It’s been a week.
Or two, really.
For those of you who don’t know me well, I’m pretty transparent about my life with mental illness, specifically depression and anxiety (here’s my TEDx talk about just that).
Anxiety has been my biggest challenge in my professional years, and for me, there is a strong link between it and my feelings of self-worth, feeling like an imposter, and struggling to know that I’m good enough as I am.
It came to visit this past couple of weeks, settling in with its familiar speech (I always picture a smarmy guy in a leisure suit sitting in a tattered armchair across from me, biting his nails or eating pistachios loudly or something equally obnoxious):
Oh hey. I see you’re trying to work and be productive over here with your job and your freelance business and that book you’re working on. So I’ll just sit over here in the corner and remind you, repeatedly, of all the things you haven’t done.
The laundry isn’t finished, and you still haven’t done that big garage cleanup you know you need to do. You probably aren’t spending time with your kid, and you’re probably not saving enough money, and why are you wasting time writing a book that no one will ever publish let alone read? You really aren’t very qualified for your job to begin with let alone trying to do other stuff, so I’m not sure why you’re bothering writing or creating things because frankly, no one cares.
I’m getting better at it, but these sorts of episodes still sometimes throttle my output, dampen my mood, and make me feel like everything I’m doing is, well, futile.
I’ll get stuck there for a bit until I can shake loose of it, using tools and strategies I’ve accumulated over the years (and the ones I’ve chronicled here, here, and here in this newsletter to date).
Here’s what I did these last couple of weeks when I was feeling anything but okay:
- Reconnect with things that soothe my mind. I practiced my piano and flute. Got outside. Rode my horse. I had to disconnect my brain from the rumination cycle, and these things work for me.
- Get enough sleep. Anxiety thrives on sleep deprivation, and they can feed one another. So I went to bed early, and leaned on whatever I needed to in order to get good sleep, whether it was white noise or music or yep, Ambien.
- Tackle small successes. Even when I’m feeling overwhelmed and like I fail at the big stuff, there are little things I can do to restore confidence and put my roller skates back on. I wrote small things that I never intended to publish, just to keep the words flowing. I worked on projects that I felt a strong connection to so I could rely on raw momentum instead of having to force the effort. And I did things like organize my calendar and documents that are “small” in terms of difficulty but satisfying and helpful for feeling productive.
- Asked for help. I added an extra session with my therapist, because she always helps me reframe things and give me tools to tackle the week ahead. I reached out to friends to spend some quality time and let them surround me with empathy and support. And I even enlisted my kid to help me with ideas for a project so I could tap into her smart brain instead of just mine.
You’ll note a theme here: breaking the cycle of anxious thoughts.
No, it’s not as easy as just “thinking” your way out of anxiety. But what I’m doing is the equivalent of starving a fire of oxygen; the less fuel I give the imposter syndrome by counterbalancing it with other inputs, the less it has to thrive on. Eventually, the stronger messages prevail, and I can get back to writing like I’m doing now.
The hardest part? Giving myself grace. Forgiving myself for the times when my brain and my thought patterns – learned over many years of retreading those worn neural pathways – default to less-than-ideal settings. It’s hard to be less hard on myself. But I’m learning.
And the more I learn, the more I can share, and the more I hope that it can help just one person be a little less captive to imposter syndrome and the trap of perfectionism.
That seems like a worthwhile battle to me, so I’ll keep showing up.