Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which one doubts one’s accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. – Wikipedia
Yesterday I felt like such an imposter – but it’s been building up for awhile. After recently learning about my RSD (rejection sensitive dysphoria) it got me thinking, is what I am experiencing RSD, ADHD or Imposter syndrome – or all 3 at one time! Since my Facebook page’s burst in popularity, I’m still unsure why people enjoy what I am writing, posting, vlogging – but they do, us ADHDers I know relate in ways that I have never related to others, it’s comforting. However I admittedly struggle daily with this new found audience and the fear of failure is part of over-thinking thoughts that tries to creep in on the frequent. But I’m giving it my best, pushing through the mental obstacles my brain throws at me. I keep reminding myself the reasons I am doing this, fighting the stigma against ADHD and growing awareness, generating advocacy and support!
One of my supplementary day jobs is I work as an extra for a talent agency here in Auckland, New Zealand. It was an impulsive decision I made where I hoped I can gain experience working in a different creative field from what I am used to and gain more confidence in myself. So far it’s been great with the 2 previous jobs I have had working as an extra, I’ve basically been a human prop. Which was fine, it asked nothing of me and I felt pretty sure in myself in those moments. My mind was still screaming at me, “what the heck have you gotten yourself in to!” but I persevered and had the best time. I was well looked after by the production companies and felt like even though I didn’t know what I was doing – in the improv/acting kind of way – that I could do this and I’ve had more fun than I expected.
So a few days ago, my agency advertised for people who have an interest in LARP (Live action role-play) for a TV show. I felt pretty confident about it in the way I knew enough to apply and they were also looking for more people who were interested in it. So I put my hand up and the production company picked me. I was able to get a job for another friend who had been doing LARP for 7 years. I was really stoked for them.
I arrive on set and really wasn’t sure what was expected of me. I thought I would be doing a scene where I looked the part and had to do some very basic acting. But it was just me and my friend – and we were going to fight some of the other talent, which literally required sword skills and acting experience. I had neither! Doing LARP was something always on my bucket list, taking some drama lessons also. But I never have money to commit and I only have the cosplay and costume props that I had collected to choose from, I wanted to create a character costume that was LARP ready before I committed (now I realize I don’t need those and everyone starts somewhere but that’s another story for another day).
I needed to learn the basics of sword fight on the spot for a very short amount of time. I had a couple of experienced people show me what and not to do – don’t stab people or hit them in the head. Luckily I had some boxing experience so I didn’t feel as ‘flinchy’ when being hit but I giggled my whole way through with nervous anxiousness. My heart was racing.. “I can’t do this” my mind screamed at every turn. I tried to no avail to push it aside and dig deep. I have put so much off in my life and never tried things because I am always so worried of failing and looking like a fool. That people would tell me that that too, that I would be disliked. I also felt very sad about how dumb I must sound trying to recall what I knew about all this stuff. I realized if there is something I am confident about and know well, I could talk about it for hours. But on the spot and with something I have no faith in myself for discussing, I’m literally paralysed and I feel like I must sound fake. Do I though? I kept my cool, well tried to on the outside. I tried to remind myself I was probably as nervous as anybody else too!
It’s very confronting when your ADHD brain slaps you in the face. I did everything I could earlier to make sure I was prepared, I really did my best to accommodate myself. I had a good nights sleep, I ate a good breakfast, I stayed as hydrated as possible and I had a protein bar before I started. But then while talking to the director – I almost needed subtitles, my short term memory impairments kicked in and I had to ask my friend what he just said – I know I heard “do this and then do that”, but in what order!? And wait did you just ask me to act! My RSD lit up like a beacon in my mind, the fear of screwing this up and disappointing people, letting my agency down, wasting peoples time – it began to haunt me. There was so many people relying on me to do this one thing.
I just wanted to try give it my best, “You’ve got this Jenn!” I chanted in my mind, I tried to kick into hyper focus but as soon as it was time for me to do my part, the one on one fight – I forgot everything I just learned and the brain lag kicked in. “Don’t look at the director, don’t look at the camera, keep going – they’ll tell you if they hate it, right?” I told myself. I finished my scene, gratitudes were given and that was the end of my job for the day. It was done, just like that!
I walked out of the job, feeling good, 15 minutes went by and the over thinking despair went into over drive. I wanted to cry, I wanted to hide. What are these people thinking of me now. I wanted so badly to make a good impression, be worth their resources, create some art with a group of like minded people. But it is not for me to know what other people think. I began recalling what I learned in CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) – I’m not in control of what other people do, but I am in control about how I feel and react. It’s really hard to be mindful when you are by nature impulsive and living with a neuro divergent brain.
So what did I learn about myself in this process. I noticed a lot of things I already knew to be true but since the RSD trait realization is a very new thing for me – being able to correlate certain feelings to that gave me a real understanding of what is happening when I am experiencing it. It’s almost a painful feeling, like physiological response. But some how this time, just knowing, took the edge off a little – having words to articulate my experience, knowing it was normal and OK definitely helped. And today, I feel a bit better for it. I still had intense dreams last night while I was processing what happened – however what will be, will be. I gave it my best while being thrown in the deep end. I learned some valuable lessons about my mind and what to do when I experience these type of situations throughout my life.
But is it imposter syndrome – I think what this is, is perhaps exacerbated by the RSD.
It’s a combination of actually being very capable of doing something but not having any self belief – even when the evidence isn’t there to say otherwise. I probably did fine otherwise I would have been told I did terribly. And so be it, what was the worst that could actually happen, really? I need to just keep believing in myself, that I am actually smart, talented and a hard worker. But yes I also have ADHD that I need to keep in check and remember that is the reasoning and none of the negative messages I have told myself are actually true. And no, I’m not going to be the best at everything I attempt to do and that’s OK because I actually tried instead of side lining myself like I usually do and not try anything at all.. So onwards to the next job when I get picked again and go in with the experience and knowledge that I do have these impairments but I am truly capable and secretly self-confident.