Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On blogging and honesty

Listening to a local call-in talk show on NPR a month or so ago, I heard this incredibly fascinating program about lying. The lying expert, Robert Feldman, talked about a study he performed in which they had two perfect strangers sit in a room together and just "get to know each other" for ten minutes. They videotaped the entire encounter without the participants' knowledge. After the conversation, each person was asked to watch the video and count the number of times they lied, exaggerated, fibbed, or simply were not entirely accurate. People were indignant before watching themselves. "Of course, I did not lie," they claimed. As they watched the video, people were horrified at themselves. The average person lied three times in the first ten minutes of getting to know someone. What a way to start a relationship, eh? As you get to know the person, the amount of lying decreases and changes. That is, in the beginning of meeting someone, the lies are more benign, like agreeing with the person about something you don't really believe, claiming to visit a city never visited, or complimenting a shirt about which the speaker is mostly indifferent. As time passed in the "friendship," the lies decreased. But if lying existed, it was much bigger lies. Think infidelity.

But mostly, the researcher noted that the first ten minute experiments were mostly social lies. Though there was one man who told his companion that his band just got a recording contract, when, in fact, his band didn't just get a recording contract. In fact, he didn't really have a band. Actually, he didn't even know how to play the guitar. The researcher pointed out that yes, the man was talking to an attractive woman.

What was interesting about this study is that most of the people were incredibly surprised to see themselves lying. Though it came out of their mouth, it wasn't intended. Immediately, the researcher noted the person usually justified it, "It isn't a big deal. Everyone does it." And the researcher said something to the effect of maybe this kind of exaggeration sort of "greases the wheel of social discourse." He said that the people who lied the most were also the most social, most well-liked, friendliest people. The conclusion, of course, was that people want to hear good things about themselves. But of course, most people say lying is a betrayal, and well they should. Broken down along gender lines, women tended to lie to make connections, like agreeing with someone when in a conversation, or complimenting someone. Men tended to lie to make themselves look better, por ejemplo, that they played were football players in high school, or workout more often than they do.

In one call on the program, the caller referred to herself as brutally honest. Man, I just hate that phrase. It makes it sound like honesty needs to be brutal, and I just don't believe that. Kindness and compassion should exist in truth-telling, no? The researcher was pretty adamant that lies aren't necessary. That a discourse without lies is possible. Of course, all this lying talk got me thinking about blogging.

Blogging is someone's truth. Not perhaps the reality, but a kind of truth. And yet, there is a modicum of expectation that what we relate on here is "true;" that is, we expect that the person writing is the person they say they are, that the main points of incidents related are true. I am generally a fairly horrid liar. In fact, I usually admit I am lying before the lie is even out of my mouth. I blame my Irish-Panamanian Catholic family. I confess before I have even sinned.

I think of this blogging space much in the same way as I think about therapy. I could go in there and lie. Tell all kinds of wonderful stories about my own capability. But what would be the point of that? I am paying this man to help me process this crap. It behooves me to tell the truth. And same with this blogging space. What would be the point of lying? In fact, I often think I am more honest on here than in my real life. Not that I lie in my real life, but I just sort of own the basest emotions and the ugliest thoughts here. In real life, I do not exactly wear my emotions on my sleeve. I tend to smile a lot, or crack wise when I am uncomfortable. It is the way of my people.

Facing complete strangers in real life in an experiment is a very different experience to talking to someone who knows you in real life, or for that matter, writing on a blog. I have decided to use my real name on this blog, though sometimes I regret that decision. It means I also think about certain readers who also exist in my real life. People in my real life confront me about things I have written in this space, and that is unnerving. But I didn't want to live under a veil. I had so much shame I wanted to banish--shame about my child's death, about my lost motherhood and about my failure to keep her alive. Using my real name and real circumstances meant that I would stand up and own these emotions. "Hello, my name is Angie and my baby died inside of me." And so, writing this blog means that I have people who know me in real life, who know intimate details of my life, who can call me on any discrepancies. It keeps me thinking about all my details, which is a good thing.

Many years ago, I had a stupid blog. It was about sports, fashion, pop culture and goofy stuff I found on the internets. It was before kids, before house, before responsibility and way way before daughter death. I maintained this blog for four years. FOUR. Every once in a great while, I would mention my insomnia, or talk about being depressed, but it would usually segue into something like a video of Ian Curtis. I think one of my favorite posts was a rant about people camping out in front of an Ikea store for the grand opening. Deep shit. A few days ago, I went back to read that blog. That space was not about processing anything. It wasn't exactly a journal. It just was this weird corner of my life where I put things. It was a lot like my real life persona, I think. I can talk about Nixon and gnomes for hours, but never really talk about how I feel.

During this entire time, my father's and my grandfather's health and well-being occupied most of my time. I spent every weekend driving two and a half hours one way to do my father's laundry, take him to lunch, pay his bills, then turn around and drive home two and a half hours home. During the ride home, I would stop at my grandfather's place and fix stuff, or shop for him. Often the time with my grandfather was spent with him telling me I am not doing enough for him. I often left at 7am on Saturday, and was home by 6pm or 7pm.  That was after working a 50 hour week. I had one day to do my own laundry, shop, and clean. I did this for years and years. One year, I actually counted the number of weekends I skipped going to my father--four.

I cried a lot when I drove. You would have no idea reading that blog at how stressful my life was at the time. At how miserable I was. When I met Sam, my life changed. I reprioritized things. He asked me to give him a weekend or two a month. It meant I began setting limits in my life with my family. All of my other relationships fell apart because I could only go out on Thursday night. Sure, I had to deal with the guilt and anger, but I became healthier. Was that blog reflective of that? No. As I read through this old writing, besides being struck with how much I scoffed at say capitalization and grammar, I also began asking if I was honest. I can say that I never outright lied on the blog, but it isn't exactly an honest reflection of who I was. It was avoidance therapy, perhaps.

After Lucy died, I could not ignore or hide my emotions. I didn't want to pretend anymore that I was strong or capable. I fell apart and became unhinged. My vulnerability was front and center, and I couldn't ignore my weaknesses anymore. This blog became a place where I could process all of the sensory overload from the grief. The interesting thing, I began taking that insight into the real world. I used the conclusions I came to on my blog to be able to talk about my emotions and my vulnerability. In many ways, I have felt much more capable, even as I admitted to being less capable. Is it possible that blogging has made me more honest in my real life? You know, I think it did.

After my last therapy session, my therapist asked me to write notes about the session. And I really really struggled with it. Mainly, because throughout the session, I found myself thinking, "Why the fuck am I here?" Or "I am never coming back here." Or "This is bullshit." My inner thoughts are riddled with cuss words. I actually thought the therapist said a number of things that made my anxiety worse than when I walked into the hour. He said, "Anxiety is not healthy for your pregnancy." Then later he said, "Looking at your shame might not be the healthiest thing for your pregnancy." Then why are you bringing it up, dude?

I struggled with honesty in a way I haven't struggled in a while. It was so striking it made me recognize that being true to my emotions and experience is not something I have struggled with much in the past year. My parents instilled this very strong sense of authority.  I respect my therapist a great deal.  He has given me a lot of wisdom and guidance. At different points in my life, it worked. But now, not so much. Being told my anxiety is hurting my new baby after such a profound loss feels kind of cruel. I am in therapy to help manage my anxiety, not find new things about which to be anxious.

I decided to write my therapy notes like a blog post. What I found when I was honest about this session is that therapy with this man is not helping me right now. It costs a great deal of money out of pocket. I need to manage childcare, his unpredictable schedule, and my own commuting issues. I would pay any price to feel calmer and get tools to manage my anxiety, but I am walking out feeling misunderstood and worse, I am feeling more alienated and shamed than when I walked into his office.And so the exercise of honesty gave me insight into what would most soothe me right now--not being in therapy.

I don't always know why I started my blog. I struggle between thinking it is goofy, narcissistic and self-indulgent and thinking it saved my life. But when I look at these ways in which it has helped me communicate and own my emotions, I get it.

* Here is the mp3 of the Radio Times episode, if you are interested.


  1. Angie. So much I want to say and so much, I am at a loss for words. Just in my own experience, any "help" that added more guilt, shame, or anxiety to an already heavy grief load...well, pheh, it wasn't much help! Don't know that alternative would be helpful either, but in case it hasn't come up before -- is there subsequent pregnancy group near you? One of our MISS folks, Krista, here in WA found it so helpful that she became a facilitator of the PS group. Just a thought...

    As to the lies... I think about that a lot, too. Especially if I edit or take things down. Sometimes I go thur archives to check for broken links and stuff, and in the process, come across some of my writings from right after Kota died. Raging, raving overwhelm. Sometimes, I am shocked by what I said or wrote -- it was true in the moment, but now it seems so harsh and mean. But Hawk always stops me from taking it down. He says there is someone out there, randomly finding it, and in the truth of their present moment, they need to know they are "normal" (whatever that is) to be feeling those things, too. So I don't take them down. He keeps me honest that way.

    But I also then wonder how I am not honest now. I still have lots of shitty days -- and yes, my thoughts have lots of curse words in them too! -- but I often edit or just don't feel like writing those days. So it doesn't get shared. Feel like no matter what I do, there is edited version of me out there.

    It's interesting to hear that this research was finding that we are always putting edited versions of ourselves out there. I always wonder if it is animal nature -- we being animals though most humans are loathe to admit it. But so like rutting contests, the lying is a contest to see who proves to be the best mate, provider, caregiver, etc... ?? Especially since we are surprised to find we lied... so what drives it then?

    Hmmm...sorry for babbling...you just gave me a lot to chew on this morning :)


  2. I think this is an interesting idea, I am going to point my finger at the weak point in the argument the researcher makes though. He lacks a definition of truth. When I think about the concept of truth it's nearly like discussion right and wrong. I think truths very much depend on the perspective of the observer which depends on the observers experiences and how they have evaluated them.

    So I can say, heck yeah, I agree with you! Which I do, when I'm full of empathy and understanding until I start taking the other side of the argument to clarify your vision, to describe that there is more than one side to any argument/encounter and that we could all do with a bit more broadmindedness/a bigger horizon etc.

    Have you ever listened to someone telling a story about what happened to yous (as in plural, more than one person)? And you have the urge to correct them every couple of seconds because they are not telling the truth? But it is their truth, how they remember it, it just doesn't match with your memory of the same incident.

    Truth, what is a lie if we can't define what truth is?

    Lovely post, lovely food for thought.

    xxx Ines

  3. Our relationship with the truth is endlessly fascinating to me. I'm glad that you write YOUR truth here Ang, as well as asking us to leave our own.

    I always find it the hardest to be honest with people who are intending to help. I think you're doing to right thing in not seeing this therapist right now. Love to you xx

  4. So much dynamic wisdom here; thank you for opening it all up to view, like a flower.

  5. Blogging helped me be true to me. It let me speak a truth I couldn't IRL. Not that I was outright lying but I was/am lying by omission, often. I think I would have gone crazy if I hadn't found this place and these women.
    Truth be told.

  6. What K@lakly said - I am more truthful here than I am in real life. And that does get interesting when people in my real life read, as it was never really intended for them. Seem my truths often hurt, but that's just the way it is. Glad you're ditching the therapist. I too find my blog the best therapy and the conversations that are borne out of it.

  7. Very interesting Angie. I third kalakly and sally. I am more honest here about ugly embarrassing feelings than I ever am in real life. I don't know why but it seems impossible to tell people IRL how I feel- when it comes to this dbm stuff. I can't find the words to adequately describe this hell, so I pretend that I am fine. I also think that no one wants to hear it anymore. Weird, but true. At least here I can admit that I have ugly thoughts and there are people out there who can say "me too".

    Glad you were able to break up with your therapist. What he is saying sounds stressful to me too.

  8. I'm lost on the issue of truth right now. I don't know how to be honest even with myself these days. But the clarity you gained on your therapy seems real to me. Jettison that which is supposed to help but which is instead causing you pain. And hang in there. You're doing the best you can for your new, very loved baby.

  9. ya know, i was never much into a diary and I don't think it would have helped me this last year. I think it is dumb to write to myself. But my blog, is a lot FOR me. with an audience that helps keep me sane.

    therapy was also a stressor for me that I had to cut out (money, time, travel, and anxiety over what I would have to talk about at therapy) all good reasons to put it on back burner and go when you need to.

    the blog is 24 hrs and you deal with the stuff you need to deal with, not whatever kick the therapist is on cause he just read some paper or something.

    lean on us - we're free!!!!!! :)

  10. i feel like my blog equals honesty. raw and ugly honesty. jealous and angry. all of it. it is my truth. and it has been so important to have the space to voice the darkness of my truth this past year. and really we just can't be that honest in real life. we would be one of those crazy people screaming on the street. so i am so thankful for this blog world and finding you angie, and your truth and all of the amazing honest babylost mamas.

  11. I found this post very interesting, Angie. I've had a few IRL friends suggest I see a therapist when they find out that just months after George died I'm (surprise!) still sad. As if seeing a stranger would help me get over my grief and move on and then I could be a fun friend is how I've taken this suggestion. I've found just reading the stories and thoughts of other babylost mothers much more comfort than I imagine me sitting in a room thinking, "Hmm. What do *you* know about babyloss, therapist person?" would. Maybe it would give me greater comfort, but I don't think so. The rest of you have kept me sane this far into my journey and offered way more understanding and practical ideas for coping than anyone IRL.

  12. First off, I'm amazed by the caretaking you provided, and continue to, to your father and grandfather. They are lucky to have you.

    I started my blog when I was pregnant as a way to keep friends and family who are mostly far away up-to-date on our pregnancy, then on Cayden's brief life, and the aftermath, and now Buggy too. So many IRL people read it, including colleagues, my parents' friends, and in-laws, that I've had trouble with honesty, though I try. Sometimes I wish I had a different blog, where I could bare my sad soul on hard days. I have to hold it in a lot, which stinks.

    I think ending things with your therapist was the way to go. You shouldn't feel shamed when you leave, he sounds like a dud. xo

  13. what an interesting post. I am so glad that you have found your voice, in laying down boundaries in your family relationships and in this blog. You are someone that I read because you speak truth in such a beautiful way, it would be so unfortunate if you had continued blogging after losing Lucy, without that honesty. I am sorry your therapist is an idiot. There are worse words I can come up with for someone who gives that type of advice, the harmful, self-shaming, anxiety inducing type. I am a big believer that if you are paying someone to help you, and they are not doing that, then go to someone else. I think you are making the right choice to stop seeing him.

  14. You're blowing my mind a bit now.

    It's interesting what you write about the old blog and the lack of disclosure about what was happening in your life with your father and grandfather. I think it's avoidance if you know you're doing it. But think about how much doesn't make it into this blog as well? It's a small space, a slice of life.

    Of course I'm justifying because I don't think my blog is always a reflection of what's going on. We sometimes have major shit happening, but when I feel like it's not my story to tell, I swallow it. I don't think you have the luxury of doing that because you are the keeper of Lucy's stories. It's almost your duty to share this for her since she will not get to share her own stories--only the ones that exist through you. If that makes sense?

    A beautiful post.

  15. Thank you for this - seemingly very honest :) - post. It definitely hit home with me and I'm going to need a while to digest its layers.


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