When this article goes live, I will be a couple of days into leaving my teens and entering my twenties. In the past, my birthday has been a time where I get excited to be a year older and dream about all the new things that I will encounter now that I’m a year older. However, this year feels different.
The past year of my life has been my most difficult; although I’ve struggled with my mental health for quite a while now, this past year felt like the lowest of the low. I spent most of the last year in survival mode, begging myself every day to just keep going. Every decision felt rushed; nothing was calculated. My 19th year felt like a series of decisions made to assure I survived another year on earth, with little to no meaning.
My mental health struggles this past year have affected many parts of my life, and in the past couple of months, I’ve slowly been able to piece everything back together like a messy collage. The people close to me who witnessed all my struggles this year see the beautiful collage, they praise me for “everything I’ve overcome” and “how much I’ve grown,” they tell me that “I am so strong.” None of it feels that way; while everyone sees the finished collage, I see the torn pieces and a messy glue job.
The combination of self-doubt due to previous failures and trying to live up to the shiny version of myself that others have built in their head has led to this imposter feeling. These feelings of self-doubt, fear of repeated failures, and living up to the growth and success everyone else sees has left me anxious and fearful. For the last couple of months, I’ve felt like a fraud in all of the different aspects of my life.
Winter quarter of my freshman year, I did not have passing grades in either of my main sciences classes, but because of the personal challenges in my life at the time, I got an approved petition to drop these two classes the last Friday before finals week. I remember calling my dad about five different times in a span of three hours the day I submitted my petition. He assured me over and over I was making the right decision and that I would catch up. However looking back, I was less worried about being behind but more so fearful that I don’t have a good enough handle on my emotions to ever manage the level of academic success I expect myself to have. This fear has never left; it’s buried deep within and no amount of positive thinking can protect me from it. Even though I’ve worked extremely hard to get myself back on track academically since then, I live in constant fear of circling back to where I was at the end of last winter quarter. Part of me feels like I don’t deserve to bask in my accomplishments because of the many failures I’ve had in the last year. It’s almost like a “well it’s about time” sort of feeling.
In the last couple of months, I’ve worked hard to get myself in a better mental state, by going back to counseling and forcing myself to focus on my own personal health and growth. I am constantly reminding myself of the harsh reality that growth is not linear. Even though I am in a much better mental state than I was last year, I still have days or weeks where I fall into old behaviors and ways of thinking that haunt me from last year. However, the more I get praised for my “growth” and “progress,” the more I feel like I need to hide my bad days from the people around me. I’m afraid to admit any steps backward in my process of healing from the traumas and struggles I suffered and faced in the past year, not only to those around me but sometimes even myself.
I’ve been working on addressing these feelings of fraud by being more accepting of myself and opening up more to my close friends. More than anything, I’ve been actively learning how to be kind and empathetic to myself. I validate my fears, but I also assure myself that I am just as resilient as everyone around me says. I remember about a month ago, with tears streaming down my face, I told my therapist that my college counselor told me he was proud of how resilient I’ve proven to be in the face of everything, I felt even more like an imposter than ever. She looked at me and said, “nobody feels resilient when they’re going through it.” This has stuck with me since then, and I hope it can resonate with someone else.
Feeling like a fraud has been in the center of my mind as I step into my twenties for several reasons. To begin with, the struggles I’ve faced during my nineteenth year play a contributing role in how I’ve been feeling. As I leave my teens and enter young adulthood, I want to continue to work on my journey of self-confidence and self-love. While I know turning a year older will not erase all my problems, it feels like the fresh start I need. This fresh start is necessary because I feel as if my nineteenth year haunts me in a way that makes me feel unworthy of all that I have now. My feelings of fraud are valid, but I am also worthy in a way that I have not yet validated.