The Mental Illness Imposter
When we think of imposter syndrome, we may think of overachievers, workaholics or perfectionists who can’t accept the success they have gained however, my version of imposter syndrome was slightly different.
I took a lot of pride in my successes, so much so, I was convinced I knew who I was, and who I was going to be.
I would take pride in being this independent person who could work things out by myself. I didn’t need anyone. But suddenly, out of nowhere – I had this diagnosis - depression.
I had been signed off for 2 weeks by my GP. It was the first time these months of down days had been given a label and I just didn’t know what to do with it. I was given a doctor’s note, a pack of anti-depressants and I was going to spend two weeks getting better… but I had no idea what to do.
I was a positive person. I'd lived life up until this point with a happy-go-lucky attitude and that worked for me, but now I carried a label - I was depressed. It didn’t fit with what I knew. Worst of all, it didn’t fit with what my friends and family knew of me and somehow that was worse.
How could I tell them? What would I tell them? I certainly didn’t know why I was depressed – it just sort of happened. If I didn't understand, how could I expect them to understand?
For those two weeks, I spent a lot of time googling depression. I wanted to work out what it was I was meant to be doing. When I would tell people what was going on, I needed to know what to do or say so they didn’t think I was just faking it.
I spent a lot of time sat on the sofa watching rubbish telly. I knew my colleagues were taking on my projects at work. I couldn't help but think that they would be so mad if they knew what I was doing – or not doing. I’d sit and work myself up more and more because I didn’t know what to do to get better. I was doing nothing and I was feeling so guilty for it.
I felt like because I knew what the symptoms were, I was almost pretending so I could tick the 'depressed' box for everyone else. I had an idea in my mind of what depression was, therefore, if I even cracked a smile in those two weeks, people might think I was an imposter.
I suppose, when we think of fighting the stigma surrounding mental illness, we always think about what other people say and do. We never think to challenge our thoughts and beliefs. I had an idea of what depression looked like and I didn't associate it with who I was. Therefore, I almost made a conscious effort to portray those depressive symptoms to everyone else so that they couldn't doubt for a second that I had it.
It took me a hell of a long time to accept I was ill. Life often has a way of making us question who we are. Throw something as big as a mental health diagnosis in with that, then you will question everything - in my case, I questioned if I was ill at all.
When I returned to work, I started a course of counselling to assist with my recovery. After a few weeks of talking with someone impartial, I finally understood what I was meant to be doing in that time off. I was meant to be doing nothing because my body and mind needed the time to regroup.
The things I learnt through that time were:
1) Trust The Process
You have been given time off for a reason. You need to trust that someone, as qualified as a doctor, would not do that without good reason. Take the time you need, and try not to feel guilty for giving yourself time to recover.
2) Don't Over Google
When you are first given a diagnosis, it will be weird and you may not understand it at first. Look online for help, but don't expect Google to have all the answers. Your mental health is personal and it will take a personal journey to understand it for yourself. Try to talk it out with someone, and find your own words to describe what’s going on. Remember, everyone’s journey is different.
3) Remember You Are NOT Your Diagnosis
If there is one thing I wish I could tell my younger self in those two weeks where I sat thinking I had somehow faked this illness, it would be to remember you are not your diagnosis. You do not need to act up to feed into what others think mental illness is.
4) You are still YOU!
You are still you. Having a mental illness doesn't take away from your past achievements, and it certainly won't define your future ones. This is a temporary glitch in what is an awesome human being.