The World Imposter Club


Times have not been swag at all. Not cool. Not coral. Not tubular or whatever kids say today. Between still hurting from a film fallout, being played like a violin twice by a large corporation which promised to employ me, a fresh medical diagnosis I have no idea how to control, and the illness and demise of my favourite furry creature on Earth, my heart has been filled with equal parts solitude and equal parts fear. Too unsafe to build trust in people (and above all, myself), too overwhelmed by a fog of loneliness and grief. Also, every time I go 9-to-5 job hunt I’m reminded I have failed as a freelancer and that none of my skills and experiences matter at all if they don’t generate an income. I doubt I’ll be ever be able to make it, and think that the little I’ve achieved so far has been a fluke and it’s one blow away from crumbling into ruins.

Not looking like a lebensborn supermodel grandchild with the language acumen (and accent) of Stephen Fry hasn’t helped much either.

Let’s say I cry a lot and that sometimes my biggest achievement is to make it to the end of the day alive and in one piece. I have been rather prolific with writing, going to workshops and reading in public, but it’s all a distraction to stop thinking about my dead dog and my distant family. Most of my poems have been elaborate pleas that basically say “don’t kill yourself because the system wants to destroy you and you’d be doing the job for them and that’s not punk”. Little did I suspect that there were others feeling the same way and needing to hear those words either. Yep, even skinny Caucasian belles a five-minute drive away from their extended families, who don’t have to think twice about using the right prepositions, who did their GCSEs and seem to have an impeccable reputation in the world of arts, crafts and farts.

No one has their lives sorted. We are all screaming into our pillows and we are all shitting our pants.

Image: A Zillion Dollars Comics.

The other day a young family guy with quite a career in theatre was sharing an open call to a performance event. This would be right up his alley, knowing his involvement in the scene and also knowing that he is quite talented, quite privileged in a sociological tumblr way (WhiteCisHetManTeenageMutantNinjaTurtle) and that he possibly knew the people involved in the soirée series. Heck, he’d already done several things at that venue. A very, very important one, by the way. He could have easily walked into the place like three horses walk into a bar.

Yet he commented he was too insecure to present his project. It was about something he was very passionate about, something that fitted with that session’s theme. But he didn’t feel good enough.

Every time I submit material to perform, the dance before daring to do it is pretty much like that one scene from Fight Club. Fighting against oneself, pulling one hand away from the keyboard and being slammed to the floor by invisible forces. And this person who organises other projects was feeling the same inverse impulse, the same invisible forces, telling him not to share his work.

Image: Gemma Correll.

Earlier on Wednesday, I went to a networking meeting. Yes, I still go to networking meetings albeit feeling like a complete imposter. The trick is that they don’t know you’re fake. Now they know. Oops! Either way, a friend and colleague came around for the first time in months. It happens that she was dealing with grief and disenchantment as well and she had barely got the strength to leave the house. She felt like she wasted many perfect opportunities and she had to start from scratch.

She’s an illustrator and designer who could easily, easily, work for Disney and make a fortune in America. Or even here in Britain. She could animate the most endearing Christmas advert with her eyes closed, I bet. Yet again, that bloody fear took over and wrapped her like a smelly blanket. Or like a snake, gangrening your limbs until you can’t hold a pen. The fear doesn’t attack the talentless — in their case, mind you. Or at least it doesn’t attack people with nothing to say.

Image: Death to Stock Photo.
Image: Death to Stock Photo.

To avoid being home alone, I go to coffee shops and faff about on the laptop. Other young people go there and have talks with their friends and loved ones. 80 percent of the time I overhear them, they complain about unemployment or underemployment. About, again, the fear of doing things. They are also stricken with self-doubt and remorse. Comparing themselves to others who seem to have it better. Others who might in turn compare themselves to others. Or maybe to these same people who were comparing themselves to them. And I compare myself to all these people. And probably you do as well.

Bigger people go through these feelings and fall on these patches. My husband keeps telling me about Jonny Wilkinson (British Frenchman of the Year, Saviour of the Rugby) fearing that someday someone would “realise” he’s “a bit of a fraud“. The same with Gary Lineker, but I can’t find the source because I’m shit like that.

Even Maya Angelou was shitting her pants:


I don’t know where I’m getting with this ramble. All I can say is that if you feel like this, you are not alone. People of all physical and reputational sizes go through this. Specially at this day and age, stability is an illusion and the key to being able to do something is doing something. Even if that something is just staying alive.

And if you feel like a fraud and like no one believes in you, always remember this tiny potato:

Image: Emily's Diary.
Image: Emily’s Diary.

Anxiety and Privilege

This morning I was drinking my smoothie while listening to BBC Radio Leicester and reading some of your news and my news through Flipboard – you know, that app that shows stories shared both on your favourite topics and on your social media accounts. I stumbled upon an article from The Guardian (well, The Observer, as it was published last Sunday) called Living with anxiety: Britain’s silent epidemic. I have very mixed feelings about The Guardian, but as an “infected” member of this silent “epidemic”, I had to read it just to see what it made us look like.

I was right to have mixed feelings and being cautious about this. While it is well-researched, speaks to a figure of authority (Nicky Lidbetter, from Anxiety UK) and has some vintage references (Kafka’s description is spot-on), I can’t help it but feel disenfranchised and awkward.

Anxiety, as portrayed by MorgueFile
Anxiety, as portrayed by MorgueFile

First, it talks about Claire Eastham like she’s a character from a Woody Allen film or a model from a Linkin Park video: beautiful, settled, in a job she loves (and which makes me want to smash a window because it’s an environment I would love to work in), intelligent, yet doomed by anxiety. She has to take weeks off to recover from panic attacks. Her GP told her to drink camomile tea and take antidepressants.

But then she says something very dangerous:

It does calm you down a bit, but I didn’t like the idea of having to rely on pills for the rest of my life, and that’s when I realised: I’m going to have to get myself out of this.

She can do whatever she wants with her body, sure. If she doesn’t like the idea of taking medication and wants to go full naturist chanting “OHM” in the mountains, fine. However, it’s quite irresponsible to say this without rectifying that this is your solution to your problem. Some people do need to take medication. Some people feel like their lives have been saved by medication. Sure, there are downfalls now and then, especially when we have lorries all over our bridges (borrowing Dr Dimitriou’s metaphor), but if medication can help you handle cars better, keep it up. Remember that anxiety can have chemical origins (especially if your life is as perfect as Eastham’s, Jade’s and Lidbetter’s and there are no obvious signs of PTSD or cruel childhood), and chemistry battles chemistry.

Then, there’s this appraisal of CBT. While (along medication) it made wonders for me doing my Master’s degree and the techniques are still helpful now and then, it’s not the cure-it-all happy-ever-after that everyone talks about. Lidbetter is clear about this:

“CBT is very much flavour of the month. It’s Nice-approved. But you have to bear in mind that the NHS provides only six sessions per patient, and waiting times do vary. Also, that it doesn’t suit everyone. It has an 80% success rate. What about the 20% it can’t help?”

It might be the jewels of the crown, but the NHS is not as royal as it could be concerning mental illness. Fit For Work, anyone?

I understand Rachel Cooke wanted to prove that anxiety disorder can happen to anyone regardless of their past and present situation, but one can’t help but notice that all the interviewed subjects are fair, white, gorgeous, British born-and-bred, Native English speakers, thin, middle class (except Claire, from a working-class Northern family), cis-gendered, femme-presenting, without any visible mobile disabilities. They’re also portrayed in an almost glamorous manner, like Pre-Raphaelite muses or Tennyson characters. Ladies of Shalott, all of them.

What happens when anxiety patients are actual underdogs? Eastham is loved and supported by her partner during her wobbly days and Lidbetter is challenged by her children, but what do you do when you have no one next to you? When your family has disowned you, you’re single, childless and not even the social worker pays you a visit? What do you do with no love and support?

Also, what happens when you’re unemployed, or your current employer will not put up with your condition? When you have to get a job or else you’ll lose the scarce-to-none support you get (remember, Fit For Work)?

What about the trans* community, queers, working-class citizens, Black and Ethnic Minorities, the “unconventional”-looking, people with visible and mobility impairments? I have a friend who is deaf AND has social anxiety. What about him?

When you’re not a member of the über-privileged and you happen to have anxiety, the “toxic society” Oliver James talks about is very toxic indeed. So toxic, it can be lethal. During the same weekend that article was published, an unarmed black man was shot dead by the police just for asking for help.

We need media and society to take care of everyone with mental conditions. Yes, they are mostly caused by chemical reactions, but our environment doesn’t help. We need to shut up and listen when the disadvantaged speak out. I applaud the bravery of everyone involved in this article, but I’m also begging for mercy and consideration of the full grasp of British – and international – civilisation.

But what would you expect from the same newspaper that published this privilege-denying furball?

Help in Leicester

Besides Anxiety UK, Mind, LAMP and others, you can talk to specific organisations to cater your needs:

  • Akwaaba Ayeh Advocacy Project, previously known as The Black Mental Health Shop. Offering advocacy services for African/African Caribbean and South Asian people who struggle with mental health. 40 Chandos Street, LE2 1BL. Call 0116 247 1525.
  • Leicester LGBT Centre now offers psychological therapies aimed at Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people in Leicester. The service takes place at the LGB&T Open Mind Clinic, 29-31 Bowling Green Street, LE1 6AS. You can call 0116 295 2151 or pick up a self-referral form at the Centre or at Trade Sexual Health, both based in 15 Wellington Street, LE1 6HH.

Cynthia writes this week

  • This week’s Reporte UK at La Pop Life is dedicated to Tom Milsom, as wild and free as his trademark blue hair. Somebody tell him he’s big in Mexico now. (En Español)
  • Workwise, I wrote a biography for Dymonde, an upcoming afrobeat sensation. Also, I’ve been working with Claire Gallear swapping coaching for content feedback; and I’m currently writing a press release for Adam Stuart Pick, artist and owner of ArtBox Designs.