Over the past couple of weeks, I have been an unwilling host to an enormous case of impostor syndrome.
This post is not a plea for reassurance or confidence.
Nor is it an accusation against anyone else.
Rather, it is an honest, soul-wrenching confession of someone who doesn’t want to be a fake, but at times desperately fears she might be.
I may well be a poet and author, but I haven’t managed to write much at all in the past few months. I have a collection of poems edited and ready for publication, and I can’t quite seem to manage that next step. Part of that is being extraordinarily busy — the other part is fear that it won’t be welcomed or appreciated by readers.
The play I have been co-directing for Camperdown Theatre Company has been in full swing of rehearsals, set design and construction, venue preparation and various other elements of production and promotion.
My co-director is sensational, and the cast, crew and set are all excellent. My doubts keep telling me that they would all have done just as fine a job without me.
I have a three-quarters-written blog post that I have been working on for a couple of weeks now I know what I want to say, I just haven’t had time to write it. This has been a source of both frustration and disappointment, particularly given that it involves two of my favourite things: words and Shakespeare!
A good proportion of the demands on my time over recent weeks has come from a considerable increase in my teaching load, which arose without warning and with some urgency: unexpected events meant that the school needed people to step up, so I did. That my boss asked me to do it demonstrated confidence in my ability and professionalism. I know I am a good teacher, but I’m not feeling that way at the moment. I have been so stressed and stupidly exhausted lately that I feel like I am continually not quite keeping up.
All of this combines to play on my insecurities and doubts about myself.
Last week I hit a real low— I knew it was happening, I could recognise it for what it was and analyse it as it was happening, but I could neither stop it nor escape it. And the barbs came thick and fast:
You’re a fake.
Give up now – nobody will even notice. Your poetry sucks anyway. Nobody would miss you if you didn’t show up. As if anyone actually wants to be with you.
You’re a terrible friend.
All you do is hurt people.
You’re so selfish – thinking about your own feelings instead of what others need.
You’re useless.Do you even know what you’re doing?
Maybe that student is right: you’re a terrible teacher and a horrible person.
Pathetic, feeling sorry for yourself like this. Who do you think you’re kidding?
A day as lousy as this is exactly what you you had coming.
It has been quite awful. The emotions that rage within me at these times are raw and powerful, but they are also subtle and stealthy in the ways that they lurk in the dark corners, preying subtly on every raw nerve ending and every perceived failure. The tears have often been close to the surface, and have been quickly blinked back each time they threaten to overflow. The sense of powerlessness has been overwhelming.
On one level, I know those accusations are not true but, at the same time, it honestly feels as though they are. The more my brain says those things, the more believable they become.
I also know from previous experience that it won’t last. It may come and go, but it’s not permanent.
That doesn’t make getting through it any easier, though.
Because … what if it *is* true?
That’s the fear that keeps me from confessing how I feel until afterwards. Even if I told someone, any reassurance they gave me would be met with the doubt that they might just be saying it for my benefit. I would continue to doubt the legitimacy of any encouragement they might give me. So, I just hold on and wait for it to pass. So how do I weather this kind of storm?
I have got through it with the support and encouragement of a few key people who remind me that I am valued, loved and wanted.
They have helped me in small ways to do what I needed to do, often without realising they were doing that. None of them knew the truth of how I have been feeling.
Support from a colleague helped me walk into the next classroom.
A message from a family member asking hopefully if I was leaving work and coming home soon reassured me that I was missed, and would be welcomed when I got there.
A little kiss on my forehead and ‘I love you’ from my niece reminded me that I didn’t have to prove anything to her.
The sensitive empathy of my dog demonstrated, like she has done so many other times, that love is sometimes as unconditional as it should be.
A kind word of appreciation from a couple of different cast members made me feel valued, despite my doubts.
Once again, all those things demonstrated that I don’t need to be able to control the storm. I just need to be able to know where I can find shelter.
Author’s Note: the fact that I have posted this means that I have started to come out the other side of this negativity. I’m okay.