You might have heard of ‘imposter syndrome’, and if you haven’t, I’m sure you’ve felt it at least once in your life. It’s a sensation that musician and superwoman Amanda Palmer describes as being on the run from police who will, at any moment, knock on your door and demand that you stop faking it. That they’ve been watching you, and they can tell you actually don’t have any idea what you’re doing.
Everyone feels like an imposter sometimes. I grew up with plenty of identities to chose from: sister, daughter, friend, student, bookworm. Despite all that, there were a couple that never seemed to fit. Growing up overseas, I never felt British – I still don’t, and much as I love the UK and all its neuroses, British people never miss a chance to point out that my accent and language aren’t quite right.
I never felt like I had a right to claim an identity as African, and decided fairly early on to show my love for Namibia and Africa with a kind of respectful, supportive admission of ignorance. I never want to be some post-colonial idiot claiming, a-la The Book of Mormon, that I am Africa – I was a child when I lived there, and there’s a not of nuance to politics and culture I’ll probably never have a claim to.
I still struggle with calling myself a writer, despite the novels under my belt and the fact that every lunch break I sequester myself in a corner of the office to write this blog. I write because, to paraphrase Rainer Maria Rilke, to not write was never an option for me.
All of this might be why I dislike, so intensely, labelling myself as any one thing. I dated a woman for a few years, and never felt comfortable describing my sexuality, though I was perfectly content to call myself girlfriend. This was reinforced by the few times I faced perverted reactions (straight men at uni) and expectations of cliched behaviour (weirdly, gay men at uni).
In my work at the moment, I spend a lot of time looking at patient advocacy groups and blogs, and I decided that if I was going to go through a journey of recovering from mental illness (again) I wasn’t going to be quiet about it. That said, I’m still tentative about identifying as mentally ill or anxious – the former makes it sound like I’m barely coping, the latter like I’m flighty or delicate.
There will be times in life when you just outgrow an old skin that felt comfortable, at one time in your life. Maybe moving around so much when I was a child taught me this lesson early, but I’ve never had a problem with the idea that someone can be one thing, and then be another. When I had the concept of transsexuality explained to me as a kid, all I remember thinking was that it must be really beautiful to know exactly who you’re meant to be, and make that happen.
The thing is, I’ve lost a few identities recently that I worked hard to acquire. I’m not really a runner anymore, or a yogini. I’m not the author – working on a laptop full-time makes novel-writing really difficult. Cognitive issues from my anxiety and depression make reading challenging, so bookworm is fading away, and starting from the bottom in a new career has meant that gold-star student isn’t really feasible anymore.
It hurts, losing these parts of myself. It’s sad, and slow, and it makes me question whether I ever had them to begin with.
Some of them, I’ll get back someday, but right now I don’t have the energy to make that my focus. If you hold on to anything too tightly, chances are you’ll just wind up suffering more when it finally leaves, and I can’t handle any more suffering.
Instead, I’m trying something I little bit radical.
I’m trying to let go.
I’m trying to sit with myself, and have that be enough. I don’t owe anyone an explanation, let alone an apology, for the way I am now. Soon, I’ll have the energy and motivation to start on the road to self-improvement, but for now, I’m trying to focus on how grateful I am to have made it through this winter, not on what I’ve had to let go along the way.
There are big identities that are important, and will hurt even more if you have to give them up. Daughter, lover, faithful, religious. Sometimes the vision you have for yourself will need to take a back-burner to the daily task of getting well again.
I wish I had a better solution, a list of 5 things to try, but all I can say is this: I know how difficult it is, and you’re not alone.
Let me know how you’re getting on.
With love, always,