Sanna Kramsi - Blog A peek into my life

Fighting exhaustion and impostor syndrome

September 09, 2019 | Life

I've combated with exhaustion a few times now. My most recent experience was this spring when the situation got to the point where I had almost daily migraines for several months and I was quite literally at my breaking point.

I spent a lot of time this spring and summer thinking about exhaustion and impostor syndrome and how those things relate to one another. I've only recently realised that my impostor syndrome and my past affect the problem way more than I thought. I hope I finally learned my lesson in this matter.

How things end up from good to horrible

It usually starts with me noticing that I have too much stuff put on my plate and I can't stop it from getting worse or make things any easier. I try saying no to extra work, but then I often end up taking the offered work anyway because of reasons like "there's no one else" or "it just has to be done" or "we're all busy". I'm not saying that those sentences aren't true, because they often are. Those sentences just make me feel like I'm not being heard or being taken seriously. I used to think it was my fault that the workload kept piling on, that maybe I wasn't fast enough or talented enough because not everyone was at their breaking point. Thankfully I've realised that those things have nothing to do with this. It's just my impostor syndrome talking and some people have a more healthy point of view to work vs private life than I've had. I don't know anyone who cares on the same level as I do, it's almost impossible for me to, for example, let an impossible deadline pass without getting the job done. I've always put the company and its clients above my wellbeing. And that mistake is mine alone.

One seemingly harmless behaviour of mine is that I pretty much always cancel my plans if someone wants to have a meeting at an inconvenient time. This, at first, seems like it doesn't matter, it's only one time. But then it happens again and again and again. It becomes a pattern, and it disrupts my personal life more than you'd think. I haven't taken this behaviour as seriously as I should have. Better late than never, I suppose.

When the deadlines close in, I usually start working longer hours automatically to try to somehow get everything done. This ultimately leads to a situation where I don't have time or the energy to exercise or do anything else either. For example, my fiancé was telling me all spring that it's weird and a shame that I don't teach myself anything new or do anything tech-related in my spare time anymore. And the only answer I could give was that I just don't have the energy for it. And we've had similar conversations before, this wasn't the first time I've driven myself to exhaustion.

But even so, when I see the symptoms happening, I don't think it will end up as bad as the previous time or I just dismiss it because things need to get done whatever it takes. I haven't taken this issue seriously enough. Maybe if I finally start taking this as seriously as I should, I can affect my workload better, too. I'm sure nobody wishes to see this happen over and over again. So maybe if I take the first symptoms seriously myself, other people will too.

The revelation I had about things this spring

I talked to a developer from another company who said that he would feel sad if he wouldn't be able to concentrate on a site or a task for a longer period of time. He wouldn't want to work on several projects in one day. That's when I first realised that I actually felt the same way. That I often had to constantly hop between projects (maybe not even getting to work two hours on each) was one reason I felt the workload so badly. After that discussion, I told my project managers that the two projects they had me working on at the same time would have to be split into days or weeks for each and that I wouldn't be even discussing the other project while I was working on the other. And they were fine with it. And I noticed that it was a lot easier to keep things rolling when I could concentrate on what I was doing and not constantly being interrupted mid-thought. The best way for me would have been to do one project first and then move on to the next. But this weekly split was an ok solution. I'm definitely keeping this system up from now on. But if I hadn't had this discussion, I probably wouldn't have realised that this was even something I needed.

I've recently read and heard more and more about impostor syndrome. Before I just thought it was me that was thinking this way. It was kind of relieving to see many talented and smart people saying they were combatting the same thing. And then it suddenly hit me. One of the biggest reasons I was pushing myself way too hard was because of thinking otherwise, I wasn't good enough because I am not the most technical and experienced developer. I kept comparing myself to people who have over double the years in expertise. When you think about it, it makes sense that those people would have better technical skills and knowledge. But what took me a long while to understand was that I have a lot of value in other areas, maybe even more than the people I was comparing myself to. And that my technical skills have value even if I'm not the most experienced. Comparing yourself to others, to begin with, is not a very sensible thing to do, but I suppose that comes naturally to us. At least in my family, we kids were constantly compared to one another, and the habit stuck when I grew up.

But the proper revelation came when I started thinking about my past in this context. My impostor syndrome gained a ton of momentum from my childhood. I grew up in an environment where I grew to believe my value was next to nothing. I won't go into much detail about that, but it has definitely left a mark on me. Bullying at school and a broken family were in the centre of everything and I even ended up depressed as a teen. Thankfully my best friend helped me get through things back then because she was the only one who took my mental health seriously. She put a stop to my harmful behaviours the moment she realised what was happening. Without her, I probably wouldn't be here today.

I also graduated at a bad time in 2008, the economy was quite bad and it took me two years to get a job. I suffered from depression again while unemployed, and I blamed myself for not being able to land a job sooner. It's a little silly because I was a junior with little experience and was competing for the junior spots with people that were closer to seniors. Most places hired more experienced applicants, and that makes sense. But that wasn't something I could get through to my head. The longer the unemployment became, the more convinced I became of not being good enough. I've always been shy and uncertain of myself, both of which got worse for thinking I didn't deserve a job or not being good enough. And when I finally got the job, I worked extra hard because I was constantly afraid someone would tell me I didn't have what it takes. And I've been doing that for almost ten years now.

I think it's finally time that I convince myself that I'm good enough, I have value and I deserve to be in the position I'm in. On the good days, I know this. But when things got dark, my brain convinced me otherwise. I hope from now on my brain can listen to reason even if the situation gets worse. I have more tools to combat these issues now and I know I'm not alone in this.

Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash