A garden of thoughts

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On Jan. 31, 2022, I attended class in a lecture hall for the very first time since transferring to UC Berkeley in fall 2020.

I arrived early and sank into a chair in the bottom-left corner of the auditorium. As people trickled in and settled into their seats, I scanned the room.

Friends chatted with friends; familiar faces flashed masked smiles at each other. I suddenly felt incredibly lonely. To my surprise, I found my eyes welling with tears.

There it was again — impostor syndrome. That creeping, sinister reminder that you’re out of place, not just in a community but in your own skin. That gray cloud that, like my depression, stays in the sky even on the sunniest days.

Sometimes I channel this feeling into a kind of angry determination. No s—t, I don’t fit in! Why would I want to? Look at all these squares!

This is what I was going through my head as I sat alone that Monday afternoon waiting for class to start. Looking around the room, I wondered if my peers had experienced the same things I had. The past three years had been a drug-addled dance along the line between euphoria and insanity. And somehow I’d wound up here.

A verse from the Funkadelic song “Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts” etched itself in my mind:

“Your life is yours/ it fits you like your skin.”

Being an impostor is the chip on my shoulder. It’s something I’m proud of. A reminder of the fact that even with all my flaws and failures, I still managed to get to where I’m at.

But this doesn’t change the fact that being an impostor sucks. It’s the feeling of being completely alone at a school of more than 30,000 undergrads. It’s a nagging thought I can’t seem to shake, a whisper in my ear telling me that I don’t deserve this, that I’m not good enough, that I don’t belong here.

There’s one other way that I deal with impostor syndrome, which is to cherish the teachers, peers and friends who’ve welcomed me with open arms. I can’t take their love for granted. After all, it’s what motivates me to keep my head above water when I find myself struggling to stay afloat, or when I’d rather drown.

If you asked me if I’d rather live life free of depression, I’m not sure how I’d respond. Would I find sunny days quite as special if it never rained? My depression is a part of me, even if I loathe it sometimes. It defines who I am.

I suppose that to me, impostor syndrome is kind of the same way. It’s “being-who-I-am” syndrome. It’s just something that I happen to experience because I’m me.

I harbor a begrudging sort of gratitude for what I’ve learned from dealing with impostor syndrome. It’s forced me to see the beauty in my unique path through life. It’s challenged me to hold on tightly to good memories and good people. And much like the life-giving rain that falls from a gray sky onto a garden of my thoughts, my struggle has allowed me to grow.

I don’t think I’ll ever cure my impostor syndrome in the same way that I don’t think I’ll ever cure my depression. Like all human endeavors, waging a battle against one’s own psyche is a Sisyphean task. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth trying.

Contact Jonathan Hale at [email protected]