When you know too much
By Leslie Munday
My therapist and I got into a fight the other day. This is actually a frequent occurrence because we are completely different people with very different belief systems. The fight itself is less relevant than the cause: she’s a glass half full kind of gal whereas I tend to think things are more half empty.
That’s not to say that I mope around hating life all day every day, because I don’t. There are few things that bring me more joy in life than the sweet smell of eucalyptus outside of my house, the luxurious ritual of bath salts and reading in my nightly bath, or of two-stepping with one of my elderly clients. Christ, I freaking love old people.
But, there is also an ever-present, uncomfortable, and heavy angst that lingers just below the surface. Part of me feels ashamed to admit that; I worry people will judge me, feel sorry for me, or check me into the nearest mental hospital for observation to be sure I’m not having suicidal ideations or something dramatic like that. And the people I am most hesitant to admit this to are my old yoga pals, because thinking positively, or more accurately, speaking positively, is paramount in the yoga world.
I grew up in a family that was, as many families are, dysfunctional. We’ve all got our stories. My particular story sent me spiraling into an existential crisis at the age of three. Throughout the years, I’ve coped with the calamity in various ways: in middle school I was super uptight and tried to control everything, in high school I drank hella Budweiser, in college I drank more, and in graduate school and the ten years following, I did yoga. Lots and lots of yoga.
During my tenure as a yoga student, teacher, worshipper, and studio owner, I learned and then repeated every possible platitude ad nauseum. But no matter how many times I said them — and I really believed them! — they didn’t actually change anything for me.
Yes, they may have made me feel better in the moment, which has its merits, but I didn’t actually become a millionaire (Manifest abundance!), master handstand in the middle of the room (Mind over matter!), or write a New York Times best selling novel (Think positively!). Regardless, I convinced myself that if I said them enough, if I only believed them enough, things would somehow change. There’s a part of me now that feels like during those years of countless mantra chanting, I was just lying to myself. And perhaps to be happy and keep going, I had to.
I recently heard a Radiolab podcast about a study on self-deception from a bio/psycho/social perspective. The study suggests that people who self-deceive are happier than those that don’t. Conversely, people who are more realistic and actually see the world exactly how it is tend to be slightly more depressed than others. Ironically, upon hearing the conclusion of the study, I felt relieved because I fall into that category of “slightly more depressed” people. When I stop, look around, and honestly inventory the world around me, I see lots and lots of suffering and I feel really sad. In the past, I’ve wished I could be one of those people capable of convincing themselves otherwise, but denying that it’s out there just doesn’t work for me.
The older I get, the broader my awareness becomes, and the more honest I am about the realities of the world we live in – good and bad. And pretending that everything is “as it should be,” when some things just so obviously aren’t, feels like a big fat lie to me. And maybe honesty is more important than happiness.