Neurodiversity and Me: Imposter Syndrome
I had never heard of ‘Imposter Syndrome’ until yesterday when a good friend of mine shared this video from YouTube that they had seen. My friend is someone who I have the utmost respect for, so when they post things up I always try to take a look at them, especially when it’s things I haven’t heard of before. As soon as I started watching this, I realised just how important it was not only for this Vlogger or my friend, but also for me to share with all of you who read my blog. It is just over 8 minutes long, but I will explain below why I found it so important (which you will hopefully look at AFTER watching the video).
I didn’t realise that this was an actual thing. I thought that it was just my own personal “paranoias”. “Paranoias” that I can explain exactly where they arose from.
Standard Grades were the old way of examining kids in high school in Scotland when I was still a teen. They took place in our 4th year, just before I turned 16. We had been separated into our different classes in 3rd year so we had 2 years of building up the skills for our exams. In most of my classes I was a General/Credit student, which was the top-tier, but in English I was in Foundation/General. By now my school had decided that they thought I was dyspraxic and had scotopic sensitivity syndrome, but refused to have me assessed for dyslexia. I had overlays I carried about with me to make reading slightly easier and I was to get 15 mins extra time added onto my exams. In 3rd year they took me out of RE so I could have an extra 40 mins a week to catch up with school work, but there was no real support in that 40 mins, they just expected I did my homework than rather than help me with issues.
Before the exams took place in May/June we had prelims. These were to get us practicing exams but would also count as a fallback if we messed up in the final exam. My teachers took us individually to the side before the prelims to tell us how they thought we would do before they confirmed which tier they were putting us forward for in the exam. This was dependent on our classwork, homework and interaction. I remember being told in a few of the classes that they didn’t expect me to achieve over a 4 (which is a D). Although still a General grade, it was at the low-end of the scale. It made me feel pretty crap about myself because I felt I had learnt a lot, so I really didn’t feel like putting much effort into my revision.
When our prelim results came back, I did better in all my subjects than what the teachers had expected, but I was told that I shouldn’t get ahead of myself, that it could be that it was the right questions had come up on the day but it wouldn’t be the same questions in the final exams.
I think only three of my teachers had any faith in me before the exams. Music was always my strength so I was expected to do alright. In English my teacher took me to the side at the last-minute, about 2/3 weeks before the final exam and told me he was putting me and 2 others in the class forward for the General/Credit exam because he felt that I was a strong General student that was unlikely to fail, so gave me some room to push myself forward. My Gaelic teacher was the same, believing I could push that bit harder and put me into the General/Credit plus an extra exam that was an addition rather than compulsory.
When my results came back in the August, I wasn’t taking any of it in. I had all 1’s and 2’s (A’s and B’s) with a 1 in English (where I was a General/Foundation in class) and a 1 in History (where I was told I would get a 4 or D). I felt as though there had been a mix up in my results as it was impossible after what the teachers had told me that I could have achieved what I had. I had revised for classes, but not as much as I could have. Perhaps an hour or two the night before the final exam of cramming plus all the past papers we had to do in class.
For my 5th and 6th year I felt like an imposter and I really struggled with the classes I had taken. When I asked for help I was basically laughed at and my grades were pointed to as a reason why I didn’t need the help I was desperately asking for. I stopped asking for help in the end and left to go to college instead to do the one subject I had always been good at; music.
Applying for Jobs/The Workplace
After leaving education, writing CVs and applying to jobs has been one of my biggest nightmares. Trying to think of positives about myself I guess is something that a lot of people struggle with. Feeling inadequate after high school has made this struggle even harder at times. It’s only now after university that I am more confident in sharing my strengths and skills on a piece of paper and in interviews. Before, I felt like an imposter bigging myself up, in fact it was probably the opposite.
Between my two spells of being within the education system I had a variety of different jobs. Having my Head of Year at school laughing in my face when I asked for help previously had made me quite nervous with my new bosses. A fear of authority, unwilling to help and unable to understand. It probably didn’t help that many of the bosses I did have were unsympathetic and wanted a reason for everything. The majority of my managers over the years have sadly fallen into this category though I have been fortunate to have a handful of fantastic bosses and line managers. Only the last 3 jobs have known about my dyslexia (though I don’t see this a reason for some behaviours). Even now, I have the best boss and day managers ever but I still worry and report back everything like I have been made to in the past. It’s probably something I need to work on (though perhaps I’d more likely forget if I didn’t do it when I did… something to ponder later I think).
Despite my good grades and my experience in work and volunteering, I find myself looking at job advertisements and ruling myself out, only going for jobs that I am sometimes over qualified for. There is a fear that I am not good enough or that I won’t receive the support I need like has so often happened in school and in previous jobs. For me, it’s not my neurodiversity holding me back now, it’s the fear of other people not understanding and seeing me as an imposter for not getting up to speed on new tasks at the same rate as co-workers who are not dyslexic/dyspraxic.
Dealing with the Imposter Inside
Looking back now, I realise where my feeling of being an imposter comes from. It was through my classic signs of being dyslexic. I was able to verbalise what I was thinking in class, but when it came to the written exercises, I found it very hard to get my thoughts onto paper. I struggled with reading out loud in classes which made me try to escape the eyes of my teachers so I wasn’t picked to read. The only class I felt comfortable in was music because reading and writing was not the main bulk of what we were expected to do.
Leaving school and college first time around without a diagnosis hindered me in the workplace too. I had the evidence of passing exams that my teachers had used against me in school to avoid giving me support now holding me back in the workplace. Although I knew what I was doing, it would take me a little bit longer to pick things up or to carry out certain tasks in some of my jobs.
Since receiving my diagnosis, it has answered a lot of questions. It wasn’t that I had fluked in my exams at all! I am that smart to get the top grades at school! It was the lack of support at school and the misunderstanding of teachers due to the fact that I hadn’t been diagnosed that held me back in class. If I had been given the correct support that my mum had been asking for since primary school and I had literally begged for in high school, who knows where I would be now! My journey to this point has been a real uphill battle and has held me back for years!
In the workplace, I now tell people about neurodiversity and the areas I struggle with in interviews and when starting so that they KNOW I need a little bit of extra support in certain areas. I am very lucky now to have an understanding boss that goes out of his way to support me with any tasks involving reading and remembering. Having that support makes me put in 110% to my job and I don’t dread waking up in the morning to head in to work like I have in previous roles.
My feeling of ‘Imposter Syndrome’ is something deeply imbedded which I personally feel my schools are responsible for when they refused to have me assessed for dyslexia. Now that I have been diagnosed and know exactly where my strengths and weaknesses lie, I am slowly breaking down my anxieties and feelings of being an imposter. I am not afraid to stand up and yell from the rooftops ‘I AM DYSLEXIC!’ because I know that I have so many positive things about me that I perhaps wouldn’t have if I wasn’t and hadn’t faced the struggles I have.
Despite now knowing where these “paranoias” come from, it really is going to take some time to heal these anxieties to the point where I feel completely confident in myself and my abilities.
I really hope that in blogging this from a neurodiverse perspective can open some doors to debate and discussion! I am sure I am not the only person who has been through this experience that is still struggling with the “imposter inside”.
Posted on September 29, 2015, in Personal Experience and tagged Anxiety, Education, Exams, Imposter Syndrome, Neurodiversity, Paranoia, School, Self-Belief, Teaching, Work, Workplace. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.