High-Functioning Anxiety & Impostor Syndrome
The past few weeks I've noticed this article (and the below video) making its way through Facebook. When I first saw it, I had one thought.
OMG, this is me.
I've struggled with anxiety as far back as I can remember. I have memories of freaking out over practically everything since I was a kid. One time I forgot my spelling words at school...I was probably in third grade -- I recall sitting at my grandmother's kitchen table, hysterical, crying, over my failure to bring my homework from school. In 9th grade, I made a regular habit of staying up all night re-writing my science notes in a vain attempt to commit the information to memory (even though the good Lord did not bless me with a science-minded brain).
The real issue here is that few people will tell a kid, "hey, stop trying to succeed so much."
But that isn't at all what I was trying to do.
I was overcome with this anxiety that if I failed, at anything, my identity would be lost.
If I wasn't the high-achieving, successful student -- who was I?
This didn't stop in high school. My college years were equally stressful, compounded by early success in my career -- at 19, I'd landed a job at 103.3 The Edge in Buffalo, and for a long time was the youngest person on the on-air staff -- which naturally made me feel even more inadequate.
I started graduate school after deciding that while radio was easily the most fun job I'd ever had -- it's also a notoriously unstable career path -- I was going to get my Master's degree and teach at the college level. I'd discovered a hidden love & talent for teaching while giving a class presentation in a sociology course on "hook-up culture" (of all things!). That professor took me aside after class and was like, "You know you should be doing this. All the time."
(And I was like -- what, hooking up? Turns out he was talking about teaching, lecturing, and being a college professor as a career.)
I joke with my students at Genesee Community College that in grad school, it took me 8 years to get my 2 year degree -- so keep on truckin', academia isn't a race. What I leave out, is the reason it took me so long to finish.
I was terrified to finish. I just didn't know why.
It wasn't until I had a conversation with that same sociology professor who convinced me to go to grad school, that everything sort of clicked. He said that I wasn't afraid of failing, but that I was afraid of succeeding -- because, with success, comes expectations -- from the outside, and within.
I was taking as few classes in grad school as I could, because really, I was afraid of what was next. What if I spent all this time (and my parents' money) getting this degree, only to not find a job? How could I become a college professor when academia was literally making me sick?
So many times in my life, I felt like I was an impostor. I was faking it. Faking being this broadcasting person, faking being an academic -- and someday, someday soon, everyone would find out.
There's a term for this. It's called "impostor syndrome," and it's really common among high-achieving individuals with unchecked anxiety issues.
When I would confide in friends about how I felt, I was routinely dismissed. "Oh you don't have any problems! What are you worried about? You're a radio personality! You have a 4.0 in school!" I'm confident the dismissal of my issues came from good places within the hearts of these friends. At the same time, the act of having my feeling invalidated made me even more anxious.
I started to worry if my constant anxiety was real.
Yup, I had anxiety about my anxiety.
And I still have problems with feelings of anxiety, inadequacy, and feeling like a fraud. What helped tremendously was the birth of my second child. He may never know how much his arrival in my life changed who I was. Who I am.
As a chronically anxious person, I expected the arrival of another baby to totally wreck me. How was I going to handle two kids, when having one felt impossible?
I can't explain why (maybe it had something to do with hormones, really, I don't know), but when Charlie came into my life, he brought me an enormous sense of confidence and capability. All of a sudden, when I expected I'd fall apart, I became whole.
I still deal with flare-ups of anxiety. You can see it in my chewed-up nails, my detest for answering phone calls, and total lack of organization in my life. But I've developed some coping skills (I would totally recommend watching this TED talk by Amy Cuddy for a great "lifehack" that has become part of my routine for those days when the anxiety is louder than my confidence).
People may not always be what they appear to be on the outside. That person who seems to have it all together, may be falling apart inside.
Just know, you're not alone.