A thought struck me as I waved K off to work one morning – looking all hotshot and capable in his well-cut suit – and I resolved to talk to him about it when he returned. His manner, his demeanour, the way he talks, told me self-doubt is something he rarely experiences.
For some reason, on this particular morning, the idea was like a revelation to me – “What must that feel like?”
He moves in a world of certitude, while I scramble around in a fun-fair “House of Horrors” complete with moving floors and jarring siren-wail drowning out rationality. That’s life with Borderline Personality Disorder.
That evening after dinner, with the kids in bed, I posed the question,
“Is self-doubt something you experience often?” He shook his head.
I knew it!
Watching him carefully for the smallest indication of an eye-roll, I searched for words to explain the breadth of difference in our perceptions. You see, for me, every day is an exercise in Feeling Fear And Doing Stuff Anyway; it’s just the degree that varies.
I watch others, wondering if they feel it too – I’m guessing most don’t, at least not to the same degree. On a bad day, even going out for bread is a test of my determination. I’m hopeful no one clocks my hand shaking as I put my card in the reader at the till.
I feel awkward and conspicuous. I’m that person flashing a smile in the hope you’ll forgive the shortcomings I think you’ll think I make. I look people in the eye while talking then worry I’ve done it for too long, the worry drowns out what they’re saying and then I worry they think I’m not listening. A million stupid little things like this mean by the time I’m back in my own company, I feel as though I’ve just had to explain my reason for existing to the Dragon’s Den panel and they all said, “I’m out.”
“Either you’re the best actress on the planet or things aren’t as bad as you make them out to be.”
That stings. Not just because of the implied exaggeration but because he doesn’t know me like I thought he did. It’s not really his fault. Psychologists tell us that if you project an air of confidence you’re more likely to succeed – whether or not you actually feel it. So I throw myself in and act my little heart out, and it seems to be working.
If I’m lucky, I’ll start to enjoy myself and forget my fears. If not, my mood spirals downwards. I become convinced my struggles are visible to everyone, and feel stupid and useless. This quickly shifts from a feeling to a belief, and uncorrected takes me to subterranean shades of misery that mean I’ve paid out too much line and may not be able to pull myself out anytime soon.
But self-doubt needn’t block the path to achievement – it just makes you think it will and leaves you to sabotage your own life. In his book “Uncertainty”, Jonathan Fields relates that surveys of highly successful CEOs revealed they were all wracked by doubts. The thing that made them successful was that they had developed ways of pushing past those fears and acting anyway. Sound familiar? Once again, I’m reminded to place more trust in myself. I naturally find what works for me.
Reading a summary of my Myers-Briggs personality-type, (I’m an ISFJ – check yours out here or take the test here) I noted I benefit from “doing concrete productive tasks – such as time online, running, cooking, reading, or gardening.” That’s my life right there! Well, my garden’s in England but you get the picture. And there’s a middle finger waiting for K next time he moans at me for being welded to the laptop.
Writers experience anxiety – it’s par for the course as ideas germinate and take shape. I’m slowly changing my perception of it – starting to see it as a necessary part of a process and not something to be feared. If writers must be comfortable with fear and self-doubt then, Hell! I’ve been in training all my life!
In his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus” Albert Camus set out his philosophy of the absurd. In Man’s futile search for meaning and clarity in the face of an unintelligible world, Camus concluded that even in the absence of hope we must still struggle to survive. Push through, drive ourselves forward, even when the way is unclear and the reason eludes us. It’s in our revolt against the absurdity of life that we really learn what it is to live. We’ve all got our rocks to push up a mountain.
How do you handle self-doubt? Are you a Great Pretender like me or is anxiety just a word to you? Do you experience self-doubt about your writing? What steps do you take to overcome it? Drop me a line in the comments below and tell me about your Sisyphean task…
Author’s note, June 2014: Since the time of writing I’ve been re-diagnosed with Aspergers and Bipolar II. I no longer meet the criteria for BPD and given the existing cases of Aspergers and bipolar in my direct family I have to admit this re-diagnosis seems a more accurate explanation for my symptoms. Oh, the beauty of hindsight…