Fighting impostor syndrome when it creeps into my life with IPF

How my lung disease has affected my sense of self-worth

Charlene Marshall avatar

by Charlene Marshall |

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Last month, I wrote about my constant battle with lung infections. As a patient with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a progressive and life-threatening lung disease, I think the condition’s physical manifestations are obvious: respiratory viruses, shortness of breath, and a dry cough. But IPF has implications beyond the physical.

As I sit down to write this column with a tissue box beside me because I’m still not over an infection, I’m considering how a recent professional experience was affected by IPF. I was strongly encouraged to apply for a senior position at my workplace — one I’d enjoy but didn’t think I deserved. Reluctantly, I went through the rigorous application and interview process anyway.

As a young professional, it can be intimidating to compete for promotions alongside people who have been in the field much longer than you. It can feel as though applicants with seniority are more deserving of these opportunities. For me, I didn’t think I deserved the position because of my life-threatening illness. Impostor syndrome had struck again!

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Prior to living with IPF, I rarely experienced impostor syndrome, which is the feeling of being unqualified or undeserving of success. Before I got sick, I knew what I wanted out of my career, and I went after it because I had no limitations. Now that I lug around an oxygen tank as a young adult, it’s like my brain has tricked me into believing I’m less competent than my peers, especially in my professional life.

While I know having a chronic illness doesn’t make me less than, this is just one of the ways IPF affects my life. It creates social challenges as well as emotional and mental difficulties. Impostor syndrome has affected me more times than I’d care to admit, sometimes leading me to think, “I can’t do that because of my lung disease.”

Following are three ways impostor syndrome has crept into my life since I was diagnosed with IPF:

1. Trying something new

A few months ago, a friend convinced me to try strength and resistance training with her, and with my doctor’s approval, I signed up for a gym membership. Although I was envious of the progress she’d been making, I was reluctant to sign up. I knew this gym was unique, in that it was supervised by multidisciplinary professionals, including physical therapists and chiropractors. Yet the impostor syndrome still crept in and told me I couldn’t partake in a gym program because I had a lung disease. I was convinced none of the trainers would want to work with me and that I’d slow people down, especially in group-based programming. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I’m grateful I didn’t let impostor syndrome prevent me from trying something new.

2. Professional development

Applying for a senior-level position, as I mentioned above, was just one of the many times impostor syndrome tried to convince me that I didn’t deserve professional development opportunities because of IPF. Within the last year, I’ve had opportunities to present at both national and provincial conferences on a topic I’m passionate about. At times, though, my impostor syndrome had me thinking I lacked professional credibility, despite multiple degrees, because of my lung disease. Thankfully, I presented anyway and thrived every time.

3. Traveling

When I was diagnosed with IPF in 2016, my biggest fear was that I’d no longer be able to travel and see the world. While traveling is still possible with IPF, it does require some additional preparation. Since my diagnosis, impostor syndrome will creep in if friends ask me to travel with them. I’ll think I shouldn’t go because my lung disease will keep others from doing everything they want to do. I have to work hard at quieting this narrative because my true friends want to spend time and travel with me, regardless of my abilities.

Has impostor syndrome shown up in your life since your IPF diagnosis? Please share in the comments below.

Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.


Kathryn Maguie avatar

Kathryn Maguie

Imposter Syndrome is an interesting heading for the descriptions mentioned. I would say hesitancy, apprehension, self-doubt. I cannot do all of what I used to anymore but am still doing a lot. In my career I was a subject matter expert and speaking in front of a large group would be very difficult today but because of the physical manifestations of the disease not my( imposter thought). I think what I am saying is that is individual not general, thanks for sharing.

Randall Thornton avatar

Randall Thornton

Charlene, Good afternoon. I have a couple of questions. I am trying to remember, did you have a lung transplant? The reason I'm asking is how do you get to travel if you haven't? I was diagnoises with IPF in 2020 and have been home bound since. I only have 1/2 a lung left after loosing 1 in 2020. The disease is traveling faster then my doc thought it would. I so want to go home for one last trip to visit my parents and grandparents graves, the old houses and visit some old school friends. I am told no. I would die getting there. I keep thinking I am going to die anyway, the way things are going, so what difference does it make? What are your thoughts? You are someone that I am envious of with your go get them. The problem is the mountains. I live on the Utah border and would have to go over the Rockies. thank you, Randall Thornton


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