The Other Type of Imposter Syndrome


I’ve read a lot about the imposter syndrome that people feel may when they have depression or another mental illness. It’s feeling like an impostor – worried the façade of having it all together will slip and fall if anyone looks too closely. It sends chills up your spine when someone asks you how you are and for a moment you hesitate to figure out if you want to answer normally or honestly. It’s the panic that presses on your chest when you miss a deadline or are late to work, terrified somehow someone will put the pieces together and see the illness you work so hard to hide.

Sometimes I can relate to that, but other times, I have a different type of imposter syndrome.

My imposter syndrome tells me I don’t belong here, in this forum. It says my depression is actually fairly mild. When I can function well enough and I don’t necessarily relate to the experience of others or I don’t show the classic symptoms of depression, the imposter syndrome tells me I’m exaggerating how bad I feel. It tells me I’m making a mountain out of a molehill and I have no business being in therapy every other week or on antidepressants. It suggests to me that since I’m not in the middle of a depressive episode, I no longer have depression.

When I’m talking to a friend, the imposter syndrome sneaks up and catches the words in my throat before I can relay how I’ve been coping. It corrals my thoughts and stuffs them in a bag, pointing to my seemingly normal actions instead. Using friends of mine who have depression as examples, the imposter syndrome encourages me to compare the severity of my symptoms to theirs, always concluding I’m not so bad off as to need help or support.

And when I laugh and enjoy time with friends and family, the imposter syndrome calls me out, saying having fun is evidence I’m so much better than I believe myself to be.

It is so hard to fight this type of imposter syndrome. Trying to prove to myself that my depression is real leads me down one of two roads: the first being not fighting my inclination to do nothing, to leave dishes unwashed and bathroom uncleaned. If my apartment is a mess and I’m behind on my schoolwork, seeing that manifestation of my depression outside of myself, that imposter’s voice is quiet for a few minutes. At the end of this path, though, it’s self-sabotage.

The second rabbit trail I will follow involves me believing that I am an imposter and everything the small voice tells me is true. I can handle doing everything I used to before I was diagnosed (housework, schoolwork, errands, etc.). Which, in turn, means anything not getting done is due to my own laziness. If my depression is mild, or even non-existent, then I have no plausible reason for procrastinating on deadlines or struggling to keep up with my laundry. Striving to stay on top of everything in my life quiets the imposter’s voice, until another takes its place when I inevitably drop all the balls I’m trying to juggle at once. At the end of this path is self-abuse.

I am still working to find the middle ground between these two roads; sometimes it involves listening to my therapist and trusting what she says over what I think. Sometimes it requires me to step back and assess how I’m really doing, even if that means admitting that yes, I am doing well and I could be working towards recovery, not just faking it. And other days, I just shove the imposter syndrome and all its baggage out the window, ignoring it telling me what I’m feeling is somehow wrong. On these occasions I’m strong enough to push back, asserting my thoughts and validating my feelings, accepting that this is my life, this is where I am right now, in this moment.

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Thinkstock photo by lekcej


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