The Insidious Return of Impostor Syndrome

Photo by Ibolya Toldi on Pexels.com

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.

Chasing Waterfalls.

In wilful defiance of TLC’s advice, we spent today chasing waterfalls. Thankfully, though, we were visiting real waterfalls rather than metaphorical ones. 

It was great to get out in the sunshine and fresh air, and to enjoy a change of scenery after months of social restrictions and another term of teaching from home. 

I visited both Nigretta Falls and Wannon Falls near Hamilton, Victoria, with my bestie in July, but my husband hadn’t been there before, so it was nice to be able to visit with him. 

Western Victoria has had a lot of rain the past couple of weeks, so the falls were both far more spectacular than they were in July. The volume of water at Nigretta Falls actually made it look completely different than it did just a few months ago. Wannon Falls had more water, but still looked much the same. 

While watching the water cascading over Wannon Falls and flowing away, I spotted one resilient little tree growing in the river. It is barely visible in the bottom corner of the image above, but it’s there.

I thought about how the river just washes around it and keeps going, but rather than being washed away, that little tree stands its ground. The rocks around it may give it some protection and reduce the drag of the water, but even so, it must have very good roots. 

It occurred to me that I am a bit like that tree. 

This year has been a powerful and relentless river, and the last four months in particular have swollen that river with a lot of extra rain.  I’ve learned to stand my ground and, to purposefully allow many of the pressures of life to just pass me by. I’ve had to. My priority has been to just hang on and try to not get completely overwhelmed and washed away.

Chances are, without the rocks around me, I might have been broken or got washed away. I am so thankful for those people who have supported and protected me. I’m thankful for the powerful roots and protective rocks of faith, family and friends who have held me and sheltered me, each one of them helping to deflect the water in their own way.  

Hopefully, the floodwaters will recede soon and both that little tree and I can start to grow and flourish rather than merely surviving.

Chasing Waterfalls.
#LifeLessons #thoughts #grief #resilience

Published again!

So, after spending a November on the very attractive pages of Yours & Mine magazine, my work is now gracing the pages of The Australia Times Poetry Magazine!

So, after spending a November on the very attractive pages of Yours & Mine magazine, my work is now gracing the pages of The Australia Times Poetry Magazine!

The amazing editors there have given me a great bio and a three page spread for my poem, ‘The Sea’, enhanced by some lovely photography, on pages 22-25 of Issue 24.

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It’s always a thrill to find out someone likes something that I’ve written. That kind of connection is why writers write, and why artists paint, sculpt and create.
Can you imagine my excitement when I saw the beautiful treatment they’ve given my poem?

I hope you’ll take the time to click through and read my poem.

Of course, my poem isn’t really just about the sea. It uses the sea, and the shore, as an allegory for depression and anxiety. The poem itself is about living with and through that, and surviving.

TAT Poetry is a great magazine every month, and I am really honoured to be featured in it!

I’d also really appreciate it if you’d share it around on twitter, facebook, or your other preferred social media.

Exhibiting the Courage to Care

Today I was privileged to accompany 45 students on a visit to the Courage to Care exhibition in Portland.

We heard the personal story of a man named Harry, a Holocaust survivor from Poland. Harry’s story was incredibly powerful. So were the tears he shed while telling it. You couldn’t help but be moved by this first-hand account of the terrible things that were done during World War II. 

Courage to Care exists because they are passionate about telling many, many stories just like Harry’s. Given that we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, they know that it won’t be long before there are no survivors left to tell their stories to the generations that follow them. 

  

The message is not just about the Holocaust. It’s a message against any form of prejudice, hatred, intolerance or bullying. Differences between people are only ever superficial; underneath our skin, we’re all the same. 

Everyone who visits the exhibition is encouraged to be “Upstanders, not Bystanders”. It’s hard to leave without experiencing the conviction that you will never accept or condone discrimination again.

I cried as Harry told his story, not just for Harry but for every family who lived through the same thing. I cried for parents who lost children, children who lost parents, and siblings who lost each other.  

I cried again when I read the stories of two families in Rotterdam who worked with the Dutch Resistance and help save Jewish people from the Nazis. They almost certainly knew my grandfather, who worked for the Dutch Reaistance throughout the war, and was personally hunted by the Nazis as a result. 

   

My Opa told me stories about his experiences during the war when I was a young girl reading books like ‘The Hiding Place’ and The Diary of Anne Frank’. They were always very serious and quite emotional conversations. It was very important to him that I understood how important it is to oppose evil and to stand against hatred.

He told me more of his story when I was a little older and studying history. I guess he thought I could handle more of the horrible truth then. It certainly made my studies more personally relevant.

 It also explained why he would leave the room or turn the TV off whenever there was a scene where German soldiers marched or where Hitler addressed the crowd. I don’t know why I hadn’t made that connection before, but after that, I could not watch those scenes without thinking about how powerfully real and haunting it still was for him and, doubtless, everyone else who had survived it. I was very privileged today to meet Harry, to shake his hand and talk with him. I told him about my grandfather and the connection with the stories displayed in the exhibition, and cried again. He hugged me and we shed tears together.

Honestly, I’ve never been such a sook in public. The whole experience was very moving, and not just because it made me think about my grandfather. 

I saw the students responding in a similarly emotional way. They spoke up about bullying, booing at footballers, and the way different ethnic groups in Australia are perceived and treated. One of my students, a young man who generally seems to have not a care in the world, had tears in his eyes, just like I did. 

I saw the light in the eyes of the Courage to Care members as they were inspired by the responses of the young people in front of them. The conversations were serious and sombre. 

Every student took a wristband and put it on immediately, proud to be an Upstander. 

There is hope yet for our nation and our world. Young or old, we can make a stand against hatred and vilification.

All that is needed is the courage to care and to stand up for what is right.