Antonin Carette

Machine Learning Engineer & Software Developer

Dealing everyday with anxiety, impostor syndrome, and mental depression

Posted at — Jan 24, 2020

This is for sure the most intimate blog post I ever made on this website, and this blog post was absolutely necessary.

Since I was in middle school, I suffered a few years from anxiety, mental depression, but also impostor syndrome. The path was hard, but thanks to my family and my friends, I am feeling a lot better now.

Recently, after talking with people in real life or in the internet, reading blog posts, or simply scrolling on Twitter, I do feel that anxiety, depression and impostor syndrome is taking more and more place in our society, with this sentiment that all of those belong to what I will call in this post “the pain of the century”.

Indeed, anxiety and depression makes you think that emotional states are a prison for your mind, that you are just trapped by your sentiments, which is actually a fake actor in this situation.
At the other hand, impostor syndrome lets you think that you will never belong to a real group of people, and make you lose your self-esteem.

I wanted to write down my own opinions about this pain that is ravaging more and more people, and the different methods I tried to deal with all of those issues, in order to help you to live with them.

Investigate on yourself

At first, you have to understand that, every day, you will have to deal with two kind of persons: yourself, and all the others.

To investigate on yourself allows you to understand who you really are, and target your key points, but also your flaws. This goes throught several states, but the first (and most important one), is to understand your weaknesses, meditating on yourself.
The path will takes some time (days, weeks, months, or even years), but will makes you stronger each new day of your life: a long path to a long term beneficit.

At the contrary, hiding your weaknesses could be beneficial for short time, but will make your life more difficult to live at the long term, for sure.
Also, to hide them could bring another problem in your daily life: greater and greater efforts to hide them more and more… Indeed, your principal fear in this case will be to let someone exploit your flaws, and makes your life worse.

The best way to meditate on yourself is to trace each of your bad feelings, from today to the origin, and to understand the how and the why. Take the time you need to medidate - in my own opinion, 30 minutes of your time per day is more than enough.

Another technique is to write down on paper your different thoughts, and to throw the paper in the trash a few minutes later. This method seems very dumb, but to write down your feelings and destroy them can help you to realize that sentiments can just be words on paper, and that you are not trapped by your feelings.

Remember that dealing with weaknesses and hiding them are two very different aspects, and hiding feelings are more painful in the long term than understanding and accepting them.

You are free to make mistakes

I do think that impostor syndrome, or fraud syndrome, is very hard to deal with because it’s in everybody.

When I was in college, I remember to sit down on my student chair, looking at the other students around me, and almost got a panic attack because I had the sentiment that I was not good enought to feel part of this big group of students. However, after discussing with some of them about my feelings - remember that you have to accept your feelings, not hiding them -, I realized that the other students I talked to had exactly the same psychological pattern.
I understood at this time that impostor syndrome was not a personal feeling, but a society problem, and that I was not alone with this group of students.

Knowledge is definitly not innate, and each person will have his or her own facility in a particular field, subject, or technique, and have difficulties to understand anothers.
The most difficult thing in this part is to discover on what you are good at. Difficult, but definitly not impossible.

When you are suffering from impostor syndrome, one of the worst thing we have to handle is sentiments from our environment, like your colleagues, your family, or someone else. Dealing with people -and their sentiments- is a common issue for people that live with fraud syndrome, especially when they found their exact opposite: people who have the sentiment to know everything even if they only scratched the surface of a field, subject, or a technique.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic solution for this syndrome. To be honest, I begin to think that there is no solution for this kind of problem.
My only way to deal with this was to practice the domain I wanted to be good at, and to break with people that makes me feel bad in this domain.

Find an hobbie that get your attention

Anxiety, for me, cames with social pressure and, of course, stress. To overcome those psychological issues, you have to clear your mind, and try to think about anything else.
This is where personal hobbies come in this story.

My personal hobbies are to read books, play video games, and watch movies.
I did not found yet the sport that attracts me yet, so I don’t practice physical exercises at all.

Personal hobbies will help you to assimilate that you are not your thoughts, and think about something else than daily problems

To help you with this part, I recommend you to listen this Q/A session from Jonathan Blow, an independant game developer and designer, about techniques to deal with lack of motivation, malaise, and depression.

Listen to yourself, and BREATHE

If you feel that something is starting to overwhelm you, stop it right now. Breathe, make a pause, and ask yourself if it’s worth continuing. Sometimes, just taking a little step back from a difficult task makes you more aware about how to solve it.

When I was in college, I was really interested in video games development, especialy indie games success stories. At this time, I started watching some documentaries about indie games and indie developers, like “Indie Game: The Movie”, or reading books about it… After consuming them, I was incredibly dismayed to learn that, even though the indie developers of that time were successful, and that they earned a lot of money, they went through anxiety and mental depression right afterwards, precisely because of their hard developing experience.
Indeed, most people will continue to work on something, even if they have losed motivation about it, until he finished it’s work. However, most of the time, bad things will happen once the work is done, and the road to healing is long and very painful.

To sum up: there is no shame to drop something, and there is no shame to make mistakes if you gain experience from it.

Conclusion

First of all, there is no shame to understand your feelings. You are the only person on board in your mind, so don’t take the emotions from the others to assimilate them: feel yourself, and f**k off for the others. Also, don’t be scared of your sentiments, embrace them instead!
Next, we are humans, not machines, and knowledge is not innate. We have to learn, understand, and make mistakes to grow up.
To relax, find an hobbie, or maybe a place to relax, in order to release all the anxiety and social pressure on your shoulders as soon as you can. Just breathe a few minutes, relax, and take time for yourself.
Finally, listen to yourself, listen your body, and breathe, breathe, and breathe. If you are not feeling great with something, just step back and meditate on this. Remember that, again, there is no shame to drop something to feel better.

Good luck my friend.