Imposter Syndrome

It’s really therapeutic for me to write for myself and to get my cluttered thoughts out. It’s like pulling at a ribbon that wound itself up into my brain, and afterward I have a little more room to just breathe. Let’s see where this goes.

The other day a woman that I work with and look up to as being mentally strong, funny, and confident (or maybe she just doesn’t give any fucks) had laughed and said she just remembered she saw a meme the other day and had thought of me. She said something along the lines of it being because of how I never think I’m doing something right and just stress myself out…

It didn’t hurt my feelings and it didn’t make me feel “bad” at all, because she wasn’t attacking me, but I felt a little off guard because I know how I feel, and I know how I often doubt myself. I didn’t realize that it was so obvious. It’s easy when you’re wrapped up in anxiety to not realize that it’s leaking out all over the place in your words and actions. I wish I were more mindful, and I can be more mindful, I just have to keep working at it. It was a little like that song “killing me softly” and I was surprised that she just knew I’m deep down sometimes a real low confidence scaredy cat.

Now, to get to my point, I’ve actually felt like I’ve made a lot of progress lately. I used to back away from things I was afraid of and I haven’t let anything get in my way in that sense in probably a year-ish. This last week was my 2 year anniversary of becoming a nurse, and my 1 year anniversary of becoming an RN. I hardly even remember school because I was constantly vibrating at such a high level of being “found out” because I irrationally just knew I didn’t belong, that I was doing it all for nothing because no one would hire a bad person like me, and that I was never going to be able to do what I ultimately wanted to do. There was no basis to my thought process, it was all just fear. That was pretty much a constant struggle mantra wrapped up throughout both nursing programs, for my LPN diploma and RN degree.

It’s a wonder I graduated, not because I wasn’t smart or capable, but because I had such incredible doubt. I actually did very well in school…well, after that first year once I put my mind to it and made myself push through fear and go to class ha. I really am a good nurse. There’s hardly a more fulfilling feeling than making someone else feel healed, mentally and physically, enough to get them through their medical treatments and on to wellness. I know what it’s like to become healed when hurt, I get it and I get the struggle, and I want healing for everyone.

Once I started my first job as a nurse, I remember almost every day feeling like I didn’t belong. I looked at my badge in awe, I was proud of myself and in total disbelief at the same time that I got myself to where I was. When I’d finish educating a patient on something or completing a treatment and they would sincerely thank me, I’d walk out of the room feeling so good, but at the same time I thought that it had to be a lucky, one time success. Even when I nailed my skills and did a great job, I would go home later, heart racing, like I didn’t deserve to feel good about it or that I didn’t deserve to be who I was and have the title that I did.

I still struggle with not spending every dollar I have anxiously, because I don’t understand how I even have as much money as I do, and the first few months of making real paychecks I thought if I spend it quick it’s like it never happened, no guilt. I didn’t feel deserving. I know it doesn’t make sense now, but it just took a bit of growing up for me. I’m not rolling in money but let’s be real, I used to have about $3 to my name after bills every paycheck because I was barely scraping by in all aspects of life before school, from the time I initially moved out at 16, bouncing around place to place, and usually relying on others; it’s not entirely surprising that I struggled with the concept of saving. Woof.

I really felt like any day that my manager wanted to talk, it was because they were going to tell me “well, it turns out you’re not a good fit for nursing, so we’re going to have to let you go.” This never actually happened though and I really only ever heard praise. The first unit I worked on as an LPN and then a few months as an RN before coming to the OR was SO unrealistically SUPPORTIVE, they were just wonderful. I still somehow felt wrong, even though I was the luckiest new grad nurse ever; to be so awkward and still so welcomed into my new career from the start. I never experienced the saying “nurses eat their young” fortunately. I knew that this was all that I had ever wanted to do, and now that I’ve accomplished something I never thought I’d be able to finish, who am I? Why do I deserve to get all this good? I had the perception that nothing ever went completely right for me, so you see, I just had so much doubt.

“Impostor Syndrome is a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It strikes smart, successful individuals. It often rears its head after an especially notable accomplishment, like admission to a prestigious university, public acclaim, winning an award, or earning a promotion.”

I first read about imposter syndrome on an article from Scientific American online. You can click the quote above to link to the very exact article that helped me gain a little more perspective a couple years ago. Although I instantly had an ‘ah-ha’ moment of what I was going through for years, it didn’t “fix” the feelings. I didn’t even think about it because I just made myself get through it and didn’t really have a choice in whether I wanted to feel that way or not. I didn’t even realize I had worked my way through it until I realized that when my coworker friend had known all along, that I was actually a ball of stress, and it didn’t feel threatening. I have accepted it and have gained progress at working toward being more internally peaceful. What a concept, wow. I’m just shocked and awed and what our brains can do and overcome. A year ago I would have probably cried all the way home from realizing that she could see through me. It sounds so ridiculous but the perception of being weak terrified me.

That’s how mental illness rolls. There is hardly much to consider as rational in the heightened experience of anxiety. Now I’m free to recognize that it wasn’t insulting or she wasn’t dangerously close to exposing who I am, *gasp* an anxious person, and it wasn’t going to be leading to a cascade of failures and rejections as I had believed prior to overcoming most of the process of imposter syndrome.

If you are going through imposter syndrome, I feel ya. I cannot tell you that you’re worth it, that you are doing all the right things, or that you are right where you belong. The whole background to imposter syndrome is that there really isn’t anything wrong except for your perception, and you’re surely not going to believe anyone else telling you how great you are if you don’t believe in yourself.

Only you know what you truly want by whether it’s worth it or not to push past the feelings of insecurity until you become a strong(er), (more)secure person. The only cure to imposter syndrome is to defy it. I know now that I did not get lucky in life. I worked for it and earned it, and I’m no longer embarrassed to say that. It’s okay to be wow’d by your own hard work. Happy solstice, friends.