Imposter Syndrome and Depression

Trigger Warning: This blog deals with depression and Imposter Syndrome. It could be triggering for anyone who has to deal with these two things. If it would be too much for you, I urge you not to read it now, but when you're ready come back. I won't be pulling it down, so it'll be here when you're ready.
Imposter Syndrome, according to Wikipedia "is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud".Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Some studies suggest that impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women." [Emphasis added]

In layman's terms, it's the ever present idea, feeling and mental state that says any successes you achieve are due to blind luck, weren't earned, or are something that you fell into. I have it, hard-core, and always have. Especially when it comes to intellectual work, academic stuff, schooling, or learning (especially self-teaching myself something pertaining to work). I've always been an autodidact, meaning I'm essentially self-taught in just about every skill I use at work, but that doesn't seem to have much meaning.

I often feel as if anyone, literally anyone else, could do my job just as well as I can.

 Some high achieving women with it rely on personal charm or charisma to help them feel less fraudulent; I don't, because I don't feel particularly charming. I often feel that I rely on my intellect-- which I know, logically, is high, or on my ability to mediate and bring the people around me together to complete goals we couldn't otherwise. Peace-making, essentially, soothing egos, being the person who "talks down" everyone else. These skills, honed through years of life, help me feel like I am capable.

 This isn't a good thing, at all!

 While I can usually help another, I can't always help myself. I can sooth and smooth out the edges of other people's personalities so they can better mesh together, but I can't always figure out where my own edges actually lay.

 This isn't because I have no personality-- in fact I have a fairly strong personality, and a sense of self. It means I don't always have the tools to stop myself from letting other's concerns overshadow mine. I let the needs of others mean more to me than my own. 

I think this probably started when I was a child; my siblings have much stronger personalities than I have—this is not a slight against them—I was the bookish oldest kid, precocious and overly educated, so I was often the one to smooth out conflicts. Being a peace maker, in the fundie world, is a Gift of the Spirit, meaning god especially blessed you with this ability. It is relied upon, more than you might think, because fundies, like anyone else, have conflicts, interpersonal and external, just due to the fact that they are humans.

I remember writing in one of my English Comp classes, on the topic, “It’s Crazy-making When I…” I wrote how I felt like I was skating through classes, how they were so easy, that I didn’t even know why I was there, because surely there must be something wrong with me that I wasn’t struggling, didn’t need tutoring for my higher maths class when so many of my peers did. I wrote that I felt like the writing of my portfolio was an exercise in “how many of these things can I crank out in 2 hours’ time”, rather than writing from my heart, and exploring things. It sounds funny, I’m sure, but I agonized over this paper. I felt like I was a fraud; that all the good grades I got didn’t mean anything, because I didn’t have to work for them.

I felt like I was wasting my time, my professors time, and that I didn’t have any right to be in school.
I even took harder maths and science classes, trying to challenge myself. I took summer courses—they’re usually 6 or 8 weeks long; shorter term means more compact classes, longer classes, more homework and more over all work going into them. One of the summer classes I took was Calc, and even with 3 hour classes, twice a week, 6 hours of homework every night, I still felt like a fraud when I walked out of there with a 90%. 

Another class I remember taking, expecting to fail it, and maybe hoping I would, was an American History class that concentrated on the Antebellum period through Reconstruction. I aced it… and I was shocked! This professor was notorious for hard-as-fuck grading, explosively difficult essays and research papers, class discussions that cost you points off, if you didn’t keep up…

I talked long and hard with my Comp professor after that essay; she explained what Imposter Syndrome was, and told me that she would never have graded me highly if I didn’t really earn it. She told me where I could get some help with coping with it, and was a great resource for me there.

So I accepted that sometimes, maybe all the time, I needed to give myself a break, and accept that I actually did do that thing that people liked. That I really did earn that thing; that I did accomplish that other thing.
I still can’t always lobby for myself when I need to, but I know when I’ve done something right, then Goddammit, I did it right! When I know I did a good thing, I can accept the kudos, even if a part of me says they’re out of their minds. I let the part of my head that thinks I’m a big, fat, phony yell itself quiet. Then I go back to working to accept the good things I can do.

What’s this have to do with depression, you’re probably wondering. And frankly, I wondered too, why these two things seem to chase each other in my own head. When I feel particularly imposter-ish, I tend to feel more depressed.

I didn’t take the time to research any correlation between these two things, because I know if I do, I’ll use that as a reason to procrastinate writing this blog. “I have to do it right! Cite everything! Oh, what does this study say!!?” 

That’s not what I need to do right now.

Right now, I’m fighting with my depression. I fell into another cycle about a month ago, maybe 6 weeks now. I didn’t recognize it at first, because I was doing my usual peace-maker thing. I was helping my Honey get recovered from his septum surgery, I was gearing up for school. I was doing all these things. And not one of them was checking in with myself. Not once did I take the time—and I’m sure it was completely on purpose—to see how I was doing.

See, I’m good at helping, especially when I’m depressed. If I can make you feel better, encourage you, making things better—then I don’t have to take inventory with myself. I don’t have the energy, time or desire to check in, to sit myself down for my “how are we doing” pep talks. And I’m going to admit it, freely—It’s so much easier to help someone else, than it is to help yourself. To look into that darkness of your own mind, to see the velvet blackness, that welcoming oblivion of depression, that self-hatred and self-directed anger, that hopelessness, that utter feeling of helplessness. 

Fuck that! I’d rather deal with someone else’s shit. I’d rather help them dig into their own darkness, to see the breakthrough of sunlight! Because a part of me, most of me, knows that my own inner self doesn’t have those. Me and my Peanut Gallery can’t sit down, plumb “our” depths and see that ray of sunshine coming through.
Rather, “we” fall into the darkness, head first into that silence. We fall down, down, down, never stopping, floating in a nothingness of dark. We feel the self-hatred, the worthlessness. The voices of our demons telling us we’re nothing, never have been, never will be. We see the hate reflected in our eyes. We see the hopelessness in our faces. We see the emptiness in our… our everything.

And every day, everything looks ok on the outside. I’m a high-functioning Depressive, you see. Even when I hate myself, when I can’t believe there’s anything about me that is redeemable, I can still get out of bed, get to work early (10 min early is right on time), get to class, get dinner made, plan the grocery shopping, keep up with the cats and the kids. I can do all these things.

You probably wouldn’t see that I’m drinking a little more, because it’s not happening. If it is, it’s 1 beer on 2 nights a week, rather than once a week. I still go see my friends, I force myself to get out, to do things, even when I want to crawl into bed and never leave.

Even though I’m out, though, I don’t care. I don’t care about you, or me, or anything. I can’t feel anything.
Literally, cannot feel anything.

I’ll have flashes of laughter, and I can still have fun, even though it takes so much energy out of me. But overall, I can’t feel. It hurts too much.

I don’t self-harm. Never have. I can’t tell you if it’s because of the pervasive numbness, or if it’s because I just don’t have the energy to do it. I don’t know if it’s because I do have some coping mechanisms that kick in when I can’t feel. 

All the while I’m dealing with my demons, fighting them back, yet again, armour dented, heart broken, I can hear that voice… the one that tells me it doesn’t matter anyway, because I’m just a fraud. That nothing I’ve done is worth anything anyway, just give up.

That I haven’t rescued hundreds of kittens, including orphans, and brought a couple back from almost dead.
That I didn’t write grants for 2 years, bringing in just over $40,000.

That I didn’t really get into the University of Arizona’s CALS and Honours College based on my amazing grades, but was—you know, they felt sorry for me.

That I can’t write a damned thing that’s coherent.

That I can’t even cook decent mac and cheese.

That I’m a shitty friend.

That I’m worthless—except for my organs, maybe.

That I might as well give up, and live in this fog of self-hate forever.

That I’m a shitty parent and mentor.

That I a fundamentally unlovable and anyone who does care about me must not know me.

That I should just stop.

This is where I’ve been. Fighting against an instinct in my own fucking head. Fighting against a part of myself so deep and intrinsic it’s like trying to remove my own heart and lungs, and still go on. Fighting against everything, just to feel something more than nothing. Just to stop hurting.

This is where Imposter Syndrome and Depression intersect for me. My inner demons drag out all of my accomplishments and downgrade them. This contributes to the downward spiral, adding more fuel to the darkness.

So I’ve taken some time lately to really love myself. I’m getting better, but I know I’m not there yet. I’ve always been a fighter, a brave Warrior Woman, and that’s where I am today.

I don’t hate myself all the time. Only a little bit.

I don’t feel hopeless or helpless every moment, but I do have flashes of it, and have to work so it doesn’t overwhelm me.

I haven’t been myself at work, I know; that peace maker has taken a couple weeks off, and I don’t think I’ll be picking that mantle back up. I just don’t want to be anyone’s Mummy right now. My kids are old enough I don’t have to Mummy them, and I just can’t do it at work anymore. This weight has to stay off my shoulders if I’m to get better.

I know that I’m doing my best, and that has to be enough. That has to be good enough, whether I like it or not. I have to accept that my best is just that: My Fucking Best!

I’m not an imposter, and I’m trying really hard to impress that on myself. 

I’m a capable woman, with a hellova load of shit going on all the time. I have school, work, family, cats, rescue and everything else I do. I have outreach and education that I do with one of my hobbies; I have photography sessions that I do for another. I have lots of love for my kitties, including the one who needs meds and fluids. I have homework, and studying I have to do. I have to run a household. I have work to do, numbers to crunch, emails to send, information to collate. I have to love myself, every day, and accept that I’m a flawed human, with hopes, dreams, loves and a sense of humour that’s so dry I probably need to stand in a bucket of water.

And I’m still doing it, to my eternal surprise. I’m still making it.

How the fuck did that happen?! I want to ask, but give me a second to re-read that paragraph I just wrote. I write this blog for me, too, see. To say things to myself, in the harsh light of pixelated text, that I wouldn’t listen to, if I said it aloud.

I have to love myself.

Every Day.

Please bear with me while I keep working on this. And if you’re working on it, I’ll bear with you. Together we’ll hold each other up, in a long, loving, supportive chain of friends, and acceptance. 

First, today, I’m working to accept myself.


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