Mental Health · OCD · Random

Perfectionism and blogging

Wow. I hadn’t actually realised quite how long it had been since I last posted. Apologies to anyone who is following me, and thankyou for sticking with me despite my radio-silence! I am pretty active on Twitter even when I’m not blogging so if you want to get in touch, feel free to tweet me (@harmlesslife).

Illness and a lack of inspiration have been the biggest barriers to blogging, but wanting this to be a primarily beauty-focused blog has meant I haven’t wanted to post about other topics until I have some good photos of products so I can write about them. This is easier said than done, especially for a self-confessed perfectionist who suffers from OCD and is struggling to learn to work her new fancy camera.

The above said, it’s gotten to the stage where writing anything, good or bad, has to be better than the blogging hiatus of the past month.

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about the different awards for which other bloggers have nominated me. Thankyou so much to all of you – I haven’t forgotten and will post my responses once I’ve added all the links and proof-read it (it’s pretty long).

So, back to the topic of the post. I started writing with the intention of just saying “hi, I’m still here, apologies for the lack of content,” but the reason behind me not blogging is perhaps a more interesting topic.

Perfectionism is, to me, not just a little personality quirk as most people seem to think. Whilst it is not a mental illness, severe perfectionism can become a debilitating issue for those affected.

I have always been a perfectionist. My mum tells me that, even as a little child, I was always prim and proper. For the most part, I wasn’t the sort of child who rolled down hills or climbed up trees. I was a bit of a wimp and scared of hurting myself, but, more importantly, I doubt I’d have liked my clothes getting stained or torn.

I wasn’t frightened of germs as a child (I’d happily climb over the bins to go next door and play with our neighbour), but I liked to be neat. This is ignoring the time at around seven years old when I refused to have my hair brushed and ended up with what my mum described as a bird’s nest where my hair used to be. I believe it had to be chopped off in the end. Let that be a lesson to any children who also like to “scream blue murder” at the prospect of a hairbrush approaching their head. It’s also ignoring my bedroom, which was in a perpetual state of what I called organised mess, but my mum called a health hazard.

It’s important to make clear that cleanliness wasn’t an issue for me growing up, as those of you who’ve read my posts about mental illness will know I suffer from OCD, the most serious aspect of which surrounds a fear of contamination. I developed OCD in my 20s. I did not have it as a child, although perhaps my natural perfectionist tendencies explain why I developed OCD when placed under extreme stress.

Back to the topic of perfectionism. There are a few stories from my childhood that illustrate my perfectionist nature very well.

At around six years old, I took dance lessons. I enjoyed dancing, but was too busy actually trying to do the dance moves to absorb their names. I left just before the end of year exam. This would probably have been a simple now point your toes etc. test, but I was petrified that I would fail because I hadn’t paid enough attention. I just told my mum I didn’t want to go anymore. Not until years later did I admit the real reason I quit.

A couple of years after that, in year four of primary school, I have a vivid memory of a colouring lesson. This example is perfectionism-related, but more shows my tendency to take things too literally. I ended up staying in at playtime because I hadn’t finished my colouring. The teacher had told us to colour in lines going in the same direction. I was conscientiously doing every single line in the same direction, not going backwards and forwards with my colouring pencil. It wasn’t until my teacher noticed what I was doing that I learned I’d misunderstood.

Throughout my life since then, there have been lots of similar little stories. Courses I haven’t finished from fear of failure; opportunities I haven’t taken for the same reason. I was at the top of all my classes at school and the fear that I would let myself down by not getting a high grade or not doing something right became debilitating. The pressure I placed on myself in this respect was overwhelming and, looking back, completely unnecessary.

So why am I sharing this? A few years after developing OCD, I volunteered at our local primary school. One pupil reminded me of my little self from all those years ago. I would see her desperate to do well and to maintain her spot at the top of the class. If she made mistakes, I’d see her get frustrated with herself and I would try to explain to her they didn’t matter. The teacher of the class said something to her that stuck with me: “it’s ok to make mistakes, they’re how we learn”.

I never told that teacher how much those words helped me. If I could go back to the tiny little dance student wanting desperately to impress, those are the words I would drill into her. I spent over 20 years terrified of doing anything wrong, and I really wish someone had told me as a child that it’s good to make mistakes, as they’re the best things to help us learn.

I am still a perfectionist, don’t get me wrong, but I finally know deep down that it’s ok to be imperfect. I just have to keep reminding myself of that when my desire for perfection tells me not to press that publish button.

Are you a perfectionist? Does striving to get things right ever have a counter-productive effect for you? Let me know in the comments.

Love and hugs,

April xx

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