Pippa Mistry-Norman provides an interesting account of dealing with a lesser-known mental illness, mythomania, and how it has affected her time at university.
I have written ad nauseam about my delusions, my social anxiety, my depression and everything else I face on a daily basis at the same time as having to face my lecturers and tutors at university, but the one thing that I have only alluded to and claimed to suffer from is my mythomania. This I will remedy today.
Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” Though he was arguably one of the smartest men of the 19th century, I can guarantee he knew no one who had to live with mythomania… It is one of the mental disorders I have lived with for longest, outliving even the depression.
Lying and bending the truth is such a commonplace thing in today’s society (don’t worry I’m not turning this into a treatise on deception!) and most of you will have heard at some time or another, the terms ‘pathological lying’ and ‘compulsive lying’. I have looked into both of these things and what I have comprehended from my gander on the Internet is that compulsive liars need lies to protect their egos and regret the deceit, but pathological liars lie to obtain their goals and have no qualms about doing so.
Now, I can tell you that I fit into neither category and thus can only be defined as a mythomaniac because I do feel guilt – of the most painful and devastating ilk – and it is not always a conscious decision to tell a lie. Don’t get me wrong: a lot of the time I am responsible for the utter crap that comes out of my mouth and I openly and willingly acknowledge that, but at other times, I most certainly am not!
I had a very memorable and humbling experience when I was seven years old during my first year at the school that was my home until I was eighteen which I believe I can hold responsible for the conception of mythomania in my young, virgin head. I won’t describe it in too much detail, even though I recall it as though it was yesterday, because I am currently on a bit of a roll mentally and I don’t want to have a nightmare about it tonight and relapse, but I’ll give you the cliff notes!
One of my friends, whom I knew because she lived in the same village as me, told me after a (what turned out to be fake!) phone call to her mother that her brother had died in tragic circumstances. I believed her – seven year old that she was then too – and commiserated with her and went with her to the Head’s office and all that jazz. Before I knew what was going on, I was being called in to all sorts of offices myself and being asked where I was at the time of the telephone call and what I had said. I had no clue what was happening, but the teachers seemed to think I had informed ‘my friend’ that her brother had copped it.
That was not all, for when I claimed innocence, still no one believed me, not even my own parents. Eventually, the true perpetrator confessed all and then I was apologised to profusely, but that couldn’t undo what had already been done. In those couple of days, the days when I was known throughout the lower school as the very worst kind of person: a liar and a loner, I had been shown that deceit and an honest look could achieve things and bear fruit. I know I did not consciously decide to start lying but I do truly think that this incident forced that concept into my brain and before I could eradicate it, off I went lying and bending truths. Needless to say, that was the end of little, innocent me…
All through my formative years I lied. I didn’t always get caught. I didn’t always know I had told a lie until after I had spoken the words. Sometimes – if I was answering a question or just filling in a silence – there would be nothing to prevent me from being honest, but instinctively a lie would fall from my lips and then I couldn’t go back. Have you ever seen a web of lies? No, course you haven’t, because they’re metaphorical! But, I have been trapped in them for so long that the spiders have invited friends over to partake in the delight is me because there was no escape for me. Certain doom was in my future and I couldn’t flee from it no matter what I did.
At school, you would have thought someone would have noticed and called me on it, but this did not happen. Of course, people noticed that I lied most of the time but sadly, I was enabled by their infinite understanding. My school was both the best and the worst place for me. It was great because it furnished me with the home-from-home that I needed and craved because I loathed and suffered in my familial home but all the extra consideration and leniency I merited because of my dire domestic situation worked against me in terms of my mythomania because instead of punishing me for its presentations, I was let off the hook.
Now that I am at university and am receiving a king’s ransom’s worth of help from various campus medical, academic and administrative services, I still find that I lie to people about various things and I get away with it, just because so few people are aware of it and even less aware that I suffer from it. Just as a sidenote, isn’t it an interesting thing to say: I suffer from it? It implies I’m the one who truly suffers from mythomania, and in some ways, I guess I really do, but with that particular ingredient in my cocktail of mental problems, it’s probably everyone I lie to who suffers the most. That realisation is making my heart heavier even as I write but it is true. How despicable I must be that I’m only realising that now!
Of course, I knew I was hurting people with every word but I always thought of myself as the one and only victim. You can all call me stupid now if you like because that is precisely how I’m feeling now. To quote Sherlock: “Off piste a bit, back now, phew!”, and in doing so I return to the topic of awareness of mythomania because I truly believe that if someone during my pubescent years at school would have called me out on it or just realised that it was present, I might have been able to get some help sooner and possibly, just maybe I might have been able to hit it on its proverbial head. As it is now, now that I’m as much of an adult as I am ever likely to be, it feels distinctly like I’ve missed the opportunity. So the moral of this particular paragraph is: don’t enable people who lie because there maybe something more behind it than just artless fibbing.
As I said earlier, this blog is my only completely and entirely point blank honest mode of communicating. That does not mean that everything else I say is false, but I lie in my personal journal, I lie in life, I will most likely discover a rather witty way to lie in death, but I do not lie in blog! Just thought I’d reaffirm that now…seemed like the most prudent thing to do.
On the subject of coming clean and confessing to lies, which is something I have done in the past in order to wipe the slate clean, though it did turn out that all the slate needed was a clean so there was more space to fill with new lies, I would just like to tell you about a bit of a harrowing mini-episode in my life that happened during my sixth form years (I forget which one).
I spent a week truly loathing myself and wallowing in self-pity and pondering my sorry lot and bewailing my existence but at its conclusion I decided that I would come clean and disclose all the untruths I had told in the past ten or so years to all my friends and acquaintances via a Facebook status. Don’t I just wish that somebody, anybody had been aware of my plan so that they could have convinced me not to do such a tomfool thing. Sadly, I don’t have the luxury of a guardian angel – I don’t deserve one – and I let myself in for a world of hurt.
Most people just crucified me on Facebook and let it be online but not bring it up in person, which I was able to cope with as I find trolling and Facebook and/or Youtube and/or Fanfiction.net insults and negative comments fine to cope with as there is no tangible person associated in my mind with the words. There were, however, as there always are in these types of situation, a select few who thought I needed to suffer a bit more. That was a bit more gruelling but the odd, offhand comment calling me a liar walking to and from classes and at breaks wasn’t unbearable – I just hid from people but as a socially anxious person, that was quite agreeable to me.
The worst moment which has stuck in my memory and will permanently be plastered there occurred during one of my French lessons while the teacher was absent. Our French AS level (I’ve remembered!) class was only small, consisting of approximately 7-8 people. A guy who was in my house and whom I knew relatively well decided to reference my mythomania and my revelation just in a dull and unrelated conversation and I swear – slightly hyperbolically – that the shock nearly killed me.
At the very least, I was seconds away from a conniption fit when it happened. I froze. I ceased to exist. I went to my happy place, if you will. I would have completely lost control of my nervous system had one of my best friends at the time not just stood up for me and rebutted that I was actually quite brave in my actions and caused my attacker to shut the hell up quickly. I will never forget the gratitude and shock and relief at that precise moment.
It remains one of the few occasions in my life where a man – or anyone else – has stood up for me and not left me out to dry by myself. The funny thing is: when I thanked him for his chivalry later, he had completely forgotten that he had done it. Just goes to show…
The best thing about university is that although classes can – in select modules – be that size, people respect each other. For, I do my best to appear unapproachable in lecture halls and classrooms because I cannot even contemplate speaking to a stranger without feeling physically sick but everyone is mature enough, respectful enough and more crucially, insightful enough to see and understand that, and then give me a wide berth. That is the great thing about university. People are different, can be different and can be allowed to be different.
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