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Today I was reading a Brain Pickings article entitled Harvard Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy on Mastering the Antidote to Anxiety, Self-Consciousness, and Impostor Syndrome and the titular syndrome struck a note with me. I had never heard of it before, or at least it flew under my radar with the abundance of “syndromes” so commonly name dropped on the internet. However, in the description I recognized something that I do to myself near constantly. Wikipedia describes the thought process as an “inability to internalize… accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as ‘fraud'” in high-achieving individuals. Cuddy paints the picture that “[b]efore we even show up at the doorstep of an opportunity, we are teeming with dread and anxiety, borrowing trouble from a future that hasn’t yet unfolded.”

Now, to say “I suffer from this syndrome” is far too dramatic, but there is certainly something to the research in that I can actually describe and pinpoint a chronic problem in thought patterns, a huge benefit in the ongoing process of tackling my day-to-day anxiety. I’ve briefly (haha) talked about my generalized anxiety before, but what’s really important is that this is something that so many people deal with all the time, even at a far smaller scope than some of these articles describe. Many of them name celebrities and historical geniuses, but really we all have our successes and our achievements, and some of us cannot accept them.

I instinctively recoil at the idea of calling myself a “high-achieving individual,” but in absolute honesty, for the young person that I am, I have had a fair amount of success alongside the trials. I’ve always been a good worker, driven to academic achievement by Type A energy, obtaining extremely high grades throughout the entirety of my schooling. I’ve almost always had a job, and worked myself hard at my jobs. On a professional level, I have always received great teacher evaluations and feedback. I’ve managed to live in nice places, exactly where I wanted. I have strong and supportive long-term relationships.

I feel bad writing that stuff out. Every day, my brain tells me that I am not very intelligent, I don’t know anything really. I’m not a good writer or thinker. The jobs I’ve had are pathetic—I quit my somewhat decent teaching job to become a substitute teacher, the opposite order in which this should work. I am barraged constantly with the thought that I am not a good teacher, that I am a quack, a fake, and I’m shocked no one has called me out on my many professional failures. When people tell me I don’t look like a teacher (I’m short, young), I interpret this as them seeing through my facade. I think people don’t like me, that I’m annoying, intolerable. These constant doubts, anxieties, do affect me. I can’t recount the number of times I’ve faltered in a situation, lost my nerve because of them.

In short, I always feel like a faker—I am not successful, and it’s wrong for me to ever even think this. Others will know.

I’m self-aware enough to recognize my strengths and shortcomings, the reality of the situation (obviously I can always improve in every way), the false thoughts my brain comes up with. The problem is the internalization. No matter how sensible I can be when I am, say, writing, my constantly ticking mind is never at ease, spinning out criticism after criticism, insecurity after the next, and these do affect my life severely.

I dig holes. One thought leads to another, and before I know it, I’m miserable at the bottom of the hole chewing on my lip. I have a good morning the next day, but then fall into another hole.

So how do we internalize our success? Allow ourselves to own our successes, whatever type they may be?

The Brain Pickings article states:  “At the heart of Cuddy’s research is the idea that the opposite of powerlessness, that ultimate fuel of impostor syndrome, isn’t power but what she terms presence — the ability to inhabit and trust the integrity of one’s own values, feelings, and capabilities.” A Forbes article on the problem says: “But just as we must take responsibility for our failures in life, we must also take responsibility for our successes. Minimizing them serves no-one.”

Whatever may help, the key to accomplish an overcoming of this impostor feeling must be practice and cultivation. Every time I think I am a fraud, I must also remember that in my own way, in my own life, I am a success. It’s not the same cookie cutter success that I see in others, or expected for myself, but success nonetheless.

If I can remember that, think that more often, then maybe I can become the type of person I want to be. I’m beginning to accept that simple agonizing phrase “fake it ’til you make it,” though there are far more layers to it, aren’t there?

anais_debbie1

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If you could not be on the verge of panic for a little while, wouldn’t that be nice? But it’s never quite that easy. It’s always been something like, a lack of sleep, and seeking a solution for this problem, going on the Prozac which makes you sleepy all the time, covered in life’s slime, then to Wellbutrin, which gives you energy but whispers in your ear that your life is ending. It’s always—some nagging issue, some faulty treatment, eternal discontent.

When you have sleep mastered for a while, you get up and face all those little problems you can’t manage to fucking solve. You walk down the halls at work and the pies are just smashing you in the face. You feel like a joke, but you’re actually just doing your job and being a good contributing member to society. But your brain isn’t convinced. If things were okay, then, well, wouldn’t you be gushing with serenity and happiness like, you know, those—those people? Wouldn’t you know?

You try to force your mind into a Zen state, then you remember that you can’t be forceful with Zen and your mind should be settling down like a leaf falling to the ground or some shit. Not forced into observant appreciation. Then there’s some shit with breathing. You ask about how to dissolve your anxiety, and the doctor gives you a little machine that hooks up to your finger and tells you about your heart rate.

YOUR HEART RATE IS TOO FAST. SLOW DOWN. COME ON. DO IT. DO IT NOW. RELAX. INHALE, EXHALE, FUCK!

Shouldn’t that be easy? Breathing?

You call your mom, because you want to have this amazing relationship with her where you appreciate her for the role she’s played in your life, and love her unconditionally which you somehow need to do because your soul is just making you. She is tired. You haven’t talked to her in two weeks but she asks you what’s new like she’d rather be doing something else. She tells you to just call her every now and then to update her. This isn’t the close relationship you were looking for, but it’s something and you should appreciate that but you only want to share everything with her. Some point in your life you probably screwed this dynamic up, back when you were a teenager and despised her for the way she thought, and your early 20s where you just ignored her.

Damn it. This is going to become never-ending regret.

You go to work and several people there decide to sit across from you and talk about how young you look. You look so young, your eyes are all big and bright even though you’re terrified, you’re probably dressing wrong or something. Their eyes look you up and down and you can see them actively judging you in your presence and you don’t even care enough to look at them closely and judge them back. They’re not even interesting people. They like the same sports teams as everyone else and town, like the same shows, go to the same stores, talk about the same memories. This is harsh of you, but they are looking at your stomach to see how much you weigh.

You can see where their eyes are pointing.

You try to go home, and someone swoops down on you and demands to know what your life choices have been thus far. What is your job? What is your job? WHAT IS YOUR MOTHERFUCKING LINE OF WORK? Then they try to empathize with this line of work, give their opinion on it, they’ll ask where you’re from and you’ll say it, for the thousandth fucking time—

Sports teams? Sports teams? Sports teams?

Then out of nowhere this person will make fun of the things you care about the most in the world, making jokes, bad jokes. You’ll be fumbling to find the right key, but they all look sort of the same. You just need to stick a key in the doorknob and go home but this person wants to tell you exactly what they think about everything and zero in on choice details in your life to try to turn into jokes. This person thinks they’re great. They’re fun to be around! You all need to hang out.

You’re worried about sleep. All those interactions stuck little needles in your brain, marking where the insecurities and neuroses are. You try to ignore those points, nope, not looking at them, you are looking away, you are listening to this—humming of the fan! Crickets outside! But then you’re back to those needles again, pulling them out of your brain and sticking them back in.

You’re worried about sleep. Sleep will make everything better, yes, that’s the solution. Then it’s dawn and you spent the whole night running laps around that thought.

You’re working things out. Slowly. When this is all resolved, you’ll know

                                                     Hope Gangloff

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