Trigger Warning – depression and mental illness will be discussed in the following post.
Impostor Syndrome. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Who am I kidding – if you’re a writer in the Writing Community on Twitter, you’ve heard someone use the phrase at least once. Maybe you’ve even used it yourself.
Impostor Syndrome, also known as “Impostor Phenomenon,” is not an official diagnosis listed in the DSM or recognized by the American Psychological Association, but professionals in the field of psychology view it as a very real thing that people experience. Explained simply, Impostor Syndrome is used to describe anyone “who isn’t able to internalize and own their successes.”
The pros also break down patterns for the phenomenon, such as “perfectionists,” “experts,” “natural genius,” “soloists,” and “supermen/superwomen,” Though no reason has been found for specifically why people experience it, personality traits such as anxiety and neuroticism may play a role. Further theorizing goes into the nature vs. nurture debate, institutionalized discrimination (some minority groups may be particularly susceptible), and a lack of a sense of belonging, as factors.
No one really knows, it seems, why this phenomenon presents itself–or why it seems to be so widespread. However, it’s important to note that lack of self confidence and Impostor Syndrome are distinctly different issues.
Impostor Syndrome is about not being able to internalize and own successes–things a person has achieved through talent, hard work, and perseverance.
Lack of self confidence is about feelings that a person doesn’t have enough talent or lacks the ability to achieve something in the first place.
The two are often confused.
Regardless, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced Impostor Syndrome because I’ve never felt like a fraud for people liking something I’ve done. I know all of the blood, sweat, tears, lack of sleep, and disregard for my own health that have gone into a lot of my work. So…while I sometimes am surprised by *how much* some people like a particular work of mine, I don’t feel like a fraud for it being enjoyed.
Self confidence, on the other hand, is something I struggle with all day every day.
No matter how many novels I write or art I create, I always wonder if it was a fluke. Do I now lack the ability to write something else that is equally or more enjoyable to readers?
I know I come off as an ebullient, friendly, silly guy–for those of you who follow me on Twitter.
Let me be really real with all of you. I have really bad days–as far as writing goes–fifty percent of the time. Maybe 60 to 70 percent. Tears are shed. I feel like an idiot. Some days the words are a jumble in my head. I confuse words. I mess up on grammar and spelling and sentence structure. I can’t make dialogue sound right. I can’t summon a character’s “voice.” I try and I try and I try and I try and I end up sitting there, a hot, steamy mess in front of my computer wondering why I bother.
I get into really dark moods.
I don’t talk about it a lot (read: ever) but I struggle with clinical depression at times. I would like to assure everyone reading this that I have never had the most severe symptoms. It’s something those closest to me are aware of, but I generally keep it to myself (and my therapist). It comes from past trauma, bullying, and not knowing how to stick up for myself for a very long time.
For better or worse, I’ve always slapped a smile on my face and soldiered on.
I’ve also been guilty of pretending that my depression doesn’t exist when asked about it.
I don’t recommend this to anyone and it can be very frustrating to those closest to me when I do this. Frankly, I make no apologies. We’ve all been in situations where we’ve had to slap bandages on problems so we could get from one day to the next. Luckily, I’m starting to realize that I’m at a point in my life where bandages aren’t a good solution and it’s safe to admit that I am going through a difficult time. I’m safe, I’m secure, I love and am loved…things are great. Depression just tries to convince me otherwise.
So, when I’m having an “I suck as a writer” day, melancholy or full-on depression can start to find its way in through the cracks. It’s funny how one can trigger the other. Those are bad days.
Yet…I slap a smile on my face.
Why? Well, one, I know that a therapist is just a Zoom call away. Two, I don’t find comfort in discussing it with just anyone. Three, I know that all of these things my brain conjures up are not true. It’s a biological issue or chemical imbalance. It’s not The Truth. It’s not who I am–it’s what I feel.
I have depression. I have my stories.
One is the albatross around my neck and the other is the wings on my back.
So…who am I?
I’m a husband. A fur-father. A storyteller. An artist. A creator.
I. Am. A. Writer.
A biological issue or chemical imbalance doesn’t negate those facts. A lack of self confidence doesn’t change those facts. They’re just hurdles to overcome. Bumps in the road. I can’t say that they aren’t giant fucking hurdles or enormous fucking bumps at times (saying “fucking” is fun)–nor can I say that I don’t reach out for help when it is needed–but it’s important to remember that they are just another fact of my life.
I lack self confidence. I have depression. But I’m a writer.
These things have to coexist often whether I like it or not. Will I have to deal with these issues for the rest of my life? Probably. Does that worry me? Not really. I mean, it sucks and I don’t like the thought of knowing that I will probably deal with depression and lack of self confidence forever, but it’s not like I have a choice.
It’s a fake smile and cheerful attitude or the entire day in bed.
It’s hard to write books while curled up on your side. I’ve tried. Besides, my dog likes going outside and being fed, my husband misses me, and there are things to accomplish.
That’s my reality as a human being and a writer.
How my depression presents itself is not universal. The methods I use to deal with it are not for everyone. What I’ve said here is about me–not everyone who has depression.
Now, I feel as though I should have some answers for you about Impostor Syndrome, lack of self confidence, and dealing with mental illness. The answer is the same for all of them.
Ask for help if you’re able. Don’t ignore being unable to internalize and own your successes. Don’t ignore thoughts that you’re not good enough. Certainly don’t ignore symptoms of depression. Even if you think it’s silly to feel like an impostor as a writer–this can be the symptom of a bigger problem. Maybe it’s not, but it still needs to be addressed in a safe, secure, and healthy way–like with therapy or medication.
There is no shame in that. It doesn’t make you a failure or a bad person or unlovable or unworthy.
Ignoring your problems–no matter how minor you tell yourself they are–is not healthy. Accepting you have a problem and doing whatever you can to get help for it is the healthy thing to do.
Depression–and mental health problems in general–make it hard to ask for help because of how it makes a person feel like they’re the worst human ever. Might I suggest finding someone you trust, telling them what you deal with, and asking them to keep an eye on you. They can reach out when you seem to be struggling and aren’t asking for help. This time of year (hence the timing of this post) is one of the worst times of the year for people struggling with depression, so asking for help and having a buddy is so important.
I’ll probably never write about this again (*whispering out of the corner of my mouth* or even mention it) because this has been incredibly uncomfortable for me. However, I want anyone who might relate to this to know you’re not a mental health unicorn. Many of us struggle. More than we like to admit. Some of us find it helpful to discuss it openly and others like to keep it between themselves, their closest loved ones, and their therapist/doctor.
Regardless, my fellow writers, I hope when you ask yourself who you are, you have two answers.
“I am a writer.”
“I am a person who can ask for help when I need it.”
Tremendous Love & Thanks,