Posted by: Kate | February 3, 2011

Keeping Secrets

I’ve been wracking my brain for days, and I’m finally giving in. Waving the white flag. Surrendering. Acknowledging defeat. I quit.

I humbly admit that I believe – and would welcome any sort of evidence to the contrary – that I don’t have any secrets.  This isn’t necessarily an awful thing, since not all secrets are good (and, indeed, the first several examples I could find from my own life were sad, scary, painful or otherwise unpleasant sorts of creatures), but it seems like interesting people have more secrets, don’t they? Monica Lewinsky was fascinating back when no one had actually seen photos of this horrid, rumpled, dear-God-she-saved-it? blue dress, and Julian Assange will only be able to continue causing repetitive stress injuries to the mouse-clicking fingers of worldwide heads of state as long as said heads continue to wonder what he’s carrying around on a thumb drive in his pocket. Monica achieved post-fifteen-minutes status a decade ago, and be honest: how many of you had to click on Assange’s name, even though he was just in the headlines two months ago? I value boring, mundane, uninteresting sorts of days, because my past year has been so agonizingly fascinating, but there is still some self-destructive corner of my brain that is intrigued by the idea of being intriguing.

But it’s true, I can’t think of any secrets at all, and have had the Beatles’ Do You Want to Know a Secret? stuck in my head for two days as a consequence… I don’t even like the Beatles. When it comes to my own stuff, I generally either purposely hand over information, or I have allowed anyone to learn anything they want to know simply by asking… or even just waiting, because eventually I’ll talk about anything, given long enough.  When it comes to other people’s stuff, I guard their privacy much more fiercely and carefully, but as far as I know, my friends and loved ones are a pretty straightforward, take-it-or-leave-it sort of group.  If I know things about you that nobody else does, that’s just luck and your own sweet, sharing nature, because I can’t think of a single time in, oh, five or ten years at least, when someone has said to me, “…but don’t tell anyone.”

Not once.

How boring is that?

Now, let me clarify, because clarity matters. By “secret,” I mean an item, really anything at all, that I believe to be true, that I have consciously and deliberately chosen not to express, and that no one else knows: just me, maybe, or just me and you, and OK, maybe her, too.

That truth stuff, it matters, as well. Some might argue it’s even more important than clarity, though without sufficient clarity I won’t have any idea whether you’re in the general neighborhood of truth, which is just delightfully circular, logic-wise. We all lie, once in a while, and the only real individual differences arise in terms of magnitude and frequency. There are absolutely stories herein – some of my very favorite posts, in fact – that include deliberate alteration of central details. Sometimes that’s to provide a measure of privacy, anonymity, confidentiality… if I don’t inject some major changes into the details of any story I have ever told involving my work as a mental health professional provider practitioner goddess, then I have broken both personal and professional rules, and that’s not OK.

Further, most tales require some level of background, but sometimes the actual facts are too complicated, revealing, unpleasant, or otherwise inappropriate.  Better to simplify or smooth it down a bit, more for the sake of the audience than to protect my own fine, upstanding reputation.  I was, from age 12 until 21, an accomplished chameleon, able to be whoever I thought you wanted me to be, behave however I needed in order to fit in.  I had the perfect combination of high IQ, roughly nonexistent self-esteem, and a history of friends and family that flatly refused to believe I could possibly be anything other than whole and healthy: I could write my own history on the spot, and then I could remember those details as long as necessary so as not to get tangled in a lie.

I had tried, a few times, to tell people my truth, about the black depth of emotional pain that had lived inside me longer than any alternatives that I could remember.  I had tried to whisper the terror and certainty I carried: if I dared to do or say the things that seemed more me, if I dared to be true to myself in a sticky situation, if I didn’t keep smiling until my whole body ached, then I would lose what few relationships I still had.  Each time, I was immediately corrected, but not in the unconditional, supportive, I-still-care kind of way one might wish for.  Instead, I was told that there was no way anything that bad could possibly have happened… the two times I dared to push the issue, I was informed that I was lying (a step beyond simple accusation, and all the more damaging because it was done under the guise of care and supportiveness), and I found myself in even more invalidating and hurtful situations.  So I lied, and I remembered my lies, and I allowed other people to lie to me, whatever it took to avoid being left alone.

I hit what we in the field like to call “rock bottom,” though I didn’t actually see any rocks at all, very early on a very cold November morning in 1998.  The PTSD and depression had fueled each other mercilessly through some very, very difficult months, and I simply could not envision myself surviving like this for one more night.  No more.  I could find a therapist and a doctor and a good, comfortable chair and spend the next two-plus years systematically tearing myself apart and building myself back up again, or I could finally give in and start swallowing pills, already carefully counted and rationed with food, planned so that I would not awaken to find myself restrained to a bed in some random hospital in Boston.

In case the ending of that particular chapter isn’t clear, I opted for the former.  It hurt, and it was hard, and I would quit routinely, only to have my therapist flatly refuse to allow me to do so.  I remembered all of my choices, good and bad, and I lived with them, and I learned how to live with even the most uncomfortable, scary things inside my head.  I learned how to allow myself to be honest instead of weighing the various possible stories and choosing the best one, and I streamlined my whole mental filing system.  I don’t need to try to figure out which version of events I adopted as truth and which version had been tucked away for posterity.  (Which made things so much easier, last year, when I actually did awaken to find myself restrained to a bed in some random hospital in Boston, because I didn’t have to waste so much as a second worrying what people might have learned or seen or caught when I was asleep.)

Honesty, then, became my policy, and I am regularly grateful for its simplicity, not to mention its general social acceptability.  Hallmark doesn’t – as far as I know – address very many of its Valentine’s Day cards “To the Lying Liar who Lies.”  Richard Nixon wasn’t known as “Tricky Dick” because of his exploits on a certain, special kind of film.  George Washingon ‘fessed up to the assault of an innocent little cherry tree that didn’t, according to all known witnesses, intend to provoke him to arborcide, and he gleaned so much more publicity that way than if he had just let the sucker live and carved his initials into it instead.

(Which, because I do love me random bits of historical trivia: there’s no proof that George ever had a history of tree-mugging, but Americans like to pretend that the absence of evidence that he didn’t do something is equivalent to proof that he did. The story was first formally printed by a guy named Weems three years after George died. It featured a six-year-old thug barking the tree: using a hatchet to strip the bottom few feet of the tree bare, thereby setting it up for death but in a slow, miserable, torturous manner, not a quick and humane [umm… not human, arbor… arbane?] death.  And then we celebrate the words of this kid, after the fact, because he “cannot tell a lie?”  How’s about we teach him some impulse control or, failing that, train him to keep his mouth shut?  Nope, we, rather than kissing his ass for exposing this poor, verbally limited, probably destitute hardwood to a demise far nastier than anything we offer to our death row inhabitants?)

Anyway, apparently this honest-and-open thing seems to be working, seeing as how you all keep coming back to read stuff here, despite my repeated willingness to provide far too clear a view into my psyche… other than my mother-in-law and her unhealthily obsessed acquaintances, most of you wouldn’t keep reading if you didn’t like what you saw here.

So, that’s step one in this secrets process.  Next, I need to deliberately keep it to myself.  We’re not talking commission by omission, here: to my mind, a secret only works as such if someone else wants to know – or would want to know, if they knew that you knew – and so my choice not to post last night’s dinner menu is filed under “There Actually Are Things too Mundane to Blog,” not “Secrets.”  I can’t remember the last time I found myself in an experience such that Person A  has asked me not to share some tidbit, and Person B has asked me to share that selfsame tidbit.  (Quick, someone tell me a secret, and someone else ask me about it, would you?  Just to say I could… maybe I should add that to my 100 Things list, which needs a major overhaul anyway.)

Secrets don’t get to hang onto their status indefinitely, poor things. I have been known, at least once, to ask my husband not to read the blog for a few days when he’s away and I plan to renovate the kitchen as a surprise for him.  (Though, if you were to ask my in-laws, they would happily point to that particular post as concrete proof that I was actively hiding the blog from Willem.  You know, by using his name and posting photos of his children and letting him know precisely when he could start reading again.  I’m so sneaky.)  But secrets all seem to have a shelf life, some longer than others – I wandered around the various links and ideas in this article, and this one, for quite a while yesterday, go forth and click! – and then they’re not secrets anymore.  Just tidbits, ghosts of secrets past.

And, last, the “no one else knows” bit.  There are things I know about my husband that (I damn well hope) no one else knows. Things I wouldn’t share about my children if asked. Things I’ve learned about people that matter to me that I wouldn’t pass along. But as soon as you’ve got some morsel of information suspended in the ether between you and someone else, then that tidbit has the potential of wandering out into traffic at odd moments.  Suddenly it’s just loose and free and not fully controlled. I have to hang onto it, and take care of it, whether by keeping it on lockdown 23 hours a day with only occasional rec time, or by frequent polishing and flaunting, depending on its nature.  Regardless of how I care for it, I need to pay it some attention, or it will have wandered away and fallen off a cliff before I even realized it was missing.  It kind of seems like a secret only retains its value with a certain amount of snotty, neener-neener-neener bursts of gloating once in a while, which requires almost as much energy as remembering a second, dishonest version of the truth did, up there a couple paragraphs ago.

Hmm. Maybe that’s it.  Maybe I’m not really that open of a book – though I am, particularly for those of you who have spent any time in my physical presence since last March, and let me apologize one more time if I showed you the wounds, deliberately or accidentally.  I lost a whole lot of dignity and privacy in those first few weeks, and it has taken a long time for me to even realize that they were missing, much less to try and start regaining them.  Maybe I’m not really that candid and willing to share and overshare alike.  Maybe people aren’t simply taking my trustworthiness for granted and telling me all manner of private things.  Maybe I’m approximately as capable of maintaining discretion as a three-year-old on Christmas morning.

Maybe, instead, I’m just supremely lazy.  So much so that I can’t be bothered to remember anything other than the truth and can’t find the motivation to cover even that with anything more than the thinnest possible haze of discretion.

…ehh, either way, I’m OK with that.

(It suddenly occurs to me, having bopped around different paragraphs and thoughts and websites for over an hour now, that this sort of free-wheeling, yet topically narrow, wordplay, is something I do relatively often. It starts as an attempt to lay the foundation for an entirely different post, often in the hopes of articulating some apparently-not-so-simple basic concept, and grows into its own creation before I knew it was happening. I was aware of this phenomenon, knew that I enjoyed it, but I hadn’t previously paid attention to my propensity for this type of post. [Or, apparently, for alliteration.] And thus another WordPress “Category” is formed!)

Well, there. This literally took hours of my life, and Willem was careful to remind me to copy and paste it into Word just in case WordPress has gone and logged me off sometime in there. Stranger, worse, less fair things have happened, and I already owe myself two backlogged Madhouse entries… no reason to tempt fate, right? This one’s already a day late, but we can pretend otherwise.

Did you play along this week? Did they…?

Allison – Allimonster Speaks
Barb – Spencer Hill Spinning & Dyeing
Batty – Batty’s Adventures in Spooky Knitting
Dave – Notes from the Field
Eileen – Art Deco Diva Knits
Evil Twin’s Wife – The Glamorous Life of a Hausfrau
G – Not-A-Box
Haley – Aimless Tangents
Jennifer – Ask Poops, Please
JMLC – Daydreams and Ruminations
Kate – One More Thing
LC – LC in Sunny So Cal
LeeAnne – This is the life…
Lisa – As If You Care
Louise – Child of Grace
Marcy – Mittentime
Melanie – usually, things happen
Nikki – Land of the Free, Home of the Depressed
Peri – knitandnatter
Sara – yoyu mama


  1. I played along sort of. Pathetically. And I’ll do better on another topic. My bottom line is really like something you said, I’m too lazy to keep secrets!

    And your post is stunning and divine. Like you!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: