Last week I received a rather nice compliment from my client after completing a particularly troublesome task for them. I say troublesome not to refer to the difficulty of the project, but rather referring to my feelings about it after I’d finished. I thought it was acceptable at best, but that there was a lot of room for improvement. I thought, as I usually do, that the client would look at it with displeasure and ask me to redo parts of it.
So, when I got this compliment, my first thought was, “well, clearly that can’t be right.” Clearly, I thought, my client had fucked something up, had assigned me credit I didn’t deserve. Yet since no one else had worked on that part of the project, there was no one else that could have been deserving of the credit instead. And my boss, who was also familiar with my work, seemed to accept it without question, even forwarding it to the higher ups within my company, with me thinking, no, no-no, no, no that isn’t right.
Those without mental health struggles might dismiss this as just me being humble, but it isn’t. Those with depression will likely recognize it for what it is however, a symptom of the mental illness. Those familiar with what it is like to live with mental illness will likely recognize the nagging sense that nothing you do is good enough, that you shouldn’t even try, and that when you do get recognized for something, it is clearly a mistake because who would recognize work that you had done.
Then this feeds into the anxiety, kicking it into high gear as your pulse quickens and you worry incessantly that you will be found out, that you’ll be recognized as a fraud. You look around at coworkers with suspicion, thinking clearly they are telling each other just how awful you are at your job only to turn around and get clotheslined by a surprise compliment, which again you think must be a mistake.
But it isn’t a mistake. It is just the lies your brain tells you as it tries to keep you captive in a prison of your mind’s own making. Most days I can convince myself I am not a fraud. And, if I were a betting man, I’d be willing to be you aren’t a fraud either. Because thinking that you are a fraud, that you aren’t good enough, well, that clearly isn’t right. I am enough and so are you, and you should never let anyone (yourself included!) tell you anything different.