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I have had Imposter Syndrome for years, but I’m happy to report that I’m getting over it, bit by bit.

Imposter Syndrome isn’t in the DSM, and it’s not considered a mental illness. Nonetheless, it represents a very real cognitive bias and can be a truly anguishing condition. It’s been noted as particularly common among high-achievers, especially in academia, and even more so among grad students. My self-confidence problems are not just due to the depression. It’s also this horrible sense that I can’t keep up and never should have started down this road, regardless of the mountain of evidence to the contrary. I have absolutely no reason to believe that I’m anything other than awesome. But.

Depression comix #10, © 2011 Clay. Click image for original.

I have a hard time acknowledging my own accomplishments, which also leads to problems accepting praise. But the issue runs deeper than that. It causes anxiety over being “found out” as not belonging and not being good enough for the recognition that is in fact well-deserved. It means you’re always on edge in professional exchanges, always trying to demonstrate your competency to others. Every single day, I’m also trying to prove to myself that I’m worthy of others’ high opinions of me. I’m never convinced. Never.

Paradoxically, the more you exhaust yourself running in the hamster wheel to flee from imposter syndrome, the worse you make the situation. Overcompensating and overachieving creates more and more pressure to perform to a higher and higher standard, which is excruciating when you never believed you were worth the first accolade you’ve been trying to outrun.

I’m slowly getting over it in the academic arena, at least. The mounting evidence in favor of my genuine competence and brilliance is more than I can ignore. As long as I don’t let it go to my head, I expect I’ll eventually grow into the role and respect that I so richly deserve. See, I even admitted it!

I’ve recently come to believe that the imposter syndrome extends to mental health. It starts by questioning your diagnosis. I’ve seen it over and over. I’ve done it over and over. When my symptoms fade, I want to believe that perhaps I never really was manic depressive. As I’ve gotten to know more people with the same diagnosis, I find myself feeling like an imposter of another sort. I know we don’t all experience bipolar the same way, but sometimes I feel like an imposter because of the symptoms I don’t have and because I don’t (usually) have it as bad as others do overall. Every negative symptom and experience that I don’t have is actually fortunate on my part! This silly thinking does not seem to apply whatsoever to ADD because unmedicated, my symptoms are fairly severe at all times.

I know better: I’m not an imposter. I’m 100% genuine in every respect. I just have to convince myself of it.