I had an online discussion with a girl from the US about African studies and whether all blacks in America can be lumped together as one ethnic group. She had asked for my views on something, and almost immediately I had a rough draft of the two page-response I’d type. It just popped into my head: system theory, race, cultural anthropology, Cartesian anxiety
Somehow I had all these data and concepts lined up that I had never studied. I haven’t been to university ( but a term of the Open University, studying business) I don’t read studies or books. I create my own skeletons of thoughts and observations reached organically, and then I flesh it out with supporting or contrasting information.
What was meant to be a quick reply ended up being a battle against my imposter syndrome. I sat at the laptop with my head dizzy, my jaws tense, my heart fluttering. I was purposely defying the smoke of anxiety that was filling my head, telling me to stop writing. My hands were trembling and I felt feverish. I felt like I was hauling a 20 kilo bag through a desert in the scorching sun. I physically felt drained before I even finished my first paragraph. But I was determined to stay grounded in the moment.
By the time I was finished, I felt sick. Physically sick. I had never felt this way before. I didn’t know if I wanted to sleep, cry, vomit or if I was having a headache. I had never gone this far in working through the storm before. I looked at my essay for a reply, and I had no idea where I got those ideas from. They were way too intelligent. I panicked.
I saved it to the drafts, and didn’t reply. I started rocking back and forth while looking for some youtube video to dissociate to. College Humor, DL Hughley, Reddit, Ariana Grande – anything. I felt a very old and very intense memory explode and I tried my best to let it come. I tried to focus on my breathing as I was sobbing intermittently, but all I could muster was heave a sigh of a heavy heart. I felt lightheaded but I tried to not get lost in the rabbit hole of investigating what just happened. When emotional lightning strikes, it’s not too difficult to see where it struck.
I made myself some bread and sugar laden Somali tea to dump in the maelstrom stirring in my gut. I just wanted to shut out the world.
Memories started playing like on a projection, still images of flashbacks in succession. Imposter. Everything that ever taught me to be ashamed of my abilities. People didn’t like it, so I did my best to blur that out. I was ashamed of it because clearly they deserved it more than I did. Because they were more popular and more audacious than me. Boys would bully me for outperforming them, taunting and following me around whenever I’d come out with the highest scores on the weekly quizzes, or the exams. They’d make fun of me for obviously having no life other than studying. Saying I was such a nerd. I had no idea why these boys, most of whom were older than me, were taunting me so. Especially when I was already self-conscious as it were.
I remember one potent memory when in 6th grade I had partaken in an international maths competition grade 7-9 in our school were taking part of. I was the only kid from my class to try it out, at the behest of my science/maths teacher. I surprisingly came in second place, which stunned everyone. Especially me.
At the end of the school year I was given several awards and gifts. I stood up and walked towards the centre stage amidst the enthusiastic clapping, the beaming teachers. My classmate’s mother who was a close family friend was infuriated. The parents had gone out ahead of us so I had no idea that she had stormed out and was ranting to my mother and everyone who was there. I had no idea, I was just beyond myself with happiness over the gift certificates to the book shop. I was busy thinking about what books I’d get. I came outside and seeing the women standing in a circle with my classmate’s mother standing in the middle, irate, made my heart sink. I thought her and mum got into a fight. Upon coming closer, I realized that the reason she was fuming was that she felt her daughter was more worthy of an award and recognition than me. I wasn’t the only one aghast with shock. Mum and the other mothers couldn’t believe what they were hearing.Could the woman hear herself?
I felt like a criminal. Her daughter was a hard worker but I’d expend 10% of her efforts and still get higher grades. I hadn’t laid notice before, but after that incident I was ashamed of myself. I felt I should suffer to justify my accomplishments. Until this day, that mentality prevails, and much of my existential suffering is held on to, on a subconscious level, by the belief that my life has to be difficult to justify my blessings.
The only time I’ll mention my higher than average intelligence and creativity is when it’s connected to my suffering: how it’s made my life dysfunctional, my depression, my suicide attempts. It’s as if I cut my jugular vein to prove to people that hey, I’m a mortal human being! Look at all that blood! Look how clumsy and weak I am.
When my intelligence is eclipsed by mental disorders, when my beauty is hidden by my obesity, when my creativity is blocked by self-doubt, perhaps then people won’t look at me with envy or see me as a threat. Perhaps if I become a stepping stool I won’t have to constantly watch over my shoulder in anticipation of hateful attacks and having the rug pulled from beneath me. If I never make it then my shame and failure is my secret, and not a memory etched in people’s minds.