“I am good at this.”
“Well, maybe not good. … Decent. I’m decent at this.”
“Ok, I’m kind of mediocre. Like, I don’t really know why I’m trusted to do this at all.”
“Actually, I suck. I can’t believe I ever convinced someone that I’m competent. I wonder how long it’ll take before they figure out I’m a fraud.”
This train of thought works its way through my mind at least twice a week. It always has. When I worked at the mental hospital, I didn’t understand why I was allowed comfort people when they were on the edge. When I worked at the newspaper, I could never figure out why realtors kept letting me write about their houses. When I was in high school, even as I was preparing to give a speech at graduation, I suspected the whole lot of my peers would soon realize that I was, in fact, quite stupid. They might even boo.
How could they not notice that I have no idea what I’m doing?
This is a topic of conversation every single week in my meetings with my boss. I tell her that I don’t know what I’m doing, and she reassures me that no one does when they first start. “I don’t know what I’m doing either,” she jokes, laughing.
And I laugh too, and I feel better.
Last week, some coworkers and I went to a seminar on domestic violence, and one of the breakout sessions was about how regular trauma can have an actual, physical impact on the brain. Even chronic depression leaves physical signs, like a slightly smaller hypothalamus. But, said this enthusiastic psychiatrist, we can reverse these effects. We can activate the happy side of our brains (she used bigger words here, and I forgot them so I’m using “happy” instead of something that sounds smart -- remember, I am a fraud) and avoid some of the damaging effects of the vicarious trauma we experience working in a field that can be, honestly, pretty depressing.
The ways we exercise the happy part? It’s so simple as to sound ridiculous. Meditation. Body scans (closing your eyes and focusing on each area of your body in turn). Taking a minute to be thankful about a few things. (Interestingly, even if you’re determined to be pissy and can’t think of anything, the simple act of trying to come up with something to be grateful for activates the happy area.)
I will never make the time to meditate, so instead I’ve been sending Rob texts about things I’m grateful for.
“I am thankful traffic was light on the way to work.”
“I am thankful the kids got themselves dressed today without whining.”
“I am thankful that pepperoni exists.”
I’ve been surprised by how much this simple act of thinking happy thoughts has improved my outlook. I may feel like a fraud today, but I am thankful that my boss has a bucket of Reese’s peanut butter cups on her desk -- and other candy, but Reese’s peanut butter cups are the best, duh -- and I am thankful that she shares.
For now, that’s enough.