The Imposter will come upon you quickly and suddenly. She will come often but that won’t stop you from being startled each time she pounces, from feeling winded each time she fades into the background of your life, leaving you to begin building a false sense of security before she pounces again and shatters everything you think you are worth. The Imposter will always leave her marks on you. Bruises to remind you that you are only as capable, as consequential, as she thinks you are, and she doesn’t think you are much of any of those things. You will live shackled by your fear of her, nay, by your resignation about her presence in your life. She is real, terrifying, and wiser than you are because at least she knows that you are living a lie. She knows. And she will keep coming to remind you.
I would like for this post to be some philosophical piece about how I have learnt to deal with feeling like a fraud, how you too can overcome this emotional disease if only you elevate your mind. I would like to give a moving story about how I have risen above, come into my own, unlocked my potential by looking The Imposter in the eye and ‘refusing her abuse’…but this is not a story of triumph. Speaking of triumph, I’ve recently seen a tweet about how this motivational speaker went to my brother’s high school and told them that the only difference between try and triumph is that ‘umph’ (pronounced oomph) and I just—
Sigh. I don’t see how I can take my age-mates seriously if this is the kind of thing we used to find life-altering. Aki high school was the ghetto. And this fast on the heels of another tweet reminding me about the Illuminati mess from circa Form Two…That man really came and preached to us about how rap music was demonic, how the reason hip-hop musicians rapped so fast was to keep us from discerning that the lyrics were actually incantations invoking Satan and his legion. Sir, I have several questions; first of all, how dare you. But this is a story for another day.
I have spent the bigger part of this day reading old posts on this blog. I haven’t had much to say lately and I thought maybe if I read my old stuff, I’d get inspired. It worked, I suppose, seeing as how I already know that my next post is likely to be about my fall from salvation and unquestioning belief to the depths of the heathen. It also worked because while I cringed at some pieces, I thoroughly enjoyed others. I mean, wow, you guys have really been having a time of it with these my blog posts and none of you even thought to tell me how hilarious I can be. Had me out here thinking I was boring the three post-demanders to the beyond when these posts are actually premium content. Amazing.
Reading my old work evoked emotions, many of them. My marvel at the realization that I can actually be funny aside, I am baffled by how difficult it still is to write this post. It feels like something has settled itself at the gate of my brain, denying exit to the words I want to spill onto this page. I wonder because the old posts I have read seem so… effortless. Reading them paints a clear picture of Younger Me on my old laptop, typing away with smooth consistency or furious urgency because the words just keep coming and coming and coming. Younger Me with unsure dreams, bad posture, and words. So many words.
And now? I have to squeeze them out and they come in slow drops. A lot of the time those that do come out are not even the ones that I want. What happened to the girl who wrote those old posts? What happened to the easy words? Did I run out of experiences, out of words to describe those experiences, or out of belief that those experiences matter enough to be described?
I cannot know. I can only guess and right now my money is on The Imposter, who, I realise now, grew more powerful as I grew older – Younger Me wrote freely because The Imposter had not yet beaten her into submission. And nothing shows this quite as clearly as the fact that I have now made the problem into a person, with a proper name, capital letters and all. Calling it the imposter syndrome didn’t feel like it did justice to all the damage left behind once it was through breaking me down and keeping me in the place where doubt lives, where accomplishments are only strokes of good luck and where we all know that luck runs out. The Imposter found a way to block my emotions so that they would not translate into written words and I was left with…nothing. Well, nothing but questions. Why am I even still keeping this blog? Why do I imagine people want to read this? Why do I still call myself a writer when I know that I have no words left? Why do I still come to the blank page just to leave it blank?
I watched a video recently in which Patricia Kihoro was talking about why she doesn’t really sing anymore. She said something about how she stopped believing in herself and how that lack of self-belief kind of crippled her. Guys, I felt that. Everybody felt that. I don’t know anybody who hasn’t been held back once or twenty times by a wave of self-doubt that told them they probably couldn’t do it, probably sucked, so why bother anyway. Except maybe my brother Kevin, but he is special in many ways. You know how some people think Mark Zuckerberg looks like some villain in a movie? My brother has that same look about him. If I find out twenty years from now that Kevin has evolved into some Lex Luthor type, I truly will not be surprised. Media houses will fight to interview me about my brother’s descent into madness and I will be blank-faced on national television and say, “Yup. Honestly, Karen, I don’t know why everybody is surprised. The signs were all there…the lack of sentiment, the ability to look you in the eye for an entire conversation and not hear a word you said, the charm used to win the allegiance of rich and powerful people, the interest in the terrifying creatures of the deep sea, the unfazed self-assurance, the grand money-making schemes, the lack of tolerance for sugar…does this not sound to you like the origin story of a supervillain, Karen?”
So apart from Kevin, who is sworn enemies with the concept of self-doubt, the rest of us mere mortals have taken a pounding at least a couple of times from The Imposter and her children. Think of all the things you could have created by now if only…
The Imposter is powerful and vindictive. Every accomplishment of mine is an assault to her and she does not let things go. She does not want me to think myself capable and so jumps on every chance to tear me down because that is how abusive relationships work. She is at her best when I am at my smallest. She is angry that in an attempt to fight back, I called her The Imposter, even though her entire purpose is to make me feel like an imposter. She keeps my words blocked, keeps my eyes on the achievements of others (including Younger Me), keeps my hands trembling and my heart shrouded in doubt. Keeps telling me that I know that I am a fraud, that my writing is a sham and sooner or later, everybody else will know too so I should save myself and Just. Stop. Creating.
Before it’s too late.
I am vulnerable. These attacks work. The Imposter is used to winning. My only defence against her is resilience. Anybody who knows anything about me knows that that isn’t a virtue that I have a lot of. I know that nobody’s mama raised a quitter but unfortunately mine did, though through no fault of her own. Quitting comes so easily to me. It doesn’t take much to make me turn and walk away. I know, I should probably address that in therapy.
But the point is I am still here. At the blank page. And look, it isn’t blank anymore.
I am still here, banging away on this keyboard, willing the words to return to me. That looks a lot like resilience, no? I do not have a lot of it but it looks like the little that is there might just be enough. Perhaps there is hope for victory against The Imposter yet. It would appear that since I am still trying, all that is missing is the ‘umph’.
God. I can’t believe I just wove that quote back into this post. I am ready to schedule motivational talks in various high schools across the country now. Aspire to inspire before you expire, amirite?