I am a liar, that’s the truth. I started young and progressed from there. They say the average age for a child to engage in deception is four, when he/she realises that a story can be told from different perspectives without a need for definitive proof.
I remember, when I was nine I told my teacher Mrs Grundy that; I needed to get something from my bag, in the cloak room. The truth was, I actually just wanted some quiet for a few minutes and the silence of the cloak room was heaven. I’d made this request numerous times over the year and it was never questioned. As I sat on the benches, snuggled into the hanging coats, I checked on Lulu my Tamagotchi (oh yeah, I had one of those) and felt safe. Suddenly the door burst open and Mrs Grundy stood over me glaring; Claire Eastham. How very dishonest of you, you little liar. Get back in the classroom now. Probably a slight overreaction to my crime, but it was true, I had lied. Flustered I rushed back in side and tried to explain my actions. I just wanted some quiet time Miss – I’ll never forget the look of exasperation on her face, What? Sit down you silly girl. Like anyone caught out in a lie I felt humiliated and dirty. I was clearly a horrid child, no matter how good I thought I was and my pride was wounded. I also realised that my request for ‘quiet’ wasn’t normal and would need to be hidden from now on.
So what did this incident teach me I wonder? That I shouldn’t tell lies? Nope. Rather how to lie more efficiently and thereby avoid getting caught. In future situations a toilet request was much simpler and I could ensure security by locking the door.
As I grew up and the anxiety increased, like many sufferers I was terrified of being found out. Especially by work colleagues, so I spewed a variety of lies over a ten year period and tailored them to suit different aspects of my life:
(Please see my comments in italics for the truth.)
- My granddad has died. (He’s actually been dead since I was eight.) But he died twice more during employment at two separate jobs. This lie was used during extreme periods of anxiety, when I needed at least three days off. The sympathy I received from colleagues made me feel sick.
- I’ve been taken to hospital for tests, as my heart was beating irregularly – partially true. I had started to have palpitations by this point and was up all night, but I added ‘hospital’ to secure a day off.
- I’ve had an allergic reaction and have been taken to hospital – partially true, but I wasn’t taken to hospital.
- I’ve fallen down the stairs and banged my head – I had been awake all night having panic attacks and needed to sleep.
- Stomach bug (used multiple times.) – Good one to use if I was really struggling.
- Family are visiting – I can’t come out tonight because I can’t face it. But can’t bear to tell you the truth, you’ll think I’m a freak.
- Stomach bug – I can’t come out tonight because I can’t face it. But can’t bear to tell you the truth, you’ll think I’m a freak.
- Migraine – I can’t come out tonight because I can’t face it. But can’t bear to tell you the truth, you’ll think I’m a freak.
- Trouble at home – I can’t come out tonight because I can’t face it. But can’t bear to tell you the truth, you’ll think I’m a freak.
- I’m fine – If I tell you the truth you’ll worry and feel uncomfortable. I don’t want to deal with the burden of guilt on top of everything else.
- I’m going out with friends tonight – I’m in bed and I don’t want to talk to anyone, as you’ll only worry. I want to be left alone.
- I’ve got a headache, so I’m going to bed – I want to be alone and miserable in peace without upsetting you.
Reading back over this list I feel nothing but shame, it was all so unnecessary. Why did I do it? Just to cover my anxiety, or was I also seeking attention? Maybe I wanted sympathy in some way. I enjoyed playing the victim, because I knew the role so well.
By the time I’d turned twenty three, the lies were getting more and more dramatic. They were too theatrical and weren’t receiving the same extreme reactions of concern. When I told my then boyfriend that I needed to go to hospital, he barely acknowledged it and why would he? It was the same old story. In a more bizarre twist I started to believe my own nonsense and essentially acted ‘the part’ of the sick young girl. It was ridiculous.
Fundamentally, the lies did not benefit me in any way. It’s true, I could hide from the world for a while, but instead I found myself locked in a cell with guilt, shame and fear. I hated myself for lying and for being so weak. I was tired of acting and constantly worried about being caught out.
My years of compulsive lying have also made me distrusting of others. Dan always jokes that I’m ‘paranoid’ because I find it hard to believe other people’s often genuine excuses.
I’ve mentioned previously that when I eventually ‘came out’ about my anxiety, the relief I felt was outstanding. The truth is, for years I’d believed the stigma about mental health and blew the whole situation out of proportion. The lies I told to hide my problems were only adding to my worries and I needed to break the habit. Avoiding a situation only made my symptoms worse.
I’m not denying that anxiety is distressing, but it isn’t as shameful or extraordinary as I thought. In the next ten years I hope that it will be discussed as openly as the common cold, something that people can talk about with ease.
These days I’m very honest with the people in my life and I’m not embarrassed to tell the truth when I’m struggling.
Try it… the next time that you’re feeling overly anxious about a situation, try telling the truth; Sorry, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed and stressed can I just have five minutes to calm down? The mild awkwardness that you feel will soon be eclipsed by pride and relief.