Chronic Illness & Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome is somewhat an ominous name. Pretty much everyone is aware that an imposter is someone that is pretending to be something/someone they are not. Imposter syndrome involves feelings of self-doubt that persists despite your education, experience and accomplishments. To counter these feelings, you usually end up working harder and holding yourself to higher standards. Unfortunately imposter syndrome and chronic illness go hand and hand.
Most chronic illnesses are invisible, meaning you can't really see or tell how they affect someone just by looking at them. You have to look beyond the exterior in order to truly understand how chronic illnesses impact a person and their life. It can be hard for people to do this, what's that phrase, "seeing is believing"? Not everything can be seen at face value, more often times than not you have to look deeper, need to look deeper to truly understand the world around you.
Imposter syndrome seems to be inevitable if you have been diagnosed with a chronic illness. The road to diagnosis is not an easy one and often means going through countless doctors and specialists. When trying to get diagnosed, you can go through many doctors for typically three reasons. One, the doctor doesn't believe you so you have to find one that does. Two, the doctor isn't interested in helping you because they don't know what is wrong with you. And three, the doctor misdiagnoses you or runs tests that say everything is normal and refuses to explore any further possibilities. Sometimes it's a combination of all three.
The constant rejection and lack of answers can make you start to doubt yourself and whether you really are sick. I don't know how many times I questioned whether I was truly sick or if it was all in my head after another failed doctors appointment and no answers. Seeing doctors and having them tell me I'm crazy, I want attention, it is probably just that time of the month or I'm just lazy took more of a toll on me than I realized. After so many doctors appointments with this outcome my parents used to have to coach me in the car on the way to appointments to make sure I wouldn't down play my symptoms. I became so scared of rejection and being turned away by doctors, that downplaying my symptoms felt safer for some reason. I guess I felt like it would make things more believable maybe, to have symptoms that are more reasonable for a young female to have rather than the ones I was really dealing with. I was desperate for help and this is the best I could come up with to ensure I wasn't turned away by a doctor before they really heard me out, did some tests. I downplayed my symptoms so bad that my parents would make sure I didn't go to any appointments alone, so they could advocate for me and tell the truth. My parents made sure to be at all doctors appointments with me up until about a year ago. Even though I am fully capable of advocating for my self, old habits die hard and it's easy to be that scared little girl getting bullied by doctors who tell her she can't trust her feelings.
The doctors office might be where the imposter syndrome starts when it comes to chronic illness, but that is not where it ends. It can be difficult for family and friends to truly understand. People have a pretty standard black and white point of view when it comes to illness and the medical field. When you are sick you go to the doctor and they help you feel better and recover. I was guilty of having this perspective, but nobody told me that you can get sick and never recover. I got sick and the first assumption people made is there must not be anything wrong with me because if there was, the doctors could fix it. Nobody ever questioned what the doctors told me or challenged if it was correct. It always felt like I was the problem, even though I was doing what I was supposed to be doing and going to the doctor. Nobody wanted to take the blame or look on a deeper level to see if they could figure out what was wrong with me. I guess it is scary for people to look further and admit that there are illnesses and ailments that just aren't curable and will be life long. It's human nature to want to tirelessly find a solution for everything. It is not comfortable to just have to accept the way that things are. Doctors typically don't want to admit they're wrong or don't want to provide lifelong bandaid solutions for a chronic illness patient. It is more rewarding to be able to cure a patient to the point they don't need to go to the doctor anymore. It is far easier it seems to blame the sick girl and tell her it's all in her head than to actually help her. This damages relationships, friendships and ingrains the symptoms/feelings of imposter syndrome deeper.
Not only do I feel imposter syndrome when it comes to, "am I sick enough for the doctors or the outside world to believe me". I also feel imposter syndrome when it comes to other people with my conditions or other chronic illnesses. I without fail always compare myself to them to see if I think I am sick enough to relate to them or talk with them. Whenever I post on here, I always have struggles with imposter syndrome. Is what I say actually helpful or important? Will anybody even relate to what I am talking about? Do I even have enough experience and struggles for what I say to make a difference? All of these things and more go through my head. I suppose this goes back to when I share my diagnosis with people and they say things like, "it could be worse" or "at least you don't have X, Y, Z". It discredits what you have been through and makes you feel like you can't show or talk about your symptoms because you could be suffering from something much worse. Everyones experiences are valid and you shouldn't feel like you have to go through only certain struggles or illnesses in order for it to matter.