Why do people lie? (Rhetorical question, bear with me.)

“I never got your project in my email.”  Yeah, I think you did; I requested a Read Receipt.

“My wife has no clue because I’m such a good actor, but I am so checked out of our marriage.” Trust me:  on some level, she knows.

“Í didn’t eat the last (fill in the blank).” Ok, so it’s you, me and the cat. Has he learned how to open the ‘fridge?

When my son was still a toddler, he thought that by covering his own eyes, he’d be invisible to everyone else in the family. So if he wanted to “hide”, he’d just put his little hands up in front of his face, like the game of peek-a-boo we play with babies. A cloak of immunity (he loved to pull all of the clean linen out of the closet and spread it around the hallway) from discovery and accountability.

Today I was reflecting – as I’m sneaking up on another birth day this month – on the many wonderful ways that age brings not only wisdom of self-knowledge, but common sense. This week, however, I was confronted by both the first and second statements above, made by people who are actually older than I am. So, denial and obfuscation – let’s just call it what it is, dishonesty – is obviously not the sole territory of the young and foolish. Anyone looking for a back door, an escape clause or hatch, a way to be invisible can deploy lying. Lies can be big or small, but they’re all about avoiding exposure. But ‘exposure’ to what? I thought back, to that feeling…

The first professional job I had in my first career (Education) was a high school teacher. I was thrilled to have the job, but apprehensive about being so close in age to my students (I was only 23, and they were between 16 – 18 years old). Despite having graduated from college and having several credentials “under my belt”, I feared being called-out as a fraud. What did that mean? To me, it meant being appraised, and found lacking. Knowledge; poise; maturity; skill:  missing from my repertoire.

I survived my first year of teaching, but learned some hard lessons about being truthful and humble (I told my students I had more experience than I actually did at the time). They learned otherwise.

Why do we lie, or, my favorite, not tell the whole truth in certain situations? As I noted above, this is really a question that most of us know the answer to:  to avoid the nasty consequences we know are coming if we tell the truth about ‘whatever’. The problem with lying, however (unless there’s some kind of pathology in operation), is twofold:  first, the lie seeps into our beliefs about ourselves and almost always causes even more fear and self-doubt; and second, lies tend to proliferate because they become easier to tell.

The man who told me about his clueless wife is totally depressed and wakes exhausted, most mornings at 3 a.m. The woman who told me she didn’t receive my project (despite my receipt that she’d at least opened my email) is developing a growing reputation as a “flake”.

I’m not holding myself above anyone who has lied, or attempted to avoid being exposed by saying nothing or providing only a partial truth. I’m just thinking about what this feels like in our hearts:  when we engage in deception, or when we become aware that we’re on the receiving end of a lie. It doesn’t feel good. It always comes out, in one way or another. The dis-ease of lying is corrosive. How much better to come from a place of Truth, shout or whisper your Mea Culpa, and ask for forgiveness?

Recently I was consoling a close friend of mine (who also happens to be my re-married ex-husband), about the aging process. He’d gotten some disappointing news during his annual medical check-up: his prostate gland was doing what it often does as men age. As I tried to patiently listen to this information (and multi-tasked, I’ll admit), my “ex” (who claims he can’t talk about these things with his new wife) then went into a litany of additional physical complaints, his body now “falling apart”. His list ended with the question, “What’s the point?” That took my attention away from folding laundry, and we spoke a little bit about his feelings of depression. It’s funny that now, as an ex-wife, I actually have more and better conversations with him than ever before and seem to hold a more tender place in his heart. Another topic, for another Post. At least he was able to share his feelings, difficult for many men.

A little over one week later, my ex-husband called me again: his nephew (his sister’s only child), a man in his 40’s, had just shot and killed himself. My ex-husband phoned me because a) I’d known the man who died somewhat peripherally — he was always a quiet loner, and b) I myself am a childhood Survivor of Suicide. My mother took her own life in her 40’s, when I was around 10 years old. It’s still a pretty vivid memory for me, and something that I deal with off and on, as I reflect on how this event impacted my progress into adulthood.

In the headlines this past year were at least two notable “Deaths by Suicide”. (One of my professional colleagues justifiably corrected me when I commented on the famed chef who ‘killed himself’). Of course, suicides are sadly uncommon in our country, especially among vulnerable populations. The majority of these don’t earn Media recognition. In my field of study and careers, I’ve had a lot of classes and trainings, and even provided interventions to people at this level of despair. Still, when it happens, and you’re called upon to provide personal or professional support, the unanswerable question from Survivors is “Why ??”

Someone once described Suicide / Death by Suicide as “…a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” My mother’s issues were poor health and emotional despair stemming from a host of disappointments. My ex-husband’s nephew, so I was told, was suffering from a work injury and had been unable to find suitable work for many months. No one can truly feel whatever the source of pain is, nor judge whether or not suffering is ‘temporary’. To the depressed mind, even a day of profound hopelessness can be an eternity.

But, as much as I — especially as a Survivor of Suicide — want to understand and embrace the very real feelings and circumstances that drive someone to end their own life (I’m excluding the terminally-ill, as I think and write), I am more concerned about Survivors left behind. Taking one’s own life has also been described pejoratively as “…an act of selfishness”, which — in addition to religious views on the subject — has done much to stigmatize suicide. The lens of becoming older, however, has changed my perspective on the topic I have so much personal knowledge of: I relate less to the person in pain, and much more to the wives, husbands, children, friends, intimate partners and even pets that are left behind. The suffering ends for the person whose life is now over; but it usually never ends for the living who must somehow carry on. I’m not sure if this statistic has increased, decreased, or stayed the same, but when I first began studying the effects of mothers /fathers who had ‘suicided’, impacting the lives of their children, researchers claimed that suicidal ideation increased 40% for childhood survivors of adult deaths. Even without full-on ideation, suicide creates barriers and emotional struggles for children, with Trust Issues, Fear of Abandonment, Over-attachment, Lack of attachment, Guilt, and a host of other negatives hindering the ability to thrive.

But those who’ve chosen Death by Suicide are well-past the point of feeling concern about how the living might, or might not, adjust to losing someone this way. My message, now, is really for (and was delivered tactfully, I hope, to my ex-husband) those who feel the deep sadness that allows the mind to consider this option. Many people find sharing long-term depression and the darkest of thoughts with others impossible. But, consider the alternative: surrendering to the Pit of Despair ( I had to insert some “Princess Bride” humor, to avoid ending on a totally maudlin note), ensuring that those who love you may never be able to fully avoid the Pit themselves, as a result of your actions. How much better to…see a doctor, find a good therapist; confide in a trusted friend and let them be by your side in your recovery. Look up, look around, see the lives that would be diminished by your absence.