Chronic Illness and the Imposter Syndrome

As a go-getter, highly effective leader, who also happens to be a woman, I am quite aware of imposter syndrome and how it manifests itself in my life. I’m familiar with feeling like I’m going to be “found out” like I’m going to fail, like I have no clue what I’m doing, no one believes me, no one wants to follow me or work to understand me, regardless of how much I accomplish or achieve. It’s a rather horrid thing to do to yourself, nonetheless, I have definitely suffered from it.

For the past year and a half, my health has “taken me out of the ring” in the professional world. Because of this, I didn’t recognize the emotions I’ve been struggling with as imposter syndrome, because I’m no longer working at a fast pace and reaching high goals. Yet today I recognized imposter syndrome isn’t just for a professional life.

It can also be for chronic illness.

You see, this week my Dr. discussed switching to a longer acting medication for my chronic diseases which have drastically changed my lifestyle. While my first thought was hope, maybe now I could go a longer time without pain instead of just 2 or 3 hours, that would be wonderful and make such a huge positive impact on my quality of life! Then…? Then I jumped right to “but these medications are reserved for people who are really sick. I’m not really sick. People are going to think I’m a druggie or an addict. People will judge me and think I’m making my ailments and pain up. They will think I’m a fake and I don’t really need this type of medication…or even medication at all…”

Number 1: It doesn’t matter what people think about me.

Well, yeah…tell that to my brain when going through this ridiculous imposter syndrome mental roller coaster.

Number 2: My Dr. has my lab tests, my MRIs and my health record. We’ve been working together for 2 years, trying out every medication, supplement, dietary change, exercise, massage therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture and of course pharmaceutical there is. We’ve learned my liver processes things 3x faster than the average female my size. We’ve learned what is supposed to be a “miracle cure” for some doesn’t even make a tiny spec of difference to me. We’ve learned I have adverse reactions to things that are seemingly “easy on the system” and low risk. In other words, my Dr. knows me and my health and he wouldn’t discuss this type of treatment if he didn’t feel it was a viable option.

Yet I was still going through the mental anguish of imposter syndrome.

So where did this Imposter Syndrome pop up in my life, as a chronic illness patient? Quite possibly it could have stemmed from the doctors I’ve seen in the past, not all of them mind you, but some of them have definitely contributed to this feeling of “fraud.” I had a neurologist tell me my husband was going to leave me because I relied on him to do too much in the home. I had a Dr tell me to drink more caffeine to help with the exhaustion. I had another Dr tell me that he wouldn’t treat me if I was just looking for pain medication (I wasn’t, I was looking for HELP, which is why I WENT in the first place). I had a Dr tell me I needed to lose weight and then I would feel better…oh, and I was 4 weeks postpartum from my 4th child who was born premature and spent the summer in the NICU and I was beginning to battle the worst post partum depression of me life….

These Drs. were not helpful, they took their scalpels to my confidence and my ego. They made me feel like I was a liar, a fraud, someone who was making it all up. When they take up the oath to “do no harm,” I think they should also take into consideration not harming their patient’s mental health….but that’s a whole different topic!

When I looked up Imposter Syndrome and Chronic Illness I did not find much. Yet a brave woman named Tricia Gaastra wrote an article for the site TheMighty.com titled, “What It’s Like to Experience Imposter Syndrome as a result of Chronic Illness” and in it she said:

“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.”

I totally relate to this. And I know so many other chronic illness patients do as well.

Yet Imposter Syndrome isn’t just for the professional world or Chronic Illness patients. It’s also for parenting (um hello…being a mom? I think all mothers deal with this on a minute by minute basis on the hard days). It could be for our hobbies and talents (maybe you like to write, or crochet or paint or run or….) it could be for so many things. But I think the important thing to remember is, regardless of what the negative committee in your head tells you, you are not a fake, you are not an imposter. You are you, and as Dr Seuss says “there is no one alive who is you-er than you!”

Do you suffer from imposter syndrome, how does it manifest in your life? How do you get it to stop or how do you learn to deal with it and recognize it as part of your life? Your thoughts are important on this, so share! THANK YOU!

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