Anxiety and Imposter Syndrome

I am a good software developer. At least, people who work with me say I am.

I don't feel like a good software developer. I don't feel like an acceptable programmer - there is too much to know. I could study for a lifetime and never learn "enough."

The vastness of available knowledge also excites me. I love to learn and being a programmer means a lifetime of learning. My excitement and my despair battle for primacy in my brain.

Lately, the despair is winning.

The feelings of inadequacy are so strong that I don't want to sit at a computer on the weekends. Sitting in front of a screen is enough to start creeping guilt. "I should be studying something. I'm falling behind," I think.

Last week, I noticed a feeling. I was working on a problem, and I felt stuck. Thoughts of insufficiency flooded my mind, and I switched to my browser - to my RSS feed - to think about anything else. I felt my chest clutch and my pulse quicken. Anxiety.

Until then, I hadn't noticed the link. The feelings of inadequacy are uncomfortable - but the following spiral of shame, guilt, and fear are debilitating. Those negative feelings are the same I experience in other anxiety-inducing situations.

At the end of last week - after hating myself because of the lack of progress on a ticket - I tried an experiment. I took an Ativan, one of my anxiety medications. I avoid taking anxiety medications; they make me drowsy. The results were (almost) immediate. I still had the feeling of inadequacy, but I no longer experienced the spiral of guilt.

The link between anxiety and imposter syndrome never occurred to me before. I tried writing some code for fun this weekend; I enjoyed myself.

Being mindful of my feelings is my best defense against mental illness. I will continue my experiment this week. I don't like the way Ativan makes me feel, and I don't want to take it daily. But, feeling the shame of inadequacy is worse.

Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash