On Imposter Syndrome

>> 05 December 2016

I don't know who I'm writing this to, but I need to get some things down while they're fresh. As a PhD student, I know that I'm supposed to have imposter syndrome. The feeling that I'm just barely doing enough and that at any moment, someone will see through me for the fraud I really am and will kick me out. It has never actually happened though, probably because I am confident that I am good at what I do, and that the people in positions above me are sometimes muddling through just as badly as the rest of us. They're people, and I'm a people, and all we're doing is learning to be better at what we do, together.

That said, I definitely have a HUGE streak of imposter syndrome right now. On June 24th, I was in New York City, crying quietly to myself in St. Patrick's cathedral. I was suddenly consumed with thoughts of my Hawaii/Timor friend Jonas, who I knew was dying of some mysterious malady. The last time we talked, we'd had an awful fight about the line between our friendship and our professional relationship. I lit a candle after Mass (even though I'm not Catholic- I came to do the tourist thing, but I stayed to listen to the celebrants singing and the organ soaring) for Jonas' health, and for the chance to mend our friendship.

On July 24th, out of nowhere, Jonas sent me a desperate facebook message. I was in Austin, Texas, standing alone in the studio apartment of two friends who had lent it to me while they were out of town. I was on a little bit of a movie-montage summer journey of 'finding myself' and 'recovering from a dumb thing' or whatever. His message struck me like lightening - I was frozen to the floor. He was so careful, so polite, so patient, so sick. This was our conversation:

Jonas: Aloha Mana Melodi
How are you? Hope you are well.
Melody: Jonas!!!
It is so good to hear from you
I lit a candle for you at St. Patrick's
how are you?
Jonas: I am umder intensive treaement in bali and slowly recuperating
Melody: good
take it slow
Jonas: Plan to have kidney transplantation when fully fit
Melody: wonderful! do you have a donor?
Jonas: But its very expensive. Can I ask you for help?
The donors are my brothers
Melody: wonderful!
yes, do you have a way that I can donate?
Jonas: Can you please an account on gofundme.com on my behalf for online fund raising?
The application isnt avalaible here.
Melody: Sure, do you mind if I ask [person] at the US Embassy to help me?
I think if we work together, we can reach more people
Jonas: Yes pleas3
Melody: ok, I will do it right now 🙂

Little did I know what this really meant. I did not know that he needed fifty thousand dollars. It was already late when I got his message- I spent the rest of the night working, writing, researching. I did nothing else for the next three days. I did not know that this was going to take months of desperate begging, writing fundraising letters, thank-you letters, pithy and grabby headlines, emails to complete strangers, people I consider so far above me that I shouldn't be cold-calling them like this. I just said "sure". The things I didn't know could fill a book, but each need was taken care of.

I had to learn everything there was to know about kidney failure, dialysis, transplant - one of my best friends in Hawaii worked for the American Kidney Foundation and I called her that very night; later, a German doctor in Dili who has a background in kidney transplant reached out to me to offer her help. I had to learn about the medical capacity of hospitals in East Timor and Bali - two of my former housemates were uniquely acquainted with this issue in their capacities as supplies coordinator and trainer for the hospital staff in Dili. I had to learn how international banking worked - a representative of the receiving bank offered to personally keep an eye on the account to make sure everything added up correctly. I scheduled meetings with representatives from both of my American banks to see if they could match funds or make small contributions - they couldn't, but they advised me on how to protect myself with regard to taxation. I chatted to terrifyingly important people (people I've cited in my work!) about the mundane details of Jonas' daily life - they helped spread the word further than I ever could. I helped coordinate deliveries to keep his mind occupied - books and visitors arrived. I solicited freelance translators to translate my page and my updates into Portuguese, Tetun, Indonesian, and English - they came through in a big way. I had to learn what time to post my updates to maximize their exposure- I've finally gotten a good handle on international time zones after the many video-calls with Jonas and his brothers, uncles, and father.

Friends in Dili coordinated their own efforts; friends in the US reached out to their churches; friend and acquaintances and complete strangers from so many countries that I lost count contributed their funds and sentiments. A friend lost her husband suddenly, tragically; she requested contributions be given in his memory. In mighty fits and starts, the donations rolled in and I sent thank-you notes to every donor. All the nights I spent at Sky Bar, shaking hands and exchanging cards and being clever and charming felt like they were paying off. In Timor, I had a reputation for being well-connected - part of me feels mightily embarrassed about that, but the larger part is fiercely proud of the work that it took and is fiercely protective of the people I had the pleasure of meeting. In Hawaii (for better and worse) I am much more isolated, but I stretched the connections I have far and wide.

I learned a new kind of patience as I waited (and tried to understand) throughout the process of petitioning for support from RDTL, the Timorese government (apparently it goes like this: Jonas undergoes an evaluation from the director of the national hospital, who presents his case to the medical board 'Junta Medica' and if they agree to take it on, they present it to the government- via parliament? Not sure what happened after that). I learned a new kind of disappointment and optimism when RDTL did not agree to fund his operation, but did agree to pay for post-op expenses. I learned a new kind of gratitude as I saw the names of the donors, public and anonymous, month after month.

All the while, Jonas' physical and mental health improved, and he got stronger and stronger. The medical reports were more optimistic, the transplant started to become a reality.

Then, tonight, the final (huge) donation came in and we hit the fifty thousand mark. I was in the middle of writing some trite passage on the theoretical frameworks of language attitude analysis when I got the email. Like a scene in a movie, I stared at it, slowly pulled my headphones off and said, "No... what? No.... no WAY.... what?!" Then I immediately called my partner to *freak out* for a few seconds before messaging Jonas to give him the news. He freaked out just as hard as I did - called his parents - and I wrote a hasty, typo-laden, ecstatic update on our gofundme page.

So, you have probably forgotten about the imposter syndrome by now. Well, I haven't.

First, I can't help but feel like I don't deserve any of this; the unbelievable support, the encouraging messages, the reality that over 500 people donated a total of fifty thousand dollars - I can only chock it up to Jonas' likability. Second, I can't ignore that I stand to gain from this experience. Jonas gains a functioning kidney and a second chance at life. I gain a line on my CV, the ability to market myself as a somewhat adequate fundraiser or 'social media coordinator' or some such immensely employable nonsense, and the personal satisfaction of seeing a good job finished (and the not-at-all-charitable satisfaction of displaying our success to people who didn't believe we could do it- including the few who accused me of lying [seriously, there were people out there in the interwebs saying that Jonas had already died and this was all a fraud- I reported them when I could, but it was really hurtful]). I feel guilty for asking my friends constantly for money; where I come from, this is a somewhat tacky enterprise, and makes me worry that the people I value for their humanity will believe that I only value them for their monetary potential. Third, I feel guilty for feeling relieved that it's over. I'm moving to Australia in 5 weeks, and my doctoral dissertation is due to my committee in 11 weeks. I've been really worried that I would still be writing my pathetic messages, sitting among my boxes in an empty apartment in Canberra, while trying to finish this dissertation. Mostly, I was worried that I would fail at both.

So there it is. I'll see my therapist in two days' time to talk through some of these weird reactions and to talk about strategies for appreciating the present and preparing to move forward (seriously, if you don't have a therapist to talk to you about exactly those two things, get one), and then I guess I'll just keep going. If Jonas can brave this transplant, I feel like I can do anything.



>> 04 December 2016

Despite evidence to the contrary, I am a generally quiet person who highly values quiet, noise-free surroundings. I was raised in a quiet environment, where my nearest neighbors were only barely within viewing distance and separated by geographical features such as creeks, ponds, and woods. The sound of my dad on his tractor was enough to draw my attention away from almost anything. A passing helicopter was an event that ripped me outside, and it stayed in my mind for the rest of the day. I could hear coyotes in the night from miles away. A cricket outside my window was enough to drive me to frustrated tears in the night.

As I age, I've noticed that my ability to deal with noise has not really gotten better, and in many ways has gotten worse. I like to relegate my noise-making and noise-consuming to specific events and locations whenever possible (usually far, far from my living space), and when a noise happens unexpectedly, I am a bit of a mess. There's a pretty good chance that I'm a classic case of Cognitive Auditory Processing Disorder, and I would love to be diagnosed with it someday so someone would teach me some coping strategies. In the mean time, here is a list of noises.

Noises I will miss when I move to Australia in 5 weeks' time:
-the stream outside my window, especially on days when it is raining in the mountains
-the tree outside my window, and the white-rumped shama who lives there in the winter time
-the 3am street-sweepers when I wake up from a bad dream and need the comfort of knowing I am alive and so is at least one other person
-the last bus of the evening, stopping on my street and reminding me to go to bed
-the first bus of the morning, stopping on my street and reminding me to get out of bed
-the waves, the ones that shhhh in the spring and the ones that boom in the winter

Noises I will not miss, probably ever:
-the person blowing a conch shell under my window at 2am this morning
-the people practicing Taiko drums at the theater across from my building right this moment
-the trash trucks that take the trash away from theater across from my building that come several times a day and spend 20-30 minutes beeping and screeching and crashing
-the malfunctioning fire alarms in every building I have ever set foot in because apparently I am some sort of spiritual-fire-witch
-the squeaky wheel of the trash cart that the maintenance man pushes for 50 meters from door to trash bin 3-5 times a day
-other people talking


A project for my 30s: Self-Advocacy

>> 18 September 2016

My thirtieth birthday came and went this summer. It was special for lots of reasons; I was in New York with much-loved friends and family, I had walking pneumonia, and I decided to prioritize myself more over the next decade. I feel like most of my 20s was spent sorting through the strangeness of life, picking up skills and opinions here and there, and patching these bits and pieces together into the person I wanted to be. I think this was pretty successful, so now I'm shifting gears a little bit and focusing on self-advocacy.

At first, this meant saying "no" more often. Not spending time with people I don't like. Not doing things I don't like to do out of some misguided philanthropy. Not letting people get away with talking down to me.

But it has also meant sticking up for myself more, forgiving myself, and being less of a maniac about everything. It has meant exercising more often, eating better, getting rid of things, letting things go, embracing my flaws, and asking for help more often. So far I like where this is going!