Fight Feeling Like a Fraud!

I have been teleworking from home since March 16, 2020 due to COVID quarantines. It has been a bumpy process because at the same time, my son was also virtual learning. As you know from earlier posts, my husband also was going through the process of fighting for social security disability. He won his case, but we are still waiting on the backpay (we are at three months now and have been fighting for three years!). Oh, yeah, and there is the little matter of my dissertation too.

This is my mom’s list of who may enter (this is edited from someone else!). I’ll just take the puppies!

I have been battling internally for a couple months with the idea that I am not working hard enough. I am busier than ever, but I feel like I am getting nothing done. My days are filled with Zoom meetings, emails, and research on how I can turn my face to face workshops into virtual sessions. Oh, and there are also the committees and tasks forces I am a part of as well. And that is just my library job. I am also teaching, working on my dissertation, being a wife, parenting, keeping track of the household stuff, and so so much more. Yay, me!

Part of my struggle with my productivity is probably related to the feeling of Imposter Syndrome. I have had a couple of heart to hearts with my supervisor since March because my anxiety keeps telling me lies. The truth is that many of us feel like we don’t belong or have nothing interesting or worthwhile to share.

It is not the first time I have felt like that. On top of my regular office job, I teach a graduate level library science course about integrating STEM into libraries collections and programs. I am pretty sure by now you all know what STEM stands for, but just in case, it stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. A couple of terms ago, I had a student who had already received her PhD in Astrophysics. She was a Rocket Scientist! So here I was trying to teach a Rocket Scientist about STEM. Can you imagine? A librarian teaching a rocket scientist? What did I have to teach her that she didn’t already know? But that wasn’t the point of the course. I wasn’t there to teach STEM concepts, I was there really to teach about program planning, collection development, and, well, libraries. I was there to show the connection of how STEM fit into all of that. That is where I was the expert, so why did I feel like the biggest fraud there was?

A couple of weeks after the term was over, I received an email from another student in the course. He was thanking me for sharing my personal experiences and said that I had inspired him. That made me feel like all the other stuff didn’t matter. Here I had made an impact with at least one student and that was all I really needed. It was wonderful to hear back from this student that I had made a difference for him. But that feeling still lingered in my mind that I didn’t really deserve to be there teaching the course.

What causes us to have these feelings like we don’t belong?

We are living in a culture where we are told to be humble, that we shouldn’t talk about our accomplishments because it will come off as bragging or egotistical. So we downplay our accomplishments and it shocks us when other people point out them out and perhaps even makes us a little uncomfortable. I first heard the term Imposter Syndrome in Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. Apparently, this happens to a lot of people where we feel like we don’t deserve a seat at the table. This feeling of being an imposter chips away at our confidence. We feel anxious, stressed, and experience moments of self-doubt. Just like in my experience teaching my course, we feel like we have nothing of value to impart. Heck, even the COO of Facebook feels this way sometimes.

I like to joke that every time I create my monthly report at work, I am reminded of all the things that kept me busy that month. Let’s just say that it was eight pages long last month! But that monthly report is only a small snapshot of everything I do. Keeping a record like that can actually be pretty helpful when it comes to battling Imposter Syndrome.

A few months ago, I had to update my curriculum vita, which is basically an academics version of a resume. In case my boss is reading, don’t worry, I was not applying for a new job. I needed it as part of an application process for a research project related to my dissertation. It had been two years since I had last updated it. I’m a librarian, so one of the things I do when I have a task is to research it. As I looked up things to include in my CV, I realized I needed to add some sections. Things like committees and statewide projects I served on. Awards or grants I had received. As I added these things to my CV, I started to think to myself, why did I feel like a fraud? Right here on paper was a list of everything I had accomplished in my career. And I have to say it was a lot of stuff. Great stuff. Interesting stuff. Inspiring stuff. Publications and committees. International conferences. I had pages stating right there in black and white of all that I had accomplished. There was my reminder that I have value in my career and I deserved to be where I am.

This process of writing down a list of your accomplishments is actually a form of writing therapy that is used for people who might be suffering from forms of Imposter Syndrome. It is easy to dismiss our accomplishments, but much harder to do so when we have a written record showing that they exist in reality. I am sure that many of you have these same feelings like you don’t belong or that you are a fraud. In fact almost 70% of people worldwide suffer from these feelings.

We can wait for those moments when someone will say thank you or job well done. But while we are waiting, that feeling of being an imposter will continue to chip away at us. We need to tell ourselves that we are interesting. That we deserve to be where we are. That we deserve to strive towards our best potential. So I challenge you, create that list. It doesn’t have to be something as formal as a resume or a CV. Just simply take some time to list out everything you do. Then look at that list any time you feel like you don’t belong. You might be surprised at what you find.

Oh, yeah, I finished my completed draft of my dissertation this week. I am still waiting for the feedback from my supervising professor before the final draft and the defense, but I am feeling a little less like an imposter now. Here is to Dr. Jen in 2020!

Anxiety is my Superpower!

Welcome to the A-Z Blogging Challenge, Day 1! When I decided to participate, I plotted out what I would post each day. There were a couple of reasons for that…if I have a game plan then I am more likely to follow through and it also takes some of the pressure off to write. Today’s post is about anxiety.

When I plotted out my daily blog schedule, I was originally planning on writing about agile project management. It is a topic that we have been focusing on at work as part of our professional development. In fact, today was supposed to be the third and final session of our face to face workshops on the topic. I will probably touch on the topic again later this month in some way or another, but this morning I changed my mind on what I am going to talk about. Hey, isn’t being agile all about flexibility?

Last week, my husband had his Social Security Disability Hearing. This means he was in the third stage of the approval process after being denied twice through the other two stages. His lawyer shared his SSA records with me and honestly, I am not surprised that he was denied because his medical records suck. Basically, SSA was going off of nothing more than six months of records from the very beginnings of when he got sick which was back in 2017. The records were not detailed and a lot of it was still waiting on diagnostic tests. In this last round, we submitted over 600 pages of medical records for consideration. We are caustically optimistic, but still waiting.

So what does that have to do with my anxiety? Well, I have been worrying over nothing but this process for the past couple of years and now we are at a stage where we can do nothing but wait again. So all my anxiety has been focused on getting to this point and making sure we have everything we need and the right questions are being asked. Such as, can a person reasonably be expected to retain competitive employment when they have over ten appointments on average a month? The answer here is no, so fingers crossed.

Well, now that I don’t have to worry for the moment about that process, my mind has switched over to the topic that is on pretty much everyone’s mind these days— COVID-19. I actually had a mini breakdown with tears in the kitchen last night while making dinner. But that is okay! There is nothing wrong with having these moments. Give yourself permission to cry every now and then. We all feel overwhelmed sometimes. It is important to know that it is a temporary state and that too shall pass.

As I said in a previous post, we are sheltering at home here in Maryland per the governor’s orders. We have been very good at this. I call myself a Hobbit on a good day, let alone when we have to social distance. When I had my last day of work, we did our food shopping, but we are starting to dwindle our supply. My husband is high-risk, I did not want to venture to the store if I did not have to. Walmart is something that gives me anxiety on a normal day, which is why I am so happy that they have curbside pickup. Unfortunately, the hours have been so limited that at first we thought they had discontinued the program temporarily. This is where my anxiety comes in handy…

When my anxiety is flaring, I have trouble sleeping. So I will usually try to distract myself. Last night, I was up past midnight and decided to check out the Walmart Grocery website…Success! They had pick up slots available for Thursday. Now I have a grocery order scheduled for pickup and I can still follow social distancing while getting almost everything I need…still no TP anywhere. So if you are in need of groceries, try checking websites late at night.

When my anxiety is flaring, I can get hyper focused. Right now that focus is on finding ways to practice positivity and self-care. I was registered for a web session with Nataly Kogan, author of Happier Now, but I am tired since I was up so late last night. I almost skipped, but decided not to and I am glad I watched the session. The session was on using anchors or rituals as part of your daily self-care routine as a way to center yourself and not be so overwhelmed. Some of the suggestions are similar to the ones I gave a couple of days ago: take a walk, bake, talk to friends or family online, read, knit. Find something each day that will give you something to not only look forward to, but also give you something that is simple to accomplish. My son has been making his bed each morning. He saw that viral video from the admiral about if you want to make a change in the world, start by making your bed. My daily ritual will be to write these posts chronicling my thoughts during this time of uncertainty…finding a way to focus on the positive.

When my anxiety is flaring, I become a planner. Right now there is a list on my fridge of things I would like to accomplish while we are social distancing. Some of it has already been marked off, like catching up on laundry and planting my deck garden. Others are still pending, like spending some family time around the fire pit. There is no schedule for getting any of this done. There should be no obligations, but still something to look forward to. Normally, you would include dates to turn this into SMART Goals, but the point is the enjoyment not the productivity. Last night, the family played parcheesi…I lost, but we had fun and we were together. This wasn’t on my list, but it was on my son’s list. So that made it important to me.

I have chosen to reframe my anxiety by looking at it as an advantage. Reframing how I look at it is one way that I am coping right now. What is something that you are reframing to put a more positive spin on it?

My experience as a NICU mom

On Saturday, September 24th, 2005 at 11:22 am my son was born. However, far from being the best day of my life, it turned into one of the scariest. The delivery went pretty easy, just about ten hours. The scary part came when the doctors were doing their post-delivery tests. The APGAR was perfectly normal, but the doctors thought his breathing was in distress. They were going to have to take him away to run more tests. For one brief moment, I held my son before they whisked him away to the NICU. 

Scared, tired, and worried, it would be hours before anyone would tell us anything. Two other babies had also been admitted to the NICU within minutes of my son. That information did little to calm our nerves. Finally, after many hours the staff pediatrician came to tell us the news. A tiny air bubble had burst in my son’s lung, most likely from the trauma of his birth. This was causing air to leak out. He would be on pure oxygen for the next 24 hours and then we would see. They told us the medical term was that my son had been born with a pneumothorax, also known better as a collapsed lung.

Since my son was in the NICU, I would have a room to myself. When they moved me from the delivery room to my hospital room I was confronted with baby balloons. However, they were not for me. The nurse assured me that the new proud parents would be leaving within the hour. Still slightly numb to everything I turned on the television to reports of Hurricane Rita and the damage it raged on the Gulf. That was nothing compared to the gurgling of a child not my own. The nurse had spoken the truth. My roommate was discharged with her bundle of joy. A few hours later, thanks to an error on the part of the nurses’ station, they started to prep the room for a new roommate. Thankfully, my husband intervened before anyone could be moved in.

Why are mothers of babies in the NICU not given roommates? Let me describe what happened the next night.

All the scans had come back good, but it appeared that my son was developing jaundice, possibly from being on nothing but oxygen for the past 24 hours. As long as the bilirubin levels stayed low, we would be allowed to leave in the morning. He could even stay in my room with me overnight. At the same time, they moved another NICU mom and her son into my room. Not a problem, I finally had him. I was happy. Happy until around 9pm that night when they tested my son’s bilirubin level again and decided it was too high and he would have to return to the NICU. The worst sound in the world is the cry of another woman’s child when your own son has just been taken away. It was a sound that lasted for most of the night.

That is why NICU moms have no roommates.

They discharged me that next morning. He stayed. The bilirubin levels were dropping, but slowly. After ten days of back and forth travel from home to the hospital, of constantly scrubbing and donning the sterile yellow smocks, the doctors let him come home. He was discharged with the caution to follow up with his pediatrician and have more blood work done. Thankfully, he did not have to return.

Today he is a happy, healthy teenager. It is hard to believe this was fourteen years ago. Though, the happiest day of my life is not the one when my son was born. The happiest day of my life is the day I got to take him home.

nicu

May is Mental Health Month

A lot of this blog is about finding balance. I focus a lot on how creativity and happiness can reduce stress levels, but sometimes you do need to seek professional help. With everything going on in my own life, my anxiety levels have been soaring. I talked to my doctor and we are trying the med route to see how it goes. It is not instant, magic, you are cured. It takes patience. I have been borderline anxiety attack mode at least three times this week, but managed to talk myself down from it. Since I am a researcher, I know that this can be a side effect during the first couple of weeks. Unfortunately, too many people stop taking meds when the side effects kick in. This is never a good idea. It is important to talk to your doctor and never stop a med without medical advice. 

So what has my anxiety flaring? Well, we are moving to a new rental in the next couple of weeks which is never fun. Our landlord has decided to sell the house rather than extend our lease. This is the second time this has happened to us in the past three years. Finding a rental in our price range that also lets us have the two dogs was a daunting prospect, but thankfully it all worked out for us. I am in the field research stage of my dissertation study and scheduling all the interviews that are needed will now probably not happen until after the move. We are also moving on to the hearing stage of the disability process for my husband. So of course money is tight on the one paycheck, thankfully I have side hustles to help supplement the income. Oh, and we have a teenager at home with all the mood swings that come with him. Yay!

So if you are feeling overwhelmed in life, know that you are not alone. Reach out to some to talk be it a friend, relative, or professional. When stress builds up, it can manifest in physical symptoms as well as mental ones. It is important to take care of your mental health just as you would your physical health.

You can find more information about May is Mental Health Month at http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net.

Let’s Talk About Self Care: a top 5 list

Face it, when you think about self care, you are probably thinking of spas and pedicures. Right? Full disclosure, I am writing this while waiting for a blue Dead Sea Minerals mask to dry. I’d take a picture, but I can’t smile since the mask is drying and honestly, I am not a selfie person. But that isn’t what self care is all about.

Self care is taking a moment to do something for your mental health. The benefit of visiting a spa is that you can disconnect. But really, how many of us can afford that? Monday was my birthday and I thought about going to get a pedicure, but instead I did my feet myself at home because spending money gives me anxiety. So dropping a chunk of cash in the long run really wouldn’t make me feel any better mentally.

If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you know my husband is having health issues. We are currently waiting to see if he has been approved for disability. It is a tough reality, but we have accepted it. So that means that we have to find ways to save rather than spend since he is not working. Things have also been tough at work too because two people in my department resigned. So overwhelmed is not even strong enough of a word right now.

So here is a list of my top five low-cost/no-cost self care things that you can do for your mental health:

1. Staycation

To celebrate my birthday and the fact that I had just returned from a week long conference trip, I took the two days off before July 4th. That gave me five days to unwind since my office is closed on the weekends. It would have been nice to have taken a real vacation somewhere, but not this year. Instead, I spent $18 on a cheap vinyl kiddie pool that my son and I setup in the back yard. We have learned that you can’t put a pool in our yard gracefully because of the slop of the yard. In the end, we sat in the pool fully clothed while it was filling with water just to keep the sides up long enough to self stabilize. It was a heat index of 105 degrees, so the pool was really needed if we wanted to be outside. The rest of the time was spent reading and watching movies with the family. Family time is very important for your mental health because the connection with people is something you need even if you are an introvert. Remember that experiences also trump things when it comes to happiness. So an $18 pool wins out over a $1800 vacation because of the experience it gave me and my son. Though he would probably have argued that a trip to Universal Studios would have been better. Honestly though, what will he remember. The only times I remember our family trip to Disney when I was a kid is when I see photos. Instead, my memories are filled with seeing fireworks at the local community college or barbecues in the backyard. Those are the memories that have stuck with me.

2. Budget

I know what you are saying…money gives you anxiety, so how is this self care? There is a piece of mind when you know that it is okay to spend on something like that kiddie pool. Also, even though money is tight, I know that we will be okay. Budgeting helps take out that ambiguity factor. According to Maslow, our happiness is at the top of the pyramid of the Hierarchy of Needs. However, we can’t reach that level if we are constantly worried about food or even a roof over our head. Which leads me to the next item…

3. Safety Net Fund

This could probably be lopped in there with the budget section, but a safety net fund is something everyone should have. For a long time, my husband and I put this on the back burner for when we would get our debt paid down. Then he got sick…when I took over the bills last year, it was one of the first things I did. The idea is that you want to start with $1000 set aside for when those big ticket emergencies pop up. So I set up a free savings account with Capital One because even though they were not exactly the best interest rate (though 1% is not too shabby compared with other banks), the ease of use for their system is really nice as I also have credit cards and my car loan with them. So it is all one interface that I log into. I started out small with $25 deposited ever paycheck. When money was a little better, I adjusted that to $50 and then back down to $25 when things started getting tighter again. When I got a little extra money, that also went into the account. I also opened an account with Long Game which is a gamified savings account app from a bank in Virginia. You receive tokens for depositing money into your account. Those token are used to play games of chance like scratch offs, match games, races with friends, and lotto drawings. You can win coins to play more games or even cash. The games don’t cost you anything, it is all based on how much you deposit. The more you deposit, the more you can play. It is FDIC insured and has a really low interest rate of .1%, but the draw is that some of the games give you a chance to win money. So far I have won about $3. I know, not much, but it is more than my son’s savings account has gained in almost six years with the same amount of money in it. Between Long Game and Capital One, I have reach that $1000 goal,for my safety net fund.

4. Gardening

Gardening is one of those activities that has a two-fold benefit. It can be a mindfulness based activity because of the tranquility feeling it can give us to putter in the dirt or trim leaves, but it can also be a nice benefit for our pocketbooks. I tried for several years to have a traditional garden and every year I failed. So I started small with a patio container garden using pots and herbs. With container gardens, you have many options for what you can grow things in. I have containers from the dollar store that I drilled holes in and added gravel for drainage below the dirt. That same year, my son tried to grow a cucumber plant in a pot. We had basil, mint, and cucumbers all summer. This year I expanded the pot garden. We have cucumbers, peppermint, basil, oregano, rosemary, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, lavender, cucumbers, butternut squash, and zucchini. Most of these were purchased as seedlings from the garden section of the hardware store, but some we also started from seeds. We didn’t think most of the seeds would sprout, but now I have roughly fifteen zucchini plants. My son hates zucchini. I am going to have to get creative when it is time to harvest. So factor in the price of purchasing these fresh at the grocery store and you have your money back and then some in the output. I use a dehydrator for all the herbs that we can’t eat fresh. Honestly, I am Italian but even this is too much fresh basil for me. During the summer I constantly drink ice water with lemon and mint. A health alternative to sugary or caffeinated drinks. It is also nice to sit on the deck in the morning with my coffee and smell the herbs. Very soothing!

Garden Tower Project

Here is a picture. It is a bit overgrown at the moment, I need to harvest some of those herbs.

5. Clean

I know, this is another one that has you shaking your head. But the truth is that clutter and mess is overwhelming to our senses. When our house/apartment is a mess, we feel like we are a mess. It also becomes another thing on our to-do list. You can start small, with just fifteen minutes a day (or broken down into fifteen minutes sections with lots of breaks between sections like my son likes to do). Purging the stuff you don’t need can also be very satisfying. You can donate or have a yard sale. There are also free sites you can post your stuff on if you still want money, but a yard sale isn’t an option. I have been holding on to a lot of clothes since moving to Maryland. They don’t fit, but I always had in the back of my mind that one day I would lose the weight and be able to wear them again. That is something else that can sabotage your mental health. Holding on to those items is just a reminder that there is something wrong with you. But hey, I am healthy and I can always buy new clothes if I do start to lose the weight. So I have been bagging up all those too small clothes and sending them off to thredUP…and using the money gained to buy cute shoes.

There are a lot of other self care things you can do to benefit your mental health. These are just my top five recommendations. Other than a spa trip, what would be some of the things that you would put on your Self Care list?