The Imposter Syndrome Voice

When I get into a depression, and as I’m coming out of it, my Imposter Syndrome Voice (ISV) decides to rear its head. My ISV can hold me back quite a bit when it decides to exert itself on my brain. Some of my friends call this Voice “brain weasels” and I think that’s a really good term for it, too. Right now, even, that voice is saying “Oh, you shouldn’t bother writing about this because everyone else has written about it and you’re just noise so maybe you should just delete this and watch more YouTube.” (Run on sentence intentional.)

This can be the voice that says I shouldn’t bother talking to anyone, either. It’s the same voice that will tell me that I’m boring, or that I don’t have anything worth saying, or, on the worst days, that people think I’m horrible and they don’t want to be around me.

I know that Depression is a liar, and so the ISV is, too, but somewhere along the line, my brain decided that it was easier to listen to the lies rather than believe reality. It’s always been hard for me to not think that an argument, disagreement, or mistake is the end of the world (or relationships, or employment, or whatever). I could have days and days of happy, good, joyful things but if I make one mistake, I’ll end up obsessing about it, thinking I’m this horrible person and everyone hates me, regardless of all the good that has happened.

Intellectually, I know that there are a lot of you out there who go through this, too. My wife and I share some similar things around this and we talk about it a lot (and I know she still likes being around me because she married me *grin*), but in the middle of a bout where the ISV is in control, it’s hard to see outside of myself.

I suppose I’m not sure how to work with this. Do I try to banish this voice, or do I embrace it and acknowledge that this is a part of me, or both? Is this voice more of a Check and Balance that keeps pushing itself too far? Or maybe I just need to disconnect it from the reactions I have to criticism and challenge?

I’m writing about this because I want to make it less of a Voice and more of a Thing I Can Control. One of the first witchy things I was taught was that if you can name a thing, it makes it a real thing that you can deal with. Whether I can do that, I’m not completely sure, but I know I need to do something because I’d like to be able to do my art without as much anxiety as I have now.

(This is more of a noodle to help me sort stuff out. I do exercise, meditate, take vitamins and other physical things of that nature to help with my anxiety and depression, so please no advice about those kinds of things, thank you.)

Art, Beauty, and Permission

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This is a picture my wife took of me the other night with her new camera. To a lot of people, it’ll be just a good picture of me taken by my wife. For the two of us, however, it means a whole lot more.

After many years of not being able to do her art due to a grueling work schedule and fears about other people’s reactions to her pictures, my wife has decided to pick up her photography again. If you ask her, she’ll probably joke that it’s all my fault. In some ways, that’s the truth: I helped her decide which camera to buy and then encouraged her to buy it. To put it another way: I was a person close to her giving her permission to go and do her art.

Our society is really weird about art. We love art and revere artists (to an extent) and yet our culture actively seeks to put down artists, especially if they do things that are really different. There is a culture of treating art as if it were somehow “less useful” than other things that one could be doing. Many artists (whether they do it professionally or not, regardless of skill level) will hear things like: “That’s just luck.” or “My kid could do that!” or “Can you make any money from that?” Insinuating that the art is just some sort of hobby, and that if you’re not going to try and make money from it, then it’s not “serious” art.

In the arts, there are a lot of gatekeepers and jealousy. Both my wife an my mom are visual artists. The wife does photography (among other things), and my mom does impressionistic paintings in several mediums. Both of them have experienced through the art world (mostly through clubs and shows) an antagonistic attitude toward what they do. Sometimes it’s jealousy, either in regards to skill, time, or tools (this happens a lot with cameras, it seems). Sometimes, especially when being judged in shows or being chosen to be shown in a gallery, there’s a “gatekeeping” that happens when the judges either don’t like your art, don’t think it’s proper art, or have some sort of jealousy towards the artist for whatever reason. Add on top of this issues of gender, race, age, attractiveness of the artist, etc. This is just true for the visual art, but for all types of art. We have a lot of gatekeepers in our society who decide what is “real” art and what they consider “just a hobby.” I mean, think of Bob Ross. Now, his paintings aren’t my cup of tea and I find them kind of boring, but his paintings influenced millions of people to get into art. But there are gatekeepers in places like New York who totally pan his art and wouldn’t consider it “real” art or Bob Ross a “real” artist. Yet, Bob Ross painted nearly every day and it made him feel fulfilled. Regardless of the art, isn’t that what is thought of as a “real” artist: someone who makes art?

Is all of the art that’s created going to be good, highly skilled, or everyone’s cup of tea? Of course not. But it doesn’t meant that it isn’t art, and, in an ideal world, it shouldn’t mean that people should get jealous of another’s skill or equipment. Unfortunately, it will happen, because, as I like to say, we’re all humans doing stupid human tricks.

These stupid human tricks aren’t just limited to the reactions to artists, though. This picture is a picture of my body. My fat body. My wife titled this “Gina being classical” and really loves this picture of me. She told me that it was a beautiful picture.

I didn’t believe her…at first.

All of the old tapes, all of the crap about beauty standards, came rearing their ugly heads in my brain. The first thought I had was “wow I’m so fat!” which got the brain weasels dancing to ugly, unworthy, and all of the other crap that has been instilled in my brain over the years. I’ll admit, that when she posted it to Facebook, I was worried about what others would think of the picture. I know there are people who would see this picture of me and fat shame me (even if only in their heads), or decide that I need to be told what I can do about my health. In other words, I know there are gatekeepers of beauty, deciding who and who is not beautiful. Our culture is really horrible about bodies in general, and fat bodies in particular.

But then I kept looking at the picture, and once the brain settled down (somewhat), I saw more. I saw that this is how I am, and how the world sees me. Most importantly, I finally saw this as how my wife sees me: big, bold, complicated, and, yes, beautiful. I feel her love for me in this picture, and that she saw the beauty of my body as it is (even if I didn’t).

And, surprisingly (to me anyway), many people on Facebook agreed with my wife’s assessment. This is a beautiful picture of me. I have permission to be beautiful in this body, regardless of what others think.

Technically, both us don’t need permission from anyone else to do our art or to feel and be beautiful in our bodies, but with the way our society is, sometimes we need to get that permission from outside ourselves to feel justified in taking that power. But once the decision is made in your heart, you realize that you never needed that permission in the first place, nor do you have to justify your art, or your body, to anyone.

How do you see Deity? #showmehecate #showmethedagda

My friend Ember has an interesting project going on about body positive and diverse representations of deities of beauty (Freya, Aphrodite, etc.), which has poked at some of my brains to write here about how we represent deities in general. In my workshops that I give about the language we use to describe the body and health (which you can find here), one of the things I ask of participants is to think about how deity is represented in their traditions. If you look at a lot of the deity specific art, the vast majority of what you find is western standards of beauty and race. Most of what’s depicted are thin, white, model-looking (cis-normative) men and women who look like something out of Heavy Metal magazine. Heck, I’ve even seen a Jehovah’s Witness Watchtower magazines with a hunky looking Jesuses on their covers!

It’s difficult for us to picture deity in our own minds in other diverse forms unless they are particularly described as such. The Dagda, who is one of my patron deities, is a deity that loves His food and is described in stories as fat. He comes to me that way, too, and is quite fond of my own big belly and loud bodily noises (which can make for some interesting times). He doesn’t really care that He’s a big fat God and working with Him has been helping me to accept my own big fat body. One way to put it is that I’m learning, through His example, that a big fat body doesn’t lack power or will, which is what fat people are told from the time they are born. With my past experiences with disordered eating and other body shaming experiences, it can be hard for me to see the beauty of my body as He sees it. For me, it’s been a slow dance in my mind of body acceptance overcoming body hatred.

Another way that deity imagery has come up was when my wife and I created the following short film:

I distinctly remember bringing up the question about whether people would accept a fat Hecate, to which my wife replied with something to the extent of: “Who says Hecate can’t be fat?” I really didn’t think about it again until recently when I put together my website and re-watched the video. There’s still a part of my mind that tries to reconcile what I’ve been indoctrinated with in regards to body image and with what Hecate, Herself, has even told me about how She is portrayed. Usually what I see in my head is what you get when you Google “Hecate,” and while some of the images are intriguing, the vast majority just don’t look like me.

There’s so much intersectionality in this, too. For example, when most people think of “God” in the general sense, especially in the west, the majority of folks will think of an old white man in the sky. When people think about Jesus, he’s the white-washed bearded dude, not someone of middle eastern descent. Many of the Saints in the Catholic tradition are depicted as thin, androgynous, and somewhat non-human and otherworldly. While much of this art is, indeed, beautiful, I think it’s time we added more to the collection of sacred images than more of the same, making me really glad to see the results of projects like Ember’s.

Because, I think, when we don’t see deities like ourselves, it can sometimes be harder to find deity within.