The Insidious Return of Impostor Syndrome

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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.

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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.

Birthday.

April 20th is the anniversary of the birth of both my grandfather and my niece. While my grandfather is no longer with us to celebrate his birthday, we will have dinner and cake tonight in honour of my niece. 

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The word birthday dates back to the late 14th century, having come from the Old English word byrddæg which meant the anniversary or celebration of one’s birth. At that time, though, it was usually used to commemorate the birth of s very important people, such as kings or saints. Regular folk did not commonly speak of the day on which they were born as their birthday until the 1570s, and about fifty years later they also spoke of their birthnight.

Author’s note: I am disappointed that we no longer speak about our birthnight. I was born at 7pm on a Thursday, and I could really make a thing of saying “tonight is my birthnight!” all day, and “last night was my birthnight!” on the morrow.

By Shakespeare’s time, observation of one’s own birthday was far more commonplace. Not only does Cleopatra acknowledge her own birthday in Antony and Cleopatra, so does the Roman senator Cassius in Julius Caesar V.i: “This is my birthday; as this very day / Was Cassius born.”
In Pericles II.i the first of three fishermen with whom Pericles discusses the king, Simonides, observes that it the king “hath a fair daughter, and tomorrow is her birthday, and there are princes and knights come from all parts of the world to joust and tourney for her love.” This shows that celebrating or at least making note of one’s own birthday was something understood by the regular folk who made up most of Shakespeare’s audiences in the late 1590s and early 1600s.

The tradition of birthday cake also came from Germany in early modern times: presumably as people started to observe their own birthdays, they started celebrating with special food as they had long done for kings’ and saints’ days. By the 1800s, the German tradition of Kinderfest was fully established. This involved presenting the birthday child with a cake topped with candles — one for each year of their life, plus one in the middle of the cake to represent life— which would be kept burning all day, and replaced as they burned down. This was done because they believed people were more vulnerable to evil spirits on their birthdays, and the burning candles would ward those spirits off. After dinner, the cake was presented again, with the candles still burning. The child would make a wish and blow out the candles, with the smoke rising to heaven to keep the evil spirits away once the candles had been extinguished. Then the cake would be shared among the family.

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This is very similar to what many people do today, albeit without the religious superstition and all-day candle burning.

Sources:
Etymonline
Etymologeek
Candles, Wishes, and the History Behind Our Birthday Cake Traditions
Why Do We Eat Birthday Cake?

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Birthday.
#history #etymology #tradition

The Man With A Walking Stick

It’s funny how one minute you can be having quite a good day, and then something happens that makes you stop and realise how much you really miss someone. 

This afternoon I was parked by the river, having some downtime before my theatre company rehearsals tonight, and enjoying the filtered sunlight through the trees and the breeze blowing off the river. 

Image by icsilviu from Pixabay

An older gentlemen with a cane walked past me. He was tall but a bit bent over, quite well dressed but too thin for his trousers, and he walked along the path almost shuffling gait of someone who is no longer quite confident about where to put his feet. Lots of things about that remind me of my father; what moved me most, though, was the way he swung his cane as he walked: just like Dad used to, not so much relying on the cane like he was supposed to, but rather using it as a fashion accessory. 

It was just a little thing, but I couldn’t hold back the tears. I suddenly wanted more than anything else to be able to hug my dad and tell him I love him. In that turn of a moment, the sense of loss was so profound, and the tears are still flowing as I type.

My head tells me I am being silly, but my heart is telling me that it hasn’t healed yet. 

In a few minutes it will be time to dry my tears and head off down the highway. I’ll be fine by the time I am there, but I won’t forget the man with the cane. I don’t know who he is, but I hope he is as loved cherished, and well-cared-for as my dad was. 

Thank You… I Think

It hurts when someone who we think should love and/or appreciate us does not.
It’s also a fact of life that not everyone is going to like, appreciate or love us.  After all, we don’t like, appreciate or love absolutely everyone else, do we?

This poem expresses the truth of that, but also adds a positive spin: when we accept that and grow through it, we become stronger. When we are true to ourselves, we find the people who do love and appreciate us, and they become our tribe.

Family isn’t just who you are born to, or the people connected to that group in one way or another. Sometimes, the best family is the one you find while being the person you are meant to be.

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How ironic
That you don’t like it
When I stand up for myself:
You’re the one
Whose weapon words
Gave me real-time training
In the art of self defence.
Had I not learned
To deflect your contempt
And resist your hateful words,
I would not be here today.

You prompted my resistance,
Inspired my defiance,
And forced my indifference
To anything else you have to say.

So thank you, I think,
For helping me become someone others like
Infinitely more than you do.

ⓒ2020 Joanne Van Leerdam

Thank You… I Think
#poem #Poetuit

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Tattoo

Today is new tattoo day.

My new ink.

This tattoo honours my late father, my family, and my unique identity within it. My family’s surname is Dutch: Groenenboom, which translates to ‘green tree’.

I am thankful to be starting the new year by doing something to deeply meaningful. It is a positive way of acknowledging those who have passed, including my dad and my beloved cousin six months ago, those who remain and are still flourishing, and my connection to them all.

I spent months choosing the tree design, as there are myriad options available and many are gorgeous. I chose this one because it symbolises strength, beauty and grace. The maple leaf represents me, obviously— unique among the other leaves, but strongly connected and coming from the same source.

I am so proud that this symbol is now part of me.

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#language #words #blog

The word tattoo is interesting because the one word has two completely different sets of meanings that have come from entirely distinct sources.

That makes it a homophone, a homograph, and a homonym all at the same time: as it is pronounced and spelt identically for each of its various meanings.

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#language #words #blog

Tattoo.
#tattoo #tattooart #symbolism

Christmas Eve, Without You.

I’m usually a real kid about Christmas. It’s one of my favourite times of year.

This year, though, I’ve really had to try hard to muster my Christmas mojo, and I’m not sure I really succeeded.

Christmas Eve was particularly hard this year. I felt so disconnected and indifferent, and I didn’t know what to do with that.

My response was the same as always: write something!

Verbalising these feelings helped me deal with them. They were — and are
— still there, but I have been able to relax and let them coexist in counterbalance with my enjoyment of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Today is what today is. My feelings are what they are. It’s all part of the process of grieving and moving forward and reconciling conflicting emotions while continuing to live.

Image by PeggyChoucair on Pixabay.

Joy is elusive this Christmas Eve,
Anticipation is aloof.
The empty chair, the missing gift,
The place not set at the table,
All murmur a silent, sorrowful chorus
Like a incantation, warding off
The overruling spirit of the season.
The magic of tinsel, baubles and tree
Cannot dispel the indifference
Cast by Memory and Grief as they linger,
Neither out of sight nor mind
Amid the coloured lights and carolling
On Christmas Eve without you.

ⓒ2020 Joanne Van Leerdam

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Writing It Instead Of Carrying It

When this image appeared on my Instagram feed this morning, my immediate response was “Yes!”

Image text: Remember. If you are not speaking it, you are storing it, and that gets heavy. Christina Isobel.
I don’t know who created this image. I acquired it via Instagram.

This is why I have been writing and posting poetry and blog posts to help me deal with my feelings about my first Christmas without two very special people in my life, my father and one of my closest friends, both of whom passed away within five days at the end of June.

I have been doing everything I can to make Christmas joyful. Part of that has been working through my feelings and accepting the changes in life that have happened in this mixed up and turbulent year.

It is not that I have no joy or excitement. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to celebrate or focus on the positives in life. It means I need to works out how to manage the shades of guilt I experience when I feel joy, and the weight of sorrow at the very same time as enjoying the lightness of excitement and anticipation.

I fully realise that Christmas is very different for many, many people this year. Lockdowns, halted travel plans and distance have made sure of that. Like me, many people are grieving. Others are facing different sets of challenging circumstances.

The fact is, though, that it is my life that I am living. I have to manage my grief and work out how to balance things for myself. Nobody else can do it for me, and it has to be done. To refuse or fail to deal with my feelings isn’t healthy.

So, I write poetry and blog posts. I blurt my feelings and ideas down onto the page, then shape and craft them into something that both expresses how I feel and lets  others in similar situations know that they are not alone, and that their feelings are not wrong or abnormal.

That is my Christmas gift to the grieving people of the world; empathy, understanding and the room to feel as they do without judgment.

Writing It Instead of Carrying It
#emotions #grief #WritingCommunity

With Love, Me.

I wrote this poem not just for myself, but also for my family and friends who are really feeling the absence of a loved one this Christmas.

I don’t think it requires any explanation. I just wanted to share it with you here.

As always, any feedback is greatly appreciated.

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67 Years.

This morning, my sister and I visited Mum and Dad’s grave on the 67th anniversary of their marriage.

On this date, every year since 2011, I have been purposeful in spending quality time with Dad as he spent the anniversary without Mum. He often had some tears, as did I, and we would talk about family times and happy memories. There would invariably be coffee and cake involved at some point of the day.

This year, Mum and Dad are together again, and we are without them both for the first time.

Instead of coffee and cake, we went out for breakfast together before heading up to the pretty little cemetery on top of the hill.

Nature blessed us with a beautiful morning: sunshine, blue sky, white fluffy clouds, and a light breeze. The grass is starting g to cover the grave now, so it looks less  fresh and confronting. Still, it was the first time my sister, brother-in-law and husband had been back to the grave since the day of Dad’s funeral, so in that respect it was harder for them than for me.  I quite like cemeteries, and I have been back to visit Mum and Dad’s grave on several occasions. 

Neither my sister nor I had a big howly cry, which we wouldn’t be ashamed to admit because we have both done it several times before, but we both had some tears. We’re not ashamed of those, either. Crying is healthy, and so is owning your emotions.

Christmas won’t be the same this year. For the first time in our lives, we will be doing it without our father. I haven’t bought boxes of chocolate-coated ginger or liquorice allsorts for the first time in decades.

It’s all kind of weird, and it hurts, but we are doing our best to make it positive and memorable. Before visiting the cemetery, we went out for breakfast with our husbands. We bought a little Christmas poinsettia, which Mum always loved, to decorate their grave instead of taking fresh flowers this time.

Most importantly, my sister and I are spending Christmas together. I am so enormously thankful that, after months of lockdown and closed state borders, she and my brother-in-law can be here.

There are gifts under the tree, plans for special meals and treats, and neither of us has to navigate the first Christmas as orphans on our own. Our other siblings and my nieces can’t be with us, but they will be with family. We will video call and spend time together that way. It’s not perfect, but it beats not being together at all.

As I observed in my post on Dad’s birthday, the firsts are hard. There are so many feelings, and it can be challenging to know how to mark the date without being morose. It’s good to honour the memories, but the fear of people thinking you spend too much time in Memoryville or Griefland is real.

Will they want to read another Facebook post or blog about it? The fact is, some won’t, and that’s okay. At the same time, there are plenty of others who will. We are not the only ones grieving for a loved one for the first time this Christmas.

It matters to me, and to them, that we know we are not alone in our feelings, nor are we weird or wrong for feeling the way we do. It’s completely natural, and the best thing to do is acknowledge it: cry and laugh when we need to, retell the family stories, share memories, and deal with it in the most positive and constructive ways we can.

It’s also important to be deliberate about creating new memories and treasuring our time together, so that we make this first Christmas as merry and bright as we can.

Yet Another Reason Why I Love Where I Live.

Our local council has created this gorgeous candlelight memorial for all the people in our local government area  of Corangamite Shire who have passed away in 2020.

Most of these people‘a families were very limited in how many they could have at the funeral. The way we have mourned and comforted one another has had to change. Our ability to travel and see each other has been limited or, at times, impossible.

Gestures like this help us to feel less alone, and to know that our loved ones are remembered. It’s very touching that the community as a whole is able to acknowledge their absence from the towns and social circles in which they lived.

There are 129 lights burning through the night. That’s 129 families like mine that have been changed forever. And, I’m sure, it’s 129 families who appreciate the thoughtfulness of a local government that thinks beyond budgets and logistics to stop for as long as it takes to light 129 candles, and invite the community to stop, remember and reflect.

My sister and I went to see the memorial tonight, to pay tribute to our dad and to share the sight with our family interstate via video.

Thank you to the Corangamite Shire and the local community members who helped make this happen. It is very much appreciated.