Imposter Syndrome

In Academia there is a prevalent feeling referred to as Imposter Syndrome–the feeling that you’re a fraud, that you don’t belong. It’s a feeling that, despite any evidence to the contrary, you don’t deserve to be where you are and don’t know why others think you’re worthy or valid to be where you are. It makes you question yourself, your abilities, your worth.

And I feel like having undiagnosed health conditions is the same, in a way. An Opposite Imposter Syndrome.

It starts because I know something is wrong. But then test after test shows nothing conclusive; doctors ignore me, or throw up their hands in defeat; symptoms are not constant and leave not only doctors but me questioning their validity.  Am I experiencing these things, or simply making too much out of something normal? Am I actually sick? Is there something actually wrong?? Am I actually a hypochondriac?

Unlike Academia, where I continue to have evidence supporting my abilities, here all I have to reassure myself is that I am doing what I can to feel better… I am visiting doctors and pushing for tests because I do feel poorly and do want to be taken seriously. I have been correct twice about conditions that were hard to diagnose (endometriosis, gastroparesis). I am feeling these things, which are a departure from my normal; and once they become my normal I do almost forget about them to the point that I don’t even think to mention them to doctors anymore.

But then I still question things, like:

Do I want to feel better?
I mean, my obvious answer is I do. I do. The two years I had of endometriosis relief have been wonderful, and I am certainly not enjoying those symptoms returning in anyway. I would love for them to be gone forever. …But I don’t… I don’t know if I know how to be healthy any more. If I was to wake up tomorrow and be completely healthy, what would I do? How much of my time would I spend just waiting for symptoms to return?  Which I guess it just comes down to adjusting to changes. I’ve adjusted to these changes, I would adjust to being healthy again, and would enjoy it.

Am I sick enough to behave like I behave? Am I using being sick as an excuse or am I actually doing things according to my limitations?

…I kind of lost my train of thought here, and my brain is a jumbled mess. I guess it all comes down to: questioning yourself sucks.


3 thoughts on “Imposter Syndrome

  1. I have a very good idea of what you’re talking about. Only thing is that I was actually diagnosed, after years of misdiagnoses, with bipolar disorder in my 20s. The battle of finding the right balance of needs was a rough one, but we finally got it ‘sorta right’ and my life was improving. I moved to Asia after turning 30, where a brain specialist in a state hospital find exactly the right balance of needs from the word go! The next 3.5 years were the most amazing years of my life up to that point! I began hoping that all the lifestyle changes I’d made since my diagnosis had paid off – and that maybe I was cured.

    Then I went to the States to take up a job offer – that turned out to be a scam – where I was promised (amongst others) that my medication would be taken care of. It wasn’t, and for 7 months I silently slipped back ‘into the wild’. My ‘benefactor’ was thoroughly convinced that he was a specialist in all things, and proclaimed that my prescription was nothing more than a placebo… and I wanted to believe it.

    A psychiatric nurse who knew him came to visit once. She had her suspicions about the whole setup. She took me aside and offered one word of advice: Run! I didn’t want to hear it though. I was thoroughly enthralled by my “friend”. Months later her advice rang in my head when I found out that I was to be taken to Mexico for a ‘visa run’. I fled back home to SA with the help of a couple of friends I made in that time. (Friends to whom I am eternally grateful, and who I miss dearly.)

    Back in SA, a new psychiatrist doubted my earlier diagnosis and suggested we wait to see what happened. I wanted to believe him, and to pin my symptoms on my American experience. But we were both mistaken.

    Long story short: I had a major episode and was put back on medication. I’m not who I was in Taiwan – but life is better for the most part.

    Mental illness is a weird thing. Half of the struggle is wanting to know that you’re not making it up – and half is trying to convince yourself that you did. It superimposes a layer of doubt on your life: Am I not just over exaggerating normal experiences? Am I simply a weakling hiding behind a label?

    The truth (as far as I’m concerned) is that we’re not making things up. Our experiences are real and our realities are valid. (If that edges me towards radical constructivism, so be it *chuckles*)

    So keep on keep’n on sister – we’ll make it yet!

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story Willie. I hate to say I needed to hear your struggles as well, as I hate you’ve had to go through so much, but it really does help knowing I’m not the only one. I’ll repeat this to myself as a mantra “The truth (as far as I’m concerned) is that we’re not making things up. Our experiences are real and our realities are valid.” and totally embrace my constructivist self.
      I am very glad to hear life is better, for the most part. And I hope it continues to improve. ❤

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