IMPOSTOR SYNDROME

Apr 11, 2019 | Narrative

I held a personal grudge against the A train for a long time. I used to rely on it daily to commute to commute from Bushwick to Washington Heights. Maybe it seems irrational to hate a piece of infrastructure to the point of personifying it and giving it motives, but hear me out. You see, the A train has no true schedule, and it certainly doesn’t give a shit about yours, mine, or anyone else’s. Every morning I would get to the 14th street platform and wait for anywhere from 2 to 30 minutes. Delays were never announced or explained. The A train came and went as it pleased.

One of the most disgusting feelings I have experienced is the fear of being late for a job that I hated. Being in a hurry to get to a place that made me miserable was a part of my routine for three years. I’m still untying the knots it left in my stomach. I can’t blame all of it on my personified rendition of the A train, or even the ailing MTA infrastructure. I deeply resented the things that were beyond my ability to control, and the job I had left me feeling like I didn’t have any agency. I felt like an impostor just going through the motions. The longer I stayed there, the more I lost sight of who I actually was.

At one point I had been excited about landing this job. I had nailed the interview. I was finally getting out of Albany and moving to the big city. It was going to be a lot easier to see my boyfriend in my Detroit. Things were really looking up. Then Blair died the night that I moved to New York. I have already written a lot about the subsequent depression and the ways I have learned to cope, so I won’t go into that here. But the loss was devastating for me, and it impacted every aspect of my life. I was able to push my start date for the new job back by two weeks. My first day ended up being exactly one week after Blair’s funeral. I wasn’t ready, but I needed a paycheck.

Rooftop alter for Blair’s Birthday, September 2011.

In many ways, the cards were stacked against me ever succeeding there. They say your first 100 days on the job are some of the most important. It’s your opportunity to prove yourself, form important relationships, and set your own expectations. It’s hard to make a good first impression when you’re dealing with post-traumatic stress. Setting and meeting goals can be agonizing when you’re struggling to just get through one day. I’ve always been someone who relies heavily on planning ahead, but grief and depression don’t operate on schedules. I had no choice but to take things one day at a time. By the time I did finally get my shit together, I couldn’t escape the shadow of that first year.

It wasn’t just the state of my personal life, though. There was a well-established culture of “every man for himself” that existed long before I got there. I clashed with management almost right off the bat. I never knew what my actual work hours would be until one day before, which turned out to be a really effective way for management to make me feel like I had no control over my own life. I was at the mercy of unpredictable train schedules and a micromanaging supervisor. I could have dealt with each of those gracefully under different circumstances, but that wasn’t my reality. Before long, it was impossible to disassociate working in that place with the worst days of my depression.

Coming home to this face is one of the few things that kept me going in that first year.

Remember when that minor earthquake hit New York City? I didn’t notice it because, at the time, I was in a basement office by myself, crying and listening to Evanescence. It’s OK to laugh about that now. You know that generic guitar chord iphone ringtone? My blood pressure still spikes anytime I hear it in public because I associate that sound with my old supervisor calling me. I liked some of my immediate co-workers, and the deli across the street where I could order ‘the usual’ every time I walked in, but I was stuck in a miserable routine.

I can honestly say that the best thing that finally happened to me there was when I got laid off. The uncertainty of being “between jobs” can be daunting. I still had to eat and pay rent. It was only when the dust settled that I realized: I never had to go back to that place again. I received a severance that set me up with a job placement agency, and for the first time since moving to New York I was given time to really think about what I wanted to do next.

Selfie taken on the subway platform less than a week before I was laid off.

Three years at a job where I was constantly making up for past shortcomings had left my confidence in myself shattered. I knew that I genuinely liked helping people, and that I had a good brain for problem solving. I knew that I was smart and capable, but it took months and effort to really believe that again. I made the decision to stop hiding the creative parts of myself from my resume. I didn’t want to work at a place that would take issue with the fact that I write comic books or competed in Slam Poetry while in college. If I was going to spend 40 hours a week in one place, it might as well be a place I actually like being.

After four months and five interviews, I landed the job I still have today. It was a chance for me to start over, and I ran with it. In the four years since, I have been a part of the best team I have ever worked with. I have rediscovered my confidence. I get along great with my management. I’ve traveled to two different continents and have been given opportunities to learn and grow as a human being. I’ve made some wonderful friends. I feel supported as a creative and queer individual. I no longer feel like an impostor. I’m no longer going through the motions. I also never have to take the fucking A train again if I don’t want to.

That time where being unemployed lead to me riding a Z train for the first and only time, thus proving it does actually exist.

A few months after I started the new job, I was on my way to an appointment with my therapist after work when I got stuck between stations on a crowded 6 train. After 10 minutes, I began to feel this old anxiety welling up inside me. I was going to miss my appointment, but that wasn’t why I felt my stomach knotting. That stalled, crowded train full of miserable commuters had just triggered something I hadn’t felt in half a year. I was brought back to that old grotesque feeling: the fear of arriving late to a place I didn’t want to go. Then I let the feeling go and rescheduled my appointment.

There will always be train delays, and missed appointments, and days where I’d rather sleep in, and even anxiety about being late, but that brutal repetition of compounded dread is an experience I can leave in the past.

2 Comments

  1. Max

    Great piece Dan. Painful relatable and hopeful. Change the tune and I’ve been in that basement many a time too. Keep it up.

    Reply
    • Daniel Stalter

      Thanks, Max! I think the trick is learning from those experience and not allowing them to hold power over us. Easier said than done, but a worthy challenge.

      Reply

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