Episode 15: The imposter strikes back

In which our protagonist feels the riptide of guilt threatening to disrupt her progress

The sun always makes life look different, doesn’t it, dear reader? As I write this, I’m sitting at our dining table (my desk since the pandemic hit and my other half stole my office). The sun is streaming through the skylight, and my little desk plant is soaking it up. I am too. I’d love to get out and feel it on my skin - I just need to get over this paranoia about *other people* that’s developed in recent months. I wonder why that could be?

I’m riffing on the sunlight for many reasons. I’m Australian for starters, and I still can’t get used to grey English skies after a decade and a half in London. But also the sun symbolises hope to me. It’s illuminating, it shows up all the cracks - scary - but also helps us to grow and transform. It’s the perfect accompaniment to my musings of this past week.

You see, I finished my notebook on Friday. That’s not newsworthy in and of itself, but this has been the first time I’ve steadily journaled in forever. Every morning (OK, most mornings, give or take), I get up and I open the notebook and I do what’s called “morning pages” - three pages of brain dump to clear the cobwebs and get ready for the day. Starting this process at the beginning of my journey to being self(ish) means that I have an imperfect record of the progress I’ve been making, so I used this finishing-notebook milestone to reflect on the journey so far. 

Dear reader, it’s been a wild ride.

Getting out of the quicksand…

For now, let’s reflect. I feel lighter; the stress and anxiety that weighed me down so much is beginning to lift. I’m feeling healthier, too, and I do feel like I’m moving in a good direction instead of being stuck in quicksand while sporting a backpack full of rocks. Old Lauren could do no right; no matter what she did and no matter how hard she struggled or tried something new, it just pulled her further in, further down. I’ve said it a lot, but something drastic had to happen to shake myself out of it: lo and behold, a burnout-induced breakdown in the midst of a pandemic. Great timing - seriously; it gave me the time and space I needed to get off the treadmill. I know I am privileged to be able to do that, and I will never take that for granted.

More than that, I can feel the creativity returning to my veins. My curiosity, my drive to write. OK, so I need to harness it a bit more, channel it into more productive places, but that curious creativity is bubbling. Heck, I even bought a sketchpad and pencils and have been mindfully doodling. The future, dear reader, is looking surprisingly bright. 

I have seen huge progress over much of my outlook, behaviours and actions. And I am not ashamed to say I’m proud of myself. You hear that, inner critic? I’m proud of my progress. 

Which brings me to the guilt.

Oh, the guilt.

…and into the pit of despair

I was catching up with a friend the other day and she asked the fairly innocuous question: “So, how are you doing?” And I took a deep breath and I exhaled, and with a sheepish grin I replied: “Yeah, ok actually. I’m doing ok.” At that moment, my heart began to pound, my chest and cheeks bloomed red and my brain went into overdrive. How dare I say I was doing ok! There is so much wrong, so much still to go. And think of all the things you’ve not done, and all the people you’ve disappointed while you’ve been on this selfish journey. You are a terrible person and blah blah blah de blah.

Why do I feel the massive, pulsating pit of despair in my stomach whenever I tell someone I’m doing better, let alone doing well? Shouldn’t I be cowering in shame, hiding myself away from the world because I Am Broken - not boasting about being better?

In those morning pages that I am dutifully writing every day (ahem, scoff, etc), I started to explore this new realisation. Is it fear of judgment? Fear that people will think I was making it all up for attention? Fear that if I voice it, if I give it life, it will be taken away from me? Fear that it’s temporary, and the other way is my true way of being? All the books, all the affirmations tell me that I am enough, that I deserve to be happy. So why am I so scared of that outcome? 

My whole persona has been the mopey depressed (and depressing) girl for so long that I don’t know any other way of being. I talk of finding my authentic self - what if that girl IS my true self? What if this lighter, more excited and hopeful version of me is the imposter? It doesn’t feel that way, but isn’t that just the sort of thing a manipulative imposter would say? Shouldn’t I go back to saying yes to everyone, to putting everyone else first just in case they all abandon me or get angry at me or I let them down or… you get the picture.

Begone, people pleaser

In her new book Please Yourself, Emma Reed Turrell tackles the subject of guilt around decision-making when trying to get out of people-pleasing habits:

“Sometimes, pleasing yourself means making a choice that upsets someone else. If we have, then it’s pretty simple; the action we need to take is to make a repair, to say sorry or put it right. But what if our action isn’t actually wrong, and who gets to decide if it is or not anyway? Maybe we’re just guilty of the crime of being ourselves, of having a different opinion or a competing need of our own. Upsetting someone intentionally or carelessly is wrong, but upsetting someone by wanting something different to them is not.”

Another friend tried to put it in perspective for me, in terms I would never have arrived at myself. I was talking about the people I’ve disappointed and let down as I’ve necessarily started to deal with my people pleasing, and she put it another way: I haven’t let them down; in fact, they are still in debt to me for all I’ve already done for them. That was a lightbulb moment, an absolute strike to my heart. Sometimes that’s all we need, to hear a different perspective and help the inner critic to put a sock in it. 

I know this much: I like this version of me much better. I am hopeful and optimistic and genuinely excited about things that are happening. Since I started baring my soul for you all every week, the universe has shown me it’s got my back. And I’m glad of that, because I’m sick of being weighed down by darkness; I want to move further into the light, to stare up at that sun and feel the hope radiating down on me. I want to laugh. I want to smile and mean it. I desperately need to not care about what people think of me, to let go of the people pleaser in me once and for all. Letting go of comparison and judgment is the next phase of this journey. 

I have no need to feel guilty about the fact I’m moving forwards. I should not feel guilt and shame around those decisions I had to make in my best interests. I am proud of what I’ve achieved, and I’ll be even more proud when I see how far I’ve come by the end of the new notebook I started on Saturday. I can’t wait to see how this story unfolds. 

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The week ahead 🗓

  • Writing: I am full-on focusing on the novel this week, because I’m on an Arvon course next week and need to have something to work on! Keep asking me how it’s going, please. The peer pressure and deadline will do me the world of good.

  • Work: The finishing touches and final thoughts are going into the top secret project at the moment. I can tell you this much: it’s a collaboration, and it’s my first steps into the writing coaching world. Keep your eyes peeled!

  • Health: I’m adjusting to the Fast 800 eating surprisingly well - I just need to get into the exercise habit, which has never been my forte. The gym’s reopened, though, so maybe I need to bite the bullet and get back there...

  • Routine: And of course, I aim to continue my daily practice: morning pages, 15 minutes of meditation, 10 minutes of stretches. Plus, join me and hundreds of others at the LWS Writers’ Hour every week day: 8am London, New York, California and NZ. 

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On the stereo 🎧

Toxic, from Promising Young Woman soundtrack, arrangement by Anthony Willis

I finally, finally got to see Promising Young Woman this weekend - and, my word, what a brilliant piece of filmmaking that is. Please, rush to your Sky machine and watch it right now. Anyways… the climax is soundtracked by this cover. It starts as a few slow string sounds, but as it builds you begin to realise what the song is - and then it hits, and we’re off and running. An orchestral Toxic, for your listening pleasure. (And seriously, go watch this film however you can.)

Bonus track: The Black Keys, Crawling Kingsnake

New Black Keys single alert! Sound the klaxons!! Definitely on the bluesier end of their blues rock vibe, this track evokes dark and dingy bars in Nowheresville. 

Off the shelf 📚

Please Yourself, by Emma Reed Turrell

As previously discussed… Sometimes things are just created for you right at the moment you need them. And when I listened to Emma Reed Turrell be interviewed by the London Writers Salon a few weeks back, I knew I needed her book. Lucky me, I won a copy that night, and I devoured it last weekend. Don’t consider yourself to be a people pleaser? You might actually be a Resistor, one of the four “pleasing profiles” Reed Turrell has created based on the patients she sees in her clinical psychology practice. Please Yourself is structured so you can dip in and out - each chapter deals with different situations, such as people pleasing in relationships, at work, as a man or a woman, on special occasions, online, and so on - but I recommend reading it from cover to cover. You’ll get a lot out of it, even if a specific section is not in direct correlation with your exact circumstances. 

“The crucial question when we’re feeling guilty is: ‘Have I done something wrong?’ Not according to their belief system, but according to your own. It is notably not the same as ‘Have I had an impact on someone?’ or ‘Is someone displeased as a result of a choice I have made?’ … Muddling these reactions can lead to a lifetime of pseudo-guilt that doesn’t belong to you. You feel bad for any choice you make that has an impact on someone else. You try to avoid it by only living out their choices and never accounting for your own. You can’t bear feeling guilty so you have to fall into line.”

Visual confirmation 📷

Ahem… I’ll just leave this here, and let you know the anthology is available on Amazon.

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