Personal Essay: Fame, Imposter Syndrome + Fear of Intimacy
I often don’t come here anymore, to my own blog, to just talk about stuff from my heart. In fact, I’m not present much at all on my blog and I’m sorry for that. I felt a bit emotionally removed from everything the past few years, still a bit in a bubble with my growing little boy and family life - in a bubble with some big projects I’ve been working on, just in a bubble in general. But recently I thought that I need to break the silence, pop the bubble that I’ve willingly placed myself inside of, and just write without editing or watering down a single sentence.
I remember years ago that I said I wouldn’t allow popularity or “fame” to change me. I would never become materialistic or a show off. I wouldn’t run around showing my brand name things and pretending to be more than I am. I would keep the same circle of friends, be the same Holly. And I am.
Yet, I noticed something was “off” with me about 3 years ago. I have intimacy issues. Relocating abroad really challenged me with the language difference and often not feeling fully understood. But there is more of course that I’ll try to get into in a moment as I know my intimacy issues go back way further. But I’ve known about mine “consciously” for around 3 years.
It all happened during a summer that I spent in Gotland on a photography retreat, I never imagined how being close to others was a problem for me until then. I am always the life of the party, love people, love to know everyone, smiling always, happy. But the retreat I went on left me in tears for weeks after. Emotionally, I had to reveal myself through my photography and it was painful and hard. This artistic expression was a genuine challenge for me. I still remember showing the instructor my work that I shot in nature, accompanied by my poetic writings, and her reaction to it - so beautiful - was pure joy. She encouraged me to combine my writing with my photography, that my readers would love it, that the world needed more of this raw material.
After the retreat, days turned into months, and I started to forget the feelings that came up during the retreat. I went back to mom life, work life, wife life. I tried here and there to work on the issues with intimacy that I had, but then as I started to talk to people more about my life, I saw the results and did not like it. I realized that people look to me to only be happy, positive and warm. They don’t want to hear the hard stuff or be there for the tears. They run. Especially in my new culture where feelings aren’t so open as where I grew up, around my friends and family.
But was it really others, or my new culture, that was the problem? Or was I just shifting the blame? Regardless, I tried to ignore the problem that I had, and just mom’d and worked. I left all I had learned on the retreat in a box buried inside.
Last year, something shifted inside of me. I accessed this “box” again. It started when I began to write for a German magazine called FLOW for a one year assignment (which ends with the next issue). Have you heard of it? For the monthly column, “Hollys Welt” (or Holly’s World), I was asked to just write on topics that I had on my mind at the moment. Intimate thoughts. And it was the moment I put pen to paper to write my first column that I froze.
Not stage fright. I love the stage. It was different. I was asked to go on the stage wearing a string bikini. (The bikini represents my emotions.) I couldn’t just go up in a nice dress, I had to show a lot more. And this stage, my new column, suddenly freaked me the hell out.
My editor kept writing back, with each new column I wrote, asking me to be more revealing about MY situation, my relationship to the story I was trying to tell. I couldn’t do it. I tried so hard. But I was afraid to reveal all. I felt like people expect me to be the happy, positive and warm Holly. That’s all they want. I guess it’s like an actor, who gets typecast in only rom-coms or sci-fi. I’ve been known as the HAPPY person since I was a child. My report cards over the years, since I was in Kindergarten (age 5), all say the same things: I am a very happy child and that I am a bossy one. I guess I was typecast from the start. A happy leader, in charge.
I googled a term I once heard, “Imposter Syndrome”. I wondered if I had this. I don’t fear failure at all though, and I have no problem asking for things, like a raise or to admit publicly that I’m wrong. But I do feel that a lot of people like me, who gained their “fame” online (like most of the bloggers I know who became famous), don’t know how to always deal with it and often we feel like an imposter. Like how do we deserve all of this and what happens if people find out we are just normal people?
But then I thought that the “normal” is what caused the success in the first place. Being myself was always the lure for my audience, because I am the story of a self-made woman who left a great job for absolutely nothing but a dream I had. I left my country for love and to start a family. I made myself a success in my country and in my new one. This is really the stuff that you dream of a child, but it never happens. For me, it did. It has.
When I started writing this blog in January 2006, I had no clue what was coming for me. If I had known though, I doubt I would have become a success for one simple reason. Fame makes me scared to be myself. The fame makes me edit posts and often delete them. Fame makes me wonder if telling people my weaknesses matters or will just scare them away. I even wonder as I type this if I’ll ever post it. If you are reading this now, wow, I guess I’m trying to put my head above the water and show you more of who I am.
One thing that I have realized about intimacy issues is that it’s not genetic (for me), it was and is, a learned behavior, I didn’t come into this world not craving closeness. Most of us crave that. In fact, you can ask my parents, it was all I ever cared about. Being really close to people and to really know them well, intimately. BUT the other side was that I feared being intimate with others about ME. I often would change the subject because I didn’t want to focus on myself, I thought it was more kind to just listen than to sit around and tell my tales of love and sorrow. But was I just really meek or shy, or maybe scared of being an imposter and being “found out”. Not at all. There was more to it than that. As I dug deeper, I realized that I was scared to show myself because when I showed myself, my emotions, as a child I was normally ignored. And the seed was planted so long ago and the seed became a tree. A strong tree, a tree that shelters others. My first thought always is to listen to everyone, take care of everyone, entertain everyone, and respect and love everyone - but don’t expect anything in return. Just be a tree - just provide for others.
I wonder if you have issues with intimacy? Maybe you do, but don’t even realize it like I did. I guess that’s a strange question, because if you do have issues with it, you most likely will be too worried to leave a comment. I think the internet creates even more issues with intimacy for people, especially in our Instagram and “hook up” culture where you can get free sex from anyone, anytime, without anything more. Where is the intimacy in sex with strangers? Sure, it can be fun but it also creates a bubble where we can shield ourselves from ever getting close emotionally. Intimacy is actually the good stuff, it makes everything (sex, too) much better when you just let go, be open, and reveal your fears, your worries, your doubts. When you have the confidence to say, “Fuck it, this is me, love me or leave me, I’ll find my people regardless.”
And Instagram with all of the perfection. The best part is the trend of showing a messy room on Instagram among interior and lifestyle bloggers that the Instagrammer actually styled to be messy. So even that is contrived but their audience thinks it is the real mess, and goes along with it, feeling the person is being so authentic. And this is the problem with the internet, in spite of all of the amazing bits, is how we’re daily exposing ourself, hours and hours, to content that is perfect and labored over for hours. To selfies layered in filters. To people trying to sell us something at every corner. I imagine at least 75% of everything I see on Instagram right now is paid content. Either we are trying to hustle our business or we are hustling for someone else’s. I do it. We all do. It’s just “the way”. That is also why a lot of us are on mindfulness retreats, watching Brene Brown on Netflix and doing juice fasts and yoga. Any chance we get to face reality and to feel something real, feels like a gift.
Okay so now I’m at the part of this essay where I’m starting to lose focus. So I’ll end it here. Part of me wonders why I even need to tell the internet all of this, why do I need to tell you, why do my collegues and clients need to read this? But another part of me believes that speaking honestly is cathartic for me. This provides relief on many levels and allows me to channel it into my life and work, in a positive way. It makes me feel like maybe being open is somehow transformative for me, and maybe, for you. To give you something to think about too.
Can you relate to any of this?