There is one fictional character that I want to be real more than any other: Lying Cat from the comic book series, Saga, by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples.
Lying Cat is not pretty.
But Lying Cat has a special ability: she can tell, definitively, when anyone is lying — lying to others, but also, and even more powerfully, lying to oneself.
She accompanies a bounty hunter, The Will, who makes use of this ability in his work: she’s able to call out his potential employers and any leads he interrogates on any lies they may be trying to get away with. It’s satisfying to watch this.
And entertaining when Lying Cat catches The Will.
But Lying Cat proves her true power after The Will rescues Slave Girl (later named Sophie) from her sex traffickers. For two panels, she’s talking to Lying Cat, telling her all kinds of things: “My name is Sophie. I am six and a half years old. I can stand on one leg for a real long time. My favorite color is blue-green. I want to be a doctor or a dancer when I grow up.” Throughout this, Lying Cat remains silent. And then there’s this:
And Sophie knows she is not all dirty inside because of what was done to her. Because Lying Cat’s supernatural ability is definitive.
* * * *
I just came from a funeral for a 17-year-old classmate of my children, a young woman who took her own life. It was an amazing service, full of tears, and singing, and telling of emotional truths.
But I couldn’t help thinking about the lies that young woman had to believe in order to kill herself, lies that came from her own mind — that it’d be better if she weren’t here, that the pain would never go away, that there was no hope, or whatever she was telling herself. And I couldn’t help thinking of the kids at the funeral who were currently or had been suicidal; I know there were some.
How wonderful it would be to give each of them a Lying Cat to follow them around, who they’d believe when it said, “That thought is a lie.”
The lies of depression are so enticing, because they often involve a truth. With Slave Girl/Sophie, she felt dirty because of all the things done to her, but she, as a person, was not worthless because of it. When I’ve been in the grip of depression, it always felt like I was telling myself deep truths about my reality, but they were only ever half-truths. Which means they were half-lie.
Here are some truths that speak to the lies of depression:
You are not worthless.
You are not ruined.
You can get through it.
It does get better.
There is hope.
It won’t be easier for everyone if you are gone.
It’s not all your fault.
You are loved and treasured and valued.
You are worth the effort.
But I’m not Lying Cat, I’m just a random grown-up, so my words don’t carry the weight of a supernatural ability. I’m a grieving grown-up in the grips of some magical thinking, imagining that if we could give Lying Cat to each suicidal teenager, it would make a difference.
It’s a lovely fantasy. The reality is much tougher. We have to be Lying Cat for each other. But we have an advantage over Lying Cat, because we have a greater vocabulary. We can not only identify a lie, we can also tell the truth. We have to tell the full truth to each other, and tell it often enough that we start to believe it.