Imposter syndrome when chronically ill

Recently I had a conversation with my physical therapist about paraneoplastic, chronic illness, my emotions, imposter syndrome and the topic of “what one symptom I’d get rid of if I could”. This is a question that I’ve obsessed over and run through my broken mind over and over again. My neurological symptoms include impaired balance and coordination, tremors and slurred speech, but my answer would have to be the earth shattering fatigue. I’m okay with being in a wheelchair and not talking as much. But without the fatigue I’d be a lot more independent.

I have imposter syndrome about my health, and it’s very much like this article from The Mighty. I think I’ve always had anxiety and feelings of inadequacy, I just covered those feelings with the constant partying of my 20s. I remember when I was at work I made a joke that I like to befriend people smarter than myself, because it made me seem more intelligent. Deep down I never felt smart enough to be anywhere by my own intelligence or achievements.

What is imposter syndrome? It’s anxiety where you doubt your accomplishments. It’s where you’re so certain your success and achievements are because you fooled other people into thinking that you’re smarter than you actually are, or maybe you’re just lucky and had good timing. Mostly it’s related to work anxiety, but in the case of health anxiety, it can be seen as feeling guilty about the support or benefits you receive as a direct result of your illness. There’s strong parallel between the two.

I don’t work any more and I still doubt myself. I’m deemed too disabled to work, and even though that is true, I feel like I’m not ‘sick enough’ and don’t deserve my disability benefits. I feel like I’m too healthy to be sick and too sick to be healthy. Because of this thought pattern I constantly compare myself and what I’m capable of against other people with different diseases. Logically I know you can’t compare two different illnesses. You can’t even compare two people with Paraneoplastic because everyone has different symptoms at different levels. Logically I know this. But emotions aren’t logical.

Most of us pick up an idea about what we’ll amount to and become from our parents… that we are destined for greatness or sometimes nothing at all. The underlying fear that the fraud police will suddenly knock on your front door is real. It’s difficult to reconcile those feelings as an adult because they’re so ingrained in your thought process. You’re not the only person feeling this way. Society and environment can play a factor as well.

I’m not a psychologist but I’ve read about it extensively, trying to come up with a magical solution. Here are some tips.

Stop comparing yourself to others. It’s simple enough in theory but in practice it’s a lot harder. It is so easy to play the game of who is the most sick. Turn off Facebook, get off Instagram, delete Snapchat, and learn to respect yourself and your own experience.

Comparison is a terrifying and lonely road to go down. There are always going to be people who are doing what you do and in some cases doing it better, so why bother? This is not a healthy way of thinking or a good, straight-forward comparison. If you don’t measure up to people around you, that doesn’t mean you are not sick. Don’t compare other people’s illnesses and experiences to your own. You don’t have to dim someone else’s light for yours to shine.

Identify the feelings. The first step would be to recognise these types the feelings. Being self aware can help change the way you think and act. Ask yourself if the feeling is helping you. Understand the motivation behind the feeling.

Find support. Look for support anywhere you can find it: friends, family, Facebook support groups or even the Instagram community. Find people that can empathize with your struggle.

Do it anyway. Live your best life, any way you can. Stop trying to please people. The less time you spend focusing on other people’s opinions, the more time you can focus on the important things. Do what brings you joy.

The best way to beat impostor syndrome is to live your life. Start small and try to build on that momentum. It takes courage and strength to put yourself out there. The world needs people they can look up to, someone inspiring them to try, even if you are unsure.