There used to be a time when I would accept nothing less than perfection. I still fight the frustration when I’m not completely perfect.
I’ve come to believe perfectionism it’s a disease. An infection that slowly eats away at your skin until it buries itself into your bone and spreads to every corner of your body like an angry cancer. The growing niggle questioning whether perfectionism is something to be strived for, or maybe, abhorred has become a raging monster, and now, a blog post…
As writers creative people we torture ourselves striving for something that deep down we all know is almost impossible to achieve. And if we somehow do achieve it, we spend our lives endlessly searching for that golden thread of genius within us so we can create another masterpiece. It’s like a drug, an addiction, a sought after high impossible to replicate.
But what is this blind search for perfectionism doing to our mental health and psyche? I talked about the shocking truth behind creativity recently, where there was an underlying point from Gilbert about depression in creative people.
Creative people in particular seem to suffer a high prevalence of depression, suicide and other mood disorders, including most frequently, bipolar disorder. Van Gogh was Bipolar and suffered tremendously until his suicide at 37. Syvia Plath, another sufferer with a mood disorder and eventually she committed suicide to at just 31. There are others, who vehemently argue against this trend of depression in creative people, and if you read enough research then like everything you can find enough studies that you end up sat on the fence completely befuddled.
I’m ignoring most of the science and am speaking from experience, with just a little science thrown in; from knowing many a creative person and seeing the effect of creativity gone awry, and from experiencing it myself.
My focus is on writers and one of the earliest studies of creativity and mood disorders focused on writers. It showed that 80% of writers had some variant of mood disorder. But why? Are we predisposed to mood disorders? Do we have hormone imbalances? Is it because we spend so long lost in our thoughts, pondering, reflecting, dissecting our every ideation and decision? Do we spend too long deliberating and judging ourselves? Does that lead the creative into a spiralling depression as we deconstruct ourselves and examine each tiny piece of us and our stories?
I know for me, boredom, and the restriction of my creativity is extremely bad for my mental state. I can end up in a very dark place if I am not allowed to thrive as a creative person. And yet equally, I can drive myself literally insane in the pursuit of that winning story, that character that makes someone cry, or laugh or fear for their safety. I can be so critical of myself its self destructive but especially for my sanity. I’m trying to pursue something I know I will never be able to achieve.
Despite constantly striving for perfection, I don’t believe it exists.
Will I ever be able to put the pen down, stop tweaking? Can you? I doubt it.
There’s just one more tweak? One tiny edit, a comma? A sentence? Sound familiar?
We grind ourselves down, wear down all our drive and pick and nag at our creative minds until we leave ourselves in a creative black hole. I think over striving for perfection gives us writers block and depression. If we pursue a concept that doesn’t exist we set ourselves up for constant failure.
Society is the same. Kids today think Barbi is perfection. (Yes that really is a real woman)
Kids think that plastic fantastic is acceptable and something to aim for. But sometimes when you get a little too hooked on achieving the impossible on too much plastic this happens:
Ok, maybe I’m being a little facetious but you see the point I’m making?
I wrote a poem last #1000speak, so this time I decided to share something personal. I have edited this, removed some of the bits that made me cringe, but it’s mostly intact. I wrote this piece when I was just coming out of a dark hole, it’s an odd piece of writing, more of a stream of consciousness rather than a story or anything much, but I think it makes the point, creative depression is not good by any standard:
Phantom Limb by Sacha Black
I am watching my life through his eyes, at his mercy.
My glass was always half empty, its why I never noticed the cracked cup, the leaking liquid. He didn’t arrive with the grandeur entrance I expected. He snuck quietly into my life like the silent thief, slyly changing the minutia, stealing my belongings until he consumed everything.
I can never see the world through those precious rose spectacles I used to have. The virgin eyes I owned are gone. Stolen. He took them for himself, replaced them with his dark and twisted ones. I didn’t even notice. Not until I was already exhausted from staring through his shadowy specs.
I understand what numb is; to really feel nothing.
He took my feelings away one by one. Every happy thought tarnished by a rusty anesthetized memory.
I am left watching my life play out through him.
I am his phantom limb. I see my life, but I’m not really there. I used to be present, alive, able to breathe. But now I’m surrounded by a vast suffocating nothing.
He torments me with the life I could lead. I am ashamed of him. I am meant to be strong. Unbreakable. Instead I crumbled like an ash statue. He blew over my life, and I drifted apart piece by piece.
He is the dirty little secret I punish myself for.
I’m tired of being a phantom limb.
I will not do it any more.
No matter how foggy his spectacles get, I will smear the lenses until I can see the tunnel in the distance. I know there is a light at the end of it.
I’m not suggesting we should stop striving or aiming for the top. I’m saying sometimes we need to take a step back and remember, perfection is usually impossible. What we create may well be someone else’s idea of perfection. You will be someone’s favourite author. I highly doubt whatever I create, no matter how many drafts or how many edits I do, I will ever be truly happy with it. So why not accept that? And be kind to ourselves?
We need to start believing that just because ‘WE’ don’t think something is perfect, doesn’t mean somebody else won’t. There is no perfect – perfect is unobtainable because what you think is perfect, I won’t. No two concepts of perfect align. Our own concepts of perfectionism are dangerous, and unrealistic. Praise yourself, nurture yourself away from that pedestal. Perfection isn’t all that anyway, it’s boring, outdated. It’s the goody two shoes at the front of the class, the ‘know it all’ everyone sniggers at when they finally get a question wrong.
Isn’t that the point? Humanity is interesting because we are full of mistakes and problems. Aren’t the best characters the ones who fuck up, and make mistakes? Isn’t that why we secretly like the anti-hero?
Nurture yourself. Stop striving for the unachievable. No body likes Miss Perfect anyway.
But more important than anything, don’t forget…