Yesterday in the UK we heard the news that lockdown will continue for at least another three weeks. It’s probably what most of us were expecting. It also seems the most sensible and the safest course of action in light of the fact deaths are still rising.
The last few days I’ve been struggling with a constant mix of emotions and from what I hear on social media, this is a very common way to feel. In a weird way, we have all adjusted to lockdown and for the most part, we seem to be making light of it and digging up our sense of humour to survive. I think most people would rather stay at home while the virus is still rife, if only to protect their loved ones.
I was thinking the other day how quickly we have got used to things that would have been very weird to us a few months ago. On our daily walk or cycle ride, we’ve got into the habit of looking out for other people. It’s only so that we can change direction if we need to, or move to make room and allow everyone enough space to pass. Ideally, we don’t really want to see other people when we are out because it has become very awkward and strange. No one really knows what to say. Everyone starts moving out of the way and it feels weird, like we are all diseased or dangerous or something. I start feeling like I’m living in a film, a post-apocalyptic one, where strangers usually mean danger.
I’m worried about causing anxiety about strangers in my youngest. I suddenly realised the other day how many times I say phrases such as; ‘let’s go early, so there’s no other people,’ ‘let’s go this way, because I can see people coming,’ ‘there’s people coming, so move over here.’ Scary, really. I have obviously explained to him why we are doing this and so far so good, he is five and seems to have adjusted to this better than the rest of us. But it’s unnerving in a way, how quickly weird things have become normal.
Like avoiding people. Like not going to work. Like not driving anywhere. Like not doing the school run. Like staying at home and making the most of the house and garden and our imaginations. Like eating slightly odd dinners based on the fact we can’t always get what we need in the shops. Like constantly wondering what the fallout of all of this will be on society…
It’s weird, but it’s become normal. We’re getting used to it. The other thing is the constant confusion, and by this I suppose I mean confused emotions. I’m an emotional person at the best of times, so this is playing havoc with me. I’m up and down and all over the place. I have such mixed feelings about everything. I both love and hate lockdown. I both long for ‘normal’ life and fear it returning. I’m thinking a lot about a lot of things and that’s pretty exhausting.
My own confusion is hard to understand, although I think I’m getting closer. I will probably delve into it in another blog post.
But from what I see and hear around me, feeling constantly confused during this strange and scary time is perfectly okay. Maybe our confusion is the most normal part about this. No one really knows what is going to happen. Everyone is scared on some level. Everyone is doing their best and putting a brave face on as much as they can. But it’s weird that weird has become normal and we are definitely very confused.
Who didn’t see it coming…who thought it would never happen. Who once looked at other ‘middle-aged’ ladies and couldn’t believe that would ever be you. Because it seemed so impossible and you felt so invincible. In your teens, and twenties, ready to take on the world, believing you could ‘have it all’, even your thirties were a breeze compared to this.
I see you, forty-something-year old woman, I pass you every day on the school run. Your car passes mine, and as we make way for each other, we briefly wave a harassed thank you. We pass in the playground, trying to remember to smile whilst realising we have toothpaste on our top and our child should be dressed in mufti…
I see you driving your car, letting me go, just like I let you go, as if there is this silent, unspoken agreement among forty-something mums, that we will help each other out where we can. You smile in exhausted thanks and I smile back. No problem. I know the feeling.
Dear forty-something-year old woman, I see you tapping into your phone while waiting for your child to finish their club and I see the disapproving glares you get from grandmothers and grandfathers. They don’t know what I know. That you are receiving text messages from your teenager, who might miss their bus and might also need picking up, even though that means driving across the other side of town, right into rush hour traffic. That you are answering emails from work as they pop up endlessly on your screen, because you might as well deal with them now so that later you can give yourself to your kids. That you are paying bills with a tap and a swipe, or answering messages to keep your business going.
I see you in the supermarket looking lost as you naviagate the ailsles, torn as always between pleasing everyone, keeping them healthy and balancing the bank account. Someone phones you wanting something from you. Texts bing and vibrate. You don’t want to be there, or anywhere. You want to run and hide.
But you do it all anyway, as if getting married and giving birth automatically allocated the most mundane jobs your way. Choosing the meals, planning the menu, writing the list, driving everywhere, finding a parking space, traipsing the aisles and secretly wanting to ram your trolley into every inconsiderate person who gets in your way. Packing the shopping into the bags for life as fast as the checkout lady can throw it at you. Trying not to displease anyone, and all the time, wishing you could just scream.
I see you when you go jogging, fitting it in when you can, which is never as often as you think you should…I see the guilt on your face that you are doing something just for you, to make you feel better, something that takes you away from your family. And I see your face when you pass your reflection and wonder what happened to the old you, why it’s so hard to lose weight these days, why no matter how much you run, or diet, it’s still just the same, like your body is determined to turn you into a frump.
I see you at the doctor’s surgery, wondering whether you are wasting their time and yours, but worried all the same, about bulging veins, or hot flushes or misbehaving periods. I see you following health advice on social media, noting supplements that might help, whilst all the time knowing deep inside that nothing will help apart from screaming.
Dear forty-something-year-old woman, hot and tired and red-faced, your teenage hormones are back to haunt you. A second adolescence, a rerun of puberty, from bad skin and weight gain, to rollercoaster emotions. One minute you are as high as the sky, without any wine, high on life, smiling to yourself, content and in a perfect dream, everything makes you happy, everything is to hope for and dream for. The next moment you are exploding from the inside, red rage billowing in your guts and spewing like fire up to your flame-red chest. You are gritting your teeth, afraid to let go, afraid to do anything more than sigh or roll your eyes, because if you do, if you open your mouth, if you let it out, give voice to every little thing that has ever pissed you off…it might never end, you might never stop. And then you are crashing, falling, spiralling violently down to earth and after that, just sadness. Almost a comfortable friend. Someone you remember from the past. Tears in your eyes at almost everything. You want to be alone with this. You need to be alone.
Insecurity, self-doubt, urges to self-destruct. What you really need is time alone, or with a friend, with another self-depracating forty-something-year-old woman, who feels the same, who knows what you know and can help put names to the feelings. You want to explode, you want to be seen but also invisible.
But you can’t. Not when there are children to pick up, and playground etiquette to observe, emails to read and answer, lists to tick off, money to save, beds to make, washing to hang out and bring back in and place on the stairs for everyone but you to ignore, toilets to clean, gardens to tend, dogs to walk, homework to supervise, bills to pay, shopping to do, Christmas to plan and in the middle of it all stands you, swimming, while the world spins around you.
I know you sometimes think that you are not good enough. That you will never win, never do it all or have it all, never feel thin enough, that the to-do list will never end, that you’ll always be lacking, torn between kids and work and relationships. I know you fear so much. That your mind turns and your stomach churns with the great unknown, with climate change and Brexit, with plastic pollution and school funding, with things you have no control over, things you want to protect your children from. It keeps you awake at night and hits you cold at the strangest of times. What are we doing here? What is this all about? Is this what I thought life would be?
Forty-something years old…but still you. Still young. Tougher than you know. Shining brighter than you realise. So much would fall apart without you at the centre. Forty-something, but still something…still someone.
Dear forty-something-year-old woman, let’s be friends. Let’s see each other. Let’s smile and wave and meet for coffee and wine. Let’s name our grievances and laugh about them. Let’s swap horror stories and feel less alone. Let’s remind each other that though so much is behind us, including our youth, there is still so much more ahead. That it can only get easier, that the best way through is to laugh and scream and cry and sing. That we are still us and that sometimes we need help and that sometimes we just need each other.
” Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.”
Self-doubt is something that has plagued me my whole life and I am sure I am not alone in that. When I was younger especially, I had a habit of talking myself out of things I wanted to do, because this inner voice did not believe I could do them. This voice told me it was better to stand back and hide. Run away. And that’s what I did, one way or another, for many years.
Of course these days, as a so-called adult, I know better than to compare myself to others. I am me and I have come a long way since my anxious, angsty teen years which were nothing short of a horror show.
At least, I thought I had.
One of these days I am going to blog about the perimenopause which I believe I have entered but not yet. It’s definitely making everything worse as my teenage me is back to haunt in oh so many ways…
Self-doubt and imposter syndrome being one of them.
I’m pretty sure all writers get imposter syndrome one way or another. Well, maybe not Stephen King. I have to admit, I don’t really get it with my writing. And that’s not to say I’m big-headed about my work. I’m not. Why would I be? I hardly sell a thing. But because I write for myself first, for the pure pleasure and joy it brings me, for keeping me sane, giving me an escape, I could go on…Writing is my biggest passion and it always will be. I don’t think my writing is the best thing ever, but it does make me happy, so I don’t feel like an imposter, because I am just being me, doing what I love.
But for the last few weeks the imposter syndrome has really hit hard in other areas of life. In fact there are only two areas unscathed. Mothering and writing. I know I am a good mother and I know I am a good writer, at least for myself.
But hormones and emotions are having a lot of fun with me right now. Clawing their way onto my back and digging in for the ride. Whispering in my ear that everything I do is a failure, that I’m a failure, that I ought to give up and walk away, that I’m rubbish, useless, pointless. I feel this pressure given only by myself every moment of every day. It’s like something I cannot shake free from.
For the last few weeks I have seriously considered quitting my company. For those who don’t know, I started a writing group in 2015 as I could not find a local writing group to go to that fit in with having kids. I started my own and after a lot of thought and research I branched out into kids workshops. I used to be a childminder and I had really missed working with kids so it seemed to make sense to combine two things I loved, kids and writing and try to encourage the next generation of writing.
This then evolved into me becoming a community interest company in 2017, which was a brave move because it is just me, on my own, doing everything. A few years later and I still can’t shake the feeling that although the idea behind my company is a good one, I am not the right person to be doing it. When I stand in front of new writers and talk them through the ups and downs of self-publishing or building an author platform, I often think, who am I to be telling them anything?
The urge to quit has got very strong lately and it’s hard to explain why, as everything is going very well. It’s hard work, it’s time consuming and the paperwork drives me crazy…but I do genuinely enjoy being with writers, whether they are children or adults. So why the self-doubt? I’ve no idea but I wish it would go away.
It really is like a nasty voice whispering in my ear the whole time. It got so bad last week that I almost decided I would quit…I would go back to dog-walking full time because I’m better with dogs than people, there is less paperwork, less stress, more time alone, no people and so on. This was me wanting to hide. Wanting to run away and avoid the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. This week I feel differently and several things have helped me be more positive. So how to battle through imposter syndrome?
Here are a few things that have helped me lately;
look for concrete evidence that you are doing well. This could be financial, ie sales, or a promotion at work or whatever, but if there is concrete proof through your finances that you or your business is doing well, cling to this and use it to quiet the scathing voice of self-doubt
feedback. Another concrete piece of proof you can cling to when the voice of self-doubt comes whispering…last week I had a lovely email from a parent with regards to one of my writing clubs. It made me realise that actually over the years I’ve had a lot of lovely emails from people, so this means I have actually helped and made a difference to some of the people I have worked with.
write your fears down. No matter how irrational. You don’t have to show them to anyone else. Just write down what it is that is bothering you or niggling at you. I usually do this in the form of poems that only seem to come to me when I am feeling stressed, panicked or sad. It really, really helps to let it out.
find a level-headed person to talk to. Last week, battling the overwhelming urge to quit it all and become a recluse, I really, really needed someone to talk to. I like being alone and never feel lonely, so perhaps I do have a tendency to gently push people away. But I suddenly realised I needed a human to talk to, face to face. I needed a coffee with a friend, someone who wouldn’t mind me babbling on about my self-doubt, explaining my imposter syndrome and helping me work through it. I nearly asked on Facebook, can you believe that? I didn’t, of course, and as it happened, I ended up having a lovely long chat with my eldest daughter, who is a very sensible person. It helped a lot.
make a list of pros and cons. Whatever your self-doubt is telling you to do or not to do, write down the pros and cons of doing it or not doing it. I made a list for each company, my dog walking and my writing group. There were way more cons for the writing group and that is understandable. It’s a far bigger challenge where far more can go wrong! But writing out the pros really helped me realise the positives about my company, which I had started to forget.
Take some time. If I had made a snap decision after making that pros and cons list, I would have quit my company and googled how to dissolve a CIC. I would have followed through on my upcoming commitments and then bowed out and returned to full time dog walking and writing. Oh, how tempting and blissful that sounded…But I knew that as my hormones and emotions are all over the place, I should wait for the storm to die down and see how I felt a few days later, the next week, the next month and so on. Definitely don’t let self-doubt lead you into rash decisions.
try to remember why you started in the first place. This is what I came back to in the end. Why did I start this company? Because I love writing and I want to help other people start writing and keep writing. Because I want them to feel like I feel when I write, to have that escape and that release, to be able to create new worlds, new friends and adventures, to be able to use writing to make sense of this world and this life, to make sense of your thoughts and feelings and hopes and fears, to say something to the world, to leave your mark…Those were the reasons. They are still the reasons. So, as long as I can still see concrete evidence either through financial means or feedback, or both, I know that I am achieving what I set out to.
Be kind to yourself. It’s easy to say that, isn’t it? I see memes like that all over social media. Self-care. Self-love. We are all pretty terrible at it and I’m not sure why. That might be a topic for another day. And the advice is there and it’s quite correct, but it’s easy to say, easy to tell someone to be nicer to themselves, but far harder to actually follow that advice yourself. I try to do it in small ways. I have that coffee on the doorstep and some time to breathe. I give myself occasional days off where I just sit on the sofa and chill. I have that wine or cider on a Friday night. I hug and kiss my kids. I surround myself with animals and nature. I read, write and listen to music. Those are the ways I remember to be kind to myself. As for the inner voice of self-doubt, I don’t think she will ever go away but some days she is a lot quieter than others, and that is something.
Over to you. Do you suffer from self-doubt or have you ever experienced imposter syndrome in all its ugly glory? How did you deal with it? Please feel free to comment and share!
I suppose actors must feel like this too. I’m too introverted to have ever given acting a thought, but I can empathise with the urge to play around with emotions and reactions. To consider them, analyse them, practice them even. For this reason, writing offers up another reason to love it. Nothing is ever wasted. Nothing is ever meaningless. Everything I experience or observe in life can be used in writing.
This happened to me today, and then I started thinking about it, which led to me choosing it as the next reason on this series of posts.
I was out dog-walking when some recent worries suddenly caught up on me and I dissolved into unexpected tears. There was no one else around, so I guess my brain just seized upon the opportunity to let rip for a moment or two. My youngest child had a routine operation last week which all went well, but the recovery at home has been a lot tougher than we expected. To check all was okay, I’d called my surgery to request a phone call from the GP who had wanted to see my son as soon as possible. I knew in my gut and my heart that my son was going to be okay, but I guess a number of days holding it in and generally being exhausted had caught me up. I had a little cry about it, but then my mind did what it always does when I get emotional about something.
I started imagining I was one of my characters. I slotted instantly into a book I have not yet written, but have planned and plotted. A potential scene, a very upsetting one, started coming together very quickly in my head. My tears quickly dried up, but in my imagination, as my character, they carried on flowing. Before I knew it, I had walked further than I had intended, and my mind had shifted my worries from my real life into the fictional worlds I so often visit.
It’s fair to say, I used my genuine emotions to imagine how my character was feeling. As the anguish turned to anger for my character, I started to feel pissed off too. I snapped out of it at the appropriate time and felt a swell of excitement for the book I’m not yet ready to write.
I’m not sure if other writers will get this, or know what I mean, but I tend to feel that in my life, uncomfortable thoughts, emotions and experiences are quite welcome, because I can use them to improve my writing. The same goes for boredom, frustration, elation and excitement. Anything. Everything. Nothing is ever wasted or forgotten. The tiniest things, the most mundane of moments, the passing of time in a doctors surgery, the wind in my hair as I wander down a narrow country lane, the people in the distance, the cars passing on the road, the buzzard in the sky, the rain pelting down, the clutch of fear in my gut, the exhaustion pounding at my head, the hilarious thing a friend just said or did, the minor characters who all play their part in the story of my life, everything, anything, all of it is useful. All of it is observed, considered, anaylsed and absorbed. All of it is fuel. All of it is material.