Mental Health – 02 – Dual Attack of Impostor Syndrome

Hello everyone! My name is Gopi. Welcome to this second episode on Mental Health. In the last episode, I talked about what depression
feels like based on my personal experiences. To me, depression feels like the inability
to enjoy life, boredom, and hopelessness. One of my friends mentioned losing focus while
feeling depressed. I have also experienced this.  I also want to add that being depressed can
range from being uninspired and generally feeling ‘blah’ to full blown suicidal
rage and self-harming thoughts depending on the day. Feeling depressed can make you lose your appetite
for food, sex, and social relationships.  Feeling depressed can create conflicting feelings
of both loneliness and wanting to be alone.  Feeling depressed can mess up your sleep cycle
and you end up feeling tired and cranky even after sleeping.  So being depressed can make someone feel miserable
– food doesn’t taste good, cannot sleep well, cannot enjoy sex, you’re bored and
irritated with everything, feeling lonely but don’t want to be social, cannot focus,
and generally feeling bad about yourself and your life. It’s not fun experiencing depression. Today, I want to specifically talk about something
called Impostor Syndrome because two of my friends suggested this topic.  There is lots of research on this. If you read the literature on Impostor syndrome,
it is usually about how high achieving people feel like a fraud. I think this is very interesting. Because somewhere there is an assumption that
if we have good achievements, then there is no reason why we should be unhappy or doubt
ourselves. The whole idea of measuring self-worth solely
based on external achievements is very problematic. So whether or not someone is high-achieving
does not matter to me personally when considering Impostor syndrome. Because I think the issue is about self-worth
and not about achievements. Irrespective of your career achievements,
anyone can feel like a fraud at any stage of their career. Also, if someone is in a toxic environment
where they feel under appreciated, then this person may start questioning their own value. Personally, I experience self-doubt when I
am depressed.  What does it feel like to experience impostor
syndrome?  Mmmm.. it’s like pouring water into a leaking
bucket or blowing air into a balloon with a hole. That means irrespective of what you do, you
can still end up feeling disappointed in yourself. Just like you can keep blowing air into a
balloon with a hole and it can still be deflated. I think this is why it is very difficult to
talk about impostor syndrome – we may logically understand we have made achievements in the
outside world but still feel like crap inside.  What kind of damage does Impostor syndrome
do?  When I experience Impostor syndrome, it is
always a dual attack – there is an attack on my dreams and simultaneously there is an
attack on my faults. So when I am feeling self-doubt, I am afraid
of dreaming and taking risks but I am also very judgmental of my own faults. The Impostor voice is a very unkind, unforgiving,
and punishing voice. When I feel self-doubt, I can also become
judgmental and jealous of others. It is not a fun place to be – constantly judging
myself for my own flaws and jealous of others for living their dreams.  The really messed up part is when we feel
self-doubt, we believe that others think the same awful things about us. The Impostor voice is unkind to ourselves
and to others. When I am experiencing a lot of self-doubt,
I am more inclined to interpret the actions of others based on my own fears. So let’s say a colleague did not smile back
at me because she was probably lost in her own thoughts. The Impostor voice in my head will read this
as ‘She does not like you because you are not that smart’. Or some other fear. The thing is Impostor voice can make us doubt
our relationships – may be our loved ones will stop loving us if they really know how
awful we are. May be our colleagues will stop respecting
us if they really know our faults.  When I am experiencing self-doubt, it is difficult
to have a balanced and realistic account of my own strengths and weaknesses as a human
being. The Impostor only sees imperfections and disappointments
but cannot acknowledge our growth and strengths. It’s a very lopsided view of life and is
not the same as healthy criticism.  Basically, Impostor syndrome destroys your
self-esteem from within and kills creativity because you are terrified of making mistakes. Instead, the impostor voice fuels our imagination
of worst case scenarios both about ourselves and others. And this can make us become cynical, self-doubting,
and judgmental of everything. How do I deal with Impostor syndrome? I tell myself that it is ok to make mistakes. And that all humans learn by making mistakes. So sometimes I push myself to try out new
things that I may be reluctant to do. I change my routine and do something random. I also tell myself to get over the perfectionism
stuff and make small efforts everyday. It is a work in progress. I remind myself about the small things I am
good at. I do things that make me happy and not related
to work so that I can have a sense of self that is not just my CV. I celebrate small achievements that are meaningful
to me. And finally, I have a small collection of
personal notes, letters, and cards written by my friends, students, and colleagues saying
lovely things about me. I read them on days when I have really bad
self doubt to remind myself that others see something good in me. I am a bit sentimental like that. And it helps me when I reread those lovely
and thoughtful notes. I hope some of this was helpful. Please feel free to share your experiences
and leave suggestions for the next episode. Thank you for watching. See you next week.

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