I can see why it might come across as underwhelming, if not trivial, especially to a reader who has never been afflicted with depressive tendencies. It didn’t get selected, but I worked hard on it, so I will share it nonetheless.
I’ve always struggled with truth. Not with the concept, but with the application: by definition, for something to be true, it must accurately reflect reality. But reality is a complex and multi-faceted entity that can’t be distilled into a few snapshots. A painting is not true, although it might be beautiful. Similarly, an answer to a question might approach reality, but it can never be fully complete, and therefore it remains an approximation. At 4 years old, I famously told my mother as she was scolding me, that “she has her truth, and I have mine.” She spent the next several hours reading up on the symptoms of sociopathic tendencies.
My ambivalence about truth is amplified when applied to people: every individual is in a constant state of flux – how can you know someone’s true self before spending a lifetime observing them? Unlike me, my mother had no conflict with truth. She sought to see everyone for who they were, including their weaknesses and failures, without ceasing to simultaneously see each person’s potential. She’d analyze every interaction, distill it to its most essential truth, and fit each new piece into the expanding puzzle of the individual’s personality. She felt this time and effort was owed to everyone she knew, as a sign of respect. As a teenager, I found her approach aggravating, as it inevitably led to her having a very detailed and verbose understanding of my character flaws. I wished that she didn’t know me quite so well.
Then, at 19, I met a boy, and fell in love. In his company I felt safe to show my unvarnished, inconsistent, quirky self, without the fear of being judged. I was an open book to him. He fascinated me – every story he told, every memory we shared served to confirm my understanding of him. For five and a half years, he loved me and I loved him, and we were happy. Then, one day, we weren’t. He loved me, but something in our love stopped him from being truly himself. The end.
I was disoriented by his sudden absence. I had grown used to considering myself as a part of a whole, and overnight I found that certain parts of that whole had been hacked off, leaving behind an approximation of my self that I didn’t recognize. Instinctively, I turned to my mother for comfort, and found that her deep knowledge of me was better than my own. Unlike my adolescent years, I was relieved by her thorough understanding of me. In her presence, my scars seemed manageable; she never wavered in her belief that I’d eventually overcome them and encouraged me as I made wobbly steps to piece myself back together.
I was still wobbling when she died unexpectedly in her sleep, two years later.
Her death sucked the fight out of me. Grief; paralyzing panic at facing the world alone; crippling doubt that I’d ever find someone again with enough patience and persistence to love me; these were familiar wounds, made that much scarier as I knew how much it had cost me to work through them the first time round. Unwilling and unable to address the fallout from my mother’s death, I tidily stored those emotions away, and went on with my life, hoping that by pretending to be ok, I’d eventually grow to be ok.
That plan didn’t work out: this past fall I was diagnosed with my 3rd depressive episode since that breakup, five years ago. My unacknowledged emotions stopped playing along, and brought my life perforce to a grinding halt.
As my treatment progressed, my emotions, so long repressed, would unexpectedly bubble up and resurface at the most inopportune times, particularly as I had just started a new job and was wary of making a good impression. Unfortunately, I’d find myself periodically dismayed when, at the slightest provocation, a sudden rush of feelings would overwhelm me and the only form of expression I could manage was to cry in front of a hapless coworker. The fallout from these unregulated meltdowns has only been positive: much laughter at the unexpected and awkward situation, and the foundations of friendship with the handful of coworkers I’ve inflicted my sobs upon.
Looking back on the three years since my mother’s passing, despite doing my best to keep the world at arm’s length so as to not reveal my messy inner turmoil, I now see that I’ve shared several surges of pure emotions with coworkers, friends, and teammates. Some of these shared moments have blossomed into friendships, and some never morphed into anything other than a momentary connection. But regardless of what happened subsequent to each moment, they are all valuable to me, as they involved an emotional connection. We shared a moment of reality, and in that brief moment we shared our true selves.
And so I begin to reconsider my struggle with truth. Perhaps my concept of knowing someone has always been too narrow: however wonderful and deep the connections I shared with that boy and my mother, they were similar to beautiful paintings, constantly getting reworked to become better approximations of reality. Without doubt, I still aspire to share that process with someone once again. But, in the meantime, as I continue to make my way through life alone, I can revel in each of the brief yet permanent connections that come from sharing a moment of truth with another person.