Is anxiety fuelled by perfectionism or does perfectionism fuel anxiety? It’s an interesting question I have been thinking long and hard about over recent weeks. People may see perfectionism as a positive thing, it’s all about success and being great at everything you do. In truth it’s not positive at all, it’s about desperately not wanting to fail or be seen as a failure and that can be incredibly trying. I recently watched The Davina Hour on the W Channel where along with some experts she explored the topic of perfectionism and it really resonated with me. It caused me to be introspective about my own struggles with the topic and how it is linked to my relationship with my illness and resulting anxiety. I am so grateful that she covered a topic that could just been seen as self-indulgent and superficial.
I have always strived to be the best at whatever I do and a need for perfectionism has always dogged me throughout my adult life but, I feel as my illness has progressively worsened as has my need to be perfect. I constantly feel less than everyone else because of my disability. I feel like it puts me at a disadvantage and as such I endeavour to be perfect in other ways. The way I look, my weight, my performance at work and how I present myself to the world has become so important to me and it feels like an anvil I constantly drag around. I care way too much about what people think about me and this has become more acute in recent years. Every unanswered message, invite I don’t receive or post that goes unnoticed has a tendency to impact way more than it should for a rational level headed person.
However, that little voice in your head makes you start to question the validity of every relationship you have. Am I a good enough friend? Do they not want to meet up because I’m no fun? Am I not invited because I’m a burden? Do people just feel sorry for me? Now I know that is ridiculous really (not that I think I’m awesome) but people have their own lives and their own friendship groups. If you feel vulnerable you pull away and retreat into yourself and in an evil twist of fate that can ultimately cost you your friendships in the end. I get nervous about calling people, what to write in messages if I should even message at all. That is not a good way to keep a friendship going.
I am baring my soul through this blog with a view to being honest about the struggles of people like myself with chronic illness. My social media pictures and how I present myself to the world in person, is a different story. I often hold myself back scared of what people may think of my opinion or comment. I don’t try to be funny as much as I used to because what if people don’t laugh. If I am super comfortable with people then things are very different, but in the main I am a little more self-contained than I used to be.
Even at work when I would have previously been the loudest person in the room I try to keep my head down and just do a good job. I just want people to see me in a certain way now; dependable, someone who gets shit done and is all over what she needs to be doing, nothing more. I think the guilt I feel over the time I have had to take off in recent years due to my health means that I am constantly worried about letting people down. I worry way too much about how I am perceived, do people think I am not up to the job anymore? As such I try to over compensate. However, I know I need to keep my work life, and ridiculous need to be seen in a certain way and need for validation separate or that anxiety and perfectionism will cripple me and I’ll be too scared to get anything done. I don’t need to be a superstar employee or social butterfly to be happy anymore. I need to stay grounded, focused on what is important and not be concerned about whether or not I feel like I really fit in anymore. The anxiety monster must not win it’s just not healthy for me.
While I want to feel like I fit in; being seen as an individual is very important to me. I don’t feel the need to be like everyone else, I just like to be accepted for who I am. From how I spend my time to the type of music I listen to and the clothes I wear, I don’t feel like I need to conform. But I think my need to be different is like a blanket of protection. If I’m always seen as a little different then the fact that I don’t feel like I truly fit into so many social groups won’t matter. I engineered it that way of course.
It doesn’t mean that perfectionism isn’t still an issue. When I am not getting any traction on Twitter for my blog and struggling to increase readership I have to remind myself of my motivations in the first place. It was never about that, it was about educating people on the impact of chronic illness, being honest about my experiences and hopefully helping just one person know that it’s ok not to be ok. So screw how many Twitter followers and Instagram likes I have. I remember that way madness lies…
As much as I want to spread the word, break down taboos and help people be less ignorant about both physical and mental health I think the social media aspect of trying to spread the word about my blog is ultimately detrimental. I can berate myself about it; you are not interesting enough, not popular enough or not good enough, but what good does that do. It just feels that like the perfectionist anxiety monster is waging a war in my mind, a war I really want no part of.
Social media and Twitter in particular can be a wonderful motivating place when you are feeling good. I see other bloggers like myself and they inspire me to keep on going but, on days when I don’t feel good the dangerous comparisons start. Look how many followers they have, why didn’t I think of that idea, their writing is so much better than mine. Absolutely bonkers really as we are all individual and facing our own struggles, I have no idea what is really going on in their lives. When those comparisons start though those feelings of failure start to creep in. I have to remind myself I am not a failure just because I don’t post every week or because I only have 36 Twitter followers or because barely anyone outside of my social circle reads my blog. I have to see myself as a success for even trying, for putting my vulnerabilities out there in such a raw and unfettered way. That’s what I am choosing to focus on and to hell with the rest of it.
The comparisons with others and a need for social media validation can creep in to other parts of your life too and essentially it feels rather self-indulgent, lonely and a dangerous path to tread. It can cost you dearly if you already feel vulnerable and like an outsider looking in on the social happenings of everyone else. It can have a detrimental impact on the way you interact with people and how much you put yourself out there. Anxiety, fear and low self-worth can cost you meaningful friendships.
I was on a recent holiday where I should have been relaxed and happy with not a care in the world, but I got a little emotional. After a particularly vivid dream I awoke with a heavy heart, regretful and introspective. I dreamt about an interaction with someone I have lost contact with. I still can’t believe how much a silly dream affected me but it caused me to ask myself some questions. Am I the problem? Did I do something wrong? Did my illness and all the shit that goes with it just get too much to handle? It is quite possibly nothing to do with me at all and they may have a lot going on in their own life. I may never know the answer to those questions and I have to be ok with that.
Now I am in no way saying I don’t have any friends. That would be a particularly woeful and dramatic statement and simply not true. I have a lot of wonderful people in my life whom a treasure and love deeply. However, years of hermit like behaviour, having to cancel plans at the last minute and a genuine fear of reaching out has left me feeling somewhat on the periphery.
You see suffering from a long term illness does remarkable things to your brain. It makes you believe you are a burden, that people don’t think you are as fun as you used to be and that people in your life really don’t want to hear from you. Every unanswered message is gut wrenching, every weekend away, gig, dinner or night out you don’t get invited to vindicates of your own self-doubt and negative thoughts.
I have to take an element of blame in all of this as there are so many people I have lost contact with over the years due to my fear, apprehension and self-imposed solitude. I have absolutely got in my own way when it comes to my social interactions. So to everyone out there who I have lost contact with I can only apologise. It happens to us all in life. People move in and out of our lives at different times. However I am indebted to those who I still have in life, who play such a vital role in keeping me positive, stable and enthusiastic for what life holds next. I have people who encourage me in all aspects of my life and let’s be honest; put up with my woeful moping at times. And we all need that in our lives. Anxiety may have cost me many relationships and achievements over the years but I determined to not let that be the case moving forward. So a devil may care attitude is what I am aspiring to and I’m sure I’ll keep you posted on my progress.