I had one of those smack-you-in-the-face moments yesterday. I was sending an email to my real estate agent insisting the sellers of our soon-to-be house install a radon mitigation system, which is basically a big fan that sucks all the radon out of a room. Radon, if you don’t know, is a toxic gas that lurks in your basement and causes lung cancer, and when I found out that our house had slightly high radon levels, a variety of disaster scenarios that involved green gas moving through our house and choking us in our sleep The Mist-style flooded my consciousness, prompting me to grab my laptop and draft said email.
And right before I hit send, it hit me.
This is something a grown up would do.
Whenever I’m presented with evidence that I am, in fact, a functioning adult, it never ceases to shock and mystify me. At this point in my life, I probably shouldn’t be so surprised. I’m 32 years old. I own my own business. I have a dog and have not only kept him alive, but happy (minus the occasional detours involving photo shoots and tiny little dog-sized sweaters, which for obvious reasons cause him distress… or at the very least, annoyance) for nearly a year. I am in a healthy, functioning relationship with someone who does not hit me or scream in my face or rack up thousands of dollars of unauthorized charges on my credit card (which, if you knew anything about my past relationships, is a marked improvement). I eat kale. On purpose. And, as alluded to a few paragraphs ago, I just bought a house. On paper, most people would agree that I, as the kids say, “have my shit together.”
But no matter how together I look on the outside, I can’t reconcile “on paper” me with “real” me. 99% of the time, I feel like a complete fuck-up in grown up’s clothing.
I think the correct term for this is “imposter syndrome,” and that’s the perfect name for it, because on the inside, I don’t feel like a successful adult. I feel like a scared, out-of-control little gremlin impersonating a successful adult (and not that cute little singing gremlin that looks like a Furby… I'm talking about those terrifying gremlins that pop out of the cute one's fur and wreak havoc on the streets of New York).
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Whenever I do something a responsible adult would do, like deliver a project on deadline or floss or check my credit or pay the electric bill, it doesn’t feel like me. It feels like I’m acting, and while I may be putting on an Academy Award-worthy performance at the moment, it’s only a matter of time before I drop the character and the “real” me takes over; the schemy little gremlin hell bent on destroying any semblance of a happy, normal and functioning life.
No matter how many bills I pay on time or how many blazers I add to my closet (and at this point, the collection is pretty impressive), I still feel like a fuck-up inside.
These feelings aren’t totally unfounded. In my early twenties, the gremlin part of my pysche was out in full force. I was the poster child for good-kid-turned-alcoholic and spent most of my time locked up in my apartment drinking wine out of a jug (don’t worry, I used a straw… I’m not a complete savage). My many accomplishments from those years include gems like watching a Jurassic Park DVD 72 nights in a row because my cable had been turned off thanks to my failure to pay the bill (and racking up a $315 Blockbuster late fee in the process), performing ad-libbed dramatic monologues in front of the mirror (and regularly moving myself to alcohol-induced tears), and running out of toilet paper and, being too lazy to go to the store, using makeup remover wipes instead… for well over a week.
Yep. I was a winner. #sarcasm
Granted, that was a long time ago and thankfully (for myself and society at large), I’ve since stopped drinking. And since then, my entire life has been spent trying to make up for those lost years by actively pursuing the most responsible choices available to me. But no matter how many bills I pay on time or how many blazers I add to my closet (and at this point, the collection is pretty impressive), I still feel like a fuck-up inside.
And I worry it’s only a matter of time before someone (ok, let’s be real — everyone) notices.
Sometimes I think I’m the only person in the world who feels this way, and it makes me want to give up. To pull on my grimiest pair of sweatpants, crawl back into bed, and surrender to the inevitable resurgence of that degenerate gremlin who so desperately wants to ruin my life.
But then, other times (typically when I’m having what’s known in recovery circles as a “moment of clarity”), I think perhaps I’m not so unique. That maybe everyone, no matter how good they look from the outside (and when you live in Los Angeles, trust me — people look good) has things in their past they’d rather forget. That I’m not an irresponsible little gremlin impersonating a functioning and decent human, but rather a perfectly imperfect person going through life, learning lessons and growing up along the way. And that everyone else is just doing the same. That thought makes me feel better. And it also makes me wonder, when I see a well dressed woman wearing slingbacks and a chic little slip dress walking down the street, whether she’s ever drank wine with a straw.
I bet she has.