Hey y’all. I have missed you all. Really. And I could not wait for Friday to initiate a chance that would allow me to receive those interesting emails from you when you react to what I have written. First of all, help me appreciate my friend Kelvin Momanyi— such a sweet guy—for taking his time and skills to make my blog look better.
Early this month I won an award for gender reporting. This is my third journalism award since I started practising journalism three and a half years go(one continental and another national last year). This particular award brought such an avalanche of memories and introspection. The applause that it drew made me want to continue with the journey of trying to kill myself. Hold on. Can I get a little deeper on that?
My godfather had always dreaded the day I would start dating. I am, he thinks, too “intense”. He said he liked it that I gave my all to everything I did, but hated that I always thought it would work. He would always say frustratingly: “Veroh, you must make provisions for how you are going to deal with stuff not going the way you plan because that is going to happen at some point”. Last year, looking at him with my large tear-stained swollen eyes after a major heartbreak, he said lamely: “You know one day we will remember and laugh about how you are such an ugly crier”.
I want to let you in my world a bit, as I have done before on one of my posts here. I am a very loud introvert. When you meet me you would think I am the life of the party. On the contrary, I love to retreat in quiet spaces. Believe me in such quietness, I come up with leads for my best written pieces, the chord progressions for my best music pieces. I grew up in the flower farms in Naivasha, co-existing with the most unadulterated forms of nature: wildlife, trees, the sweet aroma of more than 30 species of flower, the lake, horses… A loner, I read everything I lay my hands on. The owners of the flower farm for which daddy worked were Dutch and they always gave me these collection of high end magazines like Vanity Fair, OK! Vogue. This cultivated a perception of the arts beyond the tiny rural world that my life was lived. By 17, I could play a few musical instruments, knit and crotchet, sew my own clothes and write. In high school, I was in music, the school basketball volleyball and handball team. In college, I had registered my tailoring company, got me a few tenders, recorded an album and taken myself through my undergraduate degree, albeit with such material difficulties you would expect of every orphaned Kenyan girl.
However, amidst the pomp and glory, there was a nagging voice, a constant companion in my internal abysmal loneliness. It kept telling me “Your designs are not good enough. Your writing is crappy. Your music is horrible and you are generally a terrible person”. This voice was always laughing at me whenever I conceived an idea to further my gifts. It ate into my work: I felt like a criminal whenever my boss would tell me “you did well”. It affected my relationships: I felt I am only supposed to give, not worthy of taking at all. I am a good designer, or so people have told me, but with the syndrome in context, it is hardly surprising that 99 per cent of the dresses I have sown are won by me. I never thought they were something someone would pay money for. I recorded an album in 2011, and one single therein was well received in the radios, but I withdrew the album from the market and never got actively in music again after that except a few gigs in weddings after bullying from my friends from college. It is just the other day, I gathered courage to share my manuscripts, and telling the lady “they are nothing really, just some lame stuff I scribble” and she was like “why did you keep this to yourself?”
To my surprise, there is a professional name psychologists use to describe what I was feeling. In 1978, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes called it “the impostor syndrome”. They described it as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” While I am “highly motivated to achieve,” I also “live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds.”
Have you been there? You are gifted at a craft, people tell you what an awesome person and then that voice in you belittles that by “Verah, s/he is lying, you may be ok, not that good”. Every time you achieve something, you ask yourself what/who gave you the nerve to imagine you could have that relationship, that job, that kind of health, that sense of style…That is the “me” that I have been trying to kill. I was surprised that I am not the only that has suffered from this. In her book, Lean in, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said how she reacted to being named one of the most influential women in the world and she went around the office asking people not to share that information on their social media until a colleague called her aside and asked her to process that honor properly. She wrote of another woman in her book She explained that many people, but especially women, feel fraudulent when they are praised for their accomplishments. Instead of feeling worthy of recognition, they feel undeserving and guilty, as if a mistake has been made. Despite being high achievers, even experts in their fields, women can’t seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for who they really are- impostors with limited skills or abilities”
This syndrome makes you talk people out of loving you. You are complimented and your response? Wait for it. “I know you don’t mean that, you know I am just an awful human being”. In some cases, you will just sabotage the relationship altogether so that the voice can say “it was just a matter of time, because you are an awful person, see? Everybody walks away”. You talk yourself out of jobs, promotions when you work so hard and then get comfortable for letting someone take the credit. In one of Joyce Meyer’s books—I have read so many of them I cannot recall the title of this one— she says that there are people who are complimented and they respond with “It is not me at all, don’t give me credit, it is God”.
Sadly, the world can smell this self-depreciation from afar. People will notice the gold that is you and exploit it, use you to advance themselves and because you will thank them for treating you so badly, they will not blink an eye doing you wrong. One day I went complaining to my blogger friend Damaris Muga complaining about how another friendship of mine had just collapsed after all I did to make it work. She asked me “have you ever asked me yourself why these things come to you and the people you think are worse human beings are treated like queens?” I was getting angry at her for even suggesting I had a role to play in this. She said “your mind tells you that you only deserve little and would take all manner of crap from people, because you have some twisted sense of forgiveness that persuades you to let people get away with treating you like a door mat.”
I don’t know how you impostor syndrome took habitation in you. It could be an environment where you grew in where people kept telling you how you are not good enough. Maybe it is constant failure but tonight, the first step is deciding you deserve better.
Next post would be about how I have been confronting my syndrome. In the meantime, I would like to hear of your story about the syndrome.