What It's Like to Experience Imposter Syndrome as a Result of Chronic Illness


As a millennial, I often engage in conversations with friends regarding imposter syndrome. I have friends who have experienced it in their professional achievements, in their relationships and even in simply being an adult. Imposter syndrome can hit people for a variety of reasons.

For those unfamiliar, imposter syndrome is an internalization of inadequacy – an insecurity of being a fraud even when you aren’t. It is the anxiety that someday, someone (or everyone) is going to figure out you are undeserving of your title/job/status/achievements, even though you absolutely are deserving of those things.

I have imposter syndrome. But it isn’t because of a job or a relationship or even my age, it’s because of my health.

I have several chronic conditions including interstitial cystitis, endometriosis and POTS. I don’t point this out as a competition, or for sympathy, but rather to give you an idea of where I am on the spectrum of ill. Dying? No. Uncomfortable? 97.2 percent of the time.

With therapy (and time) I have come to accept my plight in life with a less than perfectly functioning body. But acceptance isn’t a fix for mechanical issues, and my body continues to do some weird things. In this process, I recently had to see my PCP to go over some abnormal results in my blood work. My doctor was out sick, so I saw her Nurse Practitioner instead. Up until this point I had never met this person, but I really like my PCP, so I figured the NP would be equally as awesome.

She wasn’t. She was the worst combination of vicious and patronizing. She questioned my specialists, my treatments and my mental stability. She took a scalpel to my confidence, and stomped on my ego. By the time she exited the room with a chipper, “Have a nice day!” I could barely lift my jaw off the floor. I was frazzled and shocked, defeated and degraded. I began to cry as I pulled on my jacket.

Without getting into the exact dialogue, the gist of her message to me was that I am a healthy and capable young woman who just needs to get out of my own way. My tendencies to believe something is wrong with me are hurting my quality of life. I am not physically sick, I have an anxiety issue. I don’t need more procedures or medications, I need more therapy.

Normally I am confident and quick on my feet. If someone on the street rattled that off to me, I would blow them off with a sarcastic comment or humorous retort. But this woman is a medical professional. She has access to my actual medical charts. She can see the reports on every one of my 16 surgeries. She knows I was recently rushed to the ER after being found unconscious in my office. She can view my MRI results, ultrasound photos and blood tests. But even with all that evidence, she seems to think I am a sickness charlatan. And so the doubt began… Was she right? Is it all in my head? Am I making a bigger deal of all of this than is necessary? Am I really just losing a battle to my emotions? Are all the appointments and medications and procedures useless? Am I wasting everybody’s time? Am I an imposter?

The reality is, no matter where I go I feel like an imposter. When I am around healthy people and act like I am one of them, I am an imposter. When I am in the hospital alongside people far sicker than myself, I feel like an imposter. I live in the murky union of the venn diagram “too healthy to be sick” and “too sick to be well.”

Most days I can navigate these feelings and keep moving forward, but suddenly I wasn’t so sure. This medical professional hit on a nerve so sensitive, every ounce of my being became riddled with the insecurities of imposter syndrome.

Uncertain of how to overcome this issue, I mentioned it to my psychologist at our next appointment. He chuckled and emphatically said, “First of all, never ever agree to see that provider again…”

It’s not a complete solution to my imposter syndrome, but it’s a start.

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Photo via korionov on Getty Images


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