“In order to go on living one must try to escape the death involved in perfectionism.” –Hannah Arendt
There are no two ways about it: I got stopped.
Stuck. Stumped. Stymied.
Completely and totally blocked.
I let the ways I thought this blog “should” look prevent me from actually doing the work. I got caught up in the idea that I was supposed to sound like an “expert” on depression, as though, in order to write about depression, I had to have some extra letters after my name, such as “Ph.D.” (If suffering from clinical depression my entire life doesn’t make me an expert, then I don’t know what would!)
I thought every blog post “should” proceed in a logical fashion from the one before it, smoothly segueing into the next post, with appropriate links to previous posts and additional links to useful resources. And I thought that I had to publish a certain number of posts a week, with certain types of articles on certain days of the week.
I felt sure that every post “should” be so well crafted that it was worthy of being submitted to The New Yorker, or, at the very least, the local AboutTown. This felt especially true of the ambitious series of articles I began on depression and grief; the blog post prior to this one is the first in the series (“The Comfort of Denial”). It felt as though Elisabeth Kübler-Ross herself had to approve of each article before I posted it, even though she died some years ago!
Most of all, in my heart of hearts, I wanted some kind of “guarantee” that my work was good enough, the writing compelling enough, the information not only helpful but also inspiring and healing for people with depression. I wanted to know for sure that I was making a difference for my readers (and, let’s face it, I wanted kudos and pats on the back). Not having this guarantee made me drag my feet on the writing. I also became reluctant to check the comments that were coming in for fear that I would see some negative feedback.
In short, this blog had to be perfect.
While perfectionism and the procrastination it leads to aren’t unique to depressives, you can see how the “stinkin’ thinkin’ ” to which we are prone can cause us to create constructs that limit us. Perfectionism isn’t about not being good enough; it’s about the fear that others will judge us as not good enough and reject us for it, even as we judge (and reject) ourselves far more harshly than anyone else ever could. It’s about building roadblocks out of “shoulds” to keep ourselves safe from taking risks. Staying small and safe might not be much fun or very rewarding, but at least it’s comfortable and—most importantly—controllable.
It also costs us. Perfectionism costs us the satisfaction we might gain from sharing our gifts. It prevents us from participating in life. It cuts us off from other people, making rewarding relationships next to impossible. It can even cost us money, as we turn away from opportunities to exchange our talents for cash. And, inevitably, it worsens our symptoms of depression, making daily life that much harder.
I’m no longer willing to not participate in life, even though I have depression. It’s my life, my stage, and my audience, and by golly, I refuse to put Perfectionism on the billing! In a future blog posting, I’ll share with you some simple strategies to send perfectionism packing when it threatens to derail your efforts to get your life back on track or to simply get your work done.
(c) 2010 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.