If you’ve ever found yourself caught in the vicious cycle of perfectionism and depression, you are not alone. My article Depression and Your Messy House is the most read article on this blog in the past year. I’ve openly discussed my ongoing battle with perfectionism, but the truth is I’ve also had a lifelong battle with depression. It is not something I ever really feel comfortable sharing. Many of my good friends don’t even know, because I go into hiding during my toughest flare-ups, so I could never imagine sharing it in such a public way on the blog.
But hiding it is getting too hard lately. I mean, I stopped sending all emails to subscribers in the middle of the fall Love Home challenge, few of my planned blog posts in the last month actually got written, and the 2018 planner wasn’t released on schedule. There’s no real way to explain that in a rational way. And that’s just the obvious work stuff, there are countless phone calls I haven’t answered, texts and emails I haven’t responded to, because I just can’t. I just can’t. And honestly, I’m getting sick of hiding. Pretending is holding me back from what I’m really trying to do here. I want to help you.
All the work I do in my home on good days make the bad days better. I have ideas and experiences I think can help and it drives me to keep sharing. Life can be really tough, but we can be tougher.
Here’s my usual cycle? Does this fit you too?
Break the Cycle
When perfectionism feels wired into our very cores, how do we break out of the cycle?
In all honesty, I don’t think we escape it completely, but I think we can escape it sometimes and make it easier to get through other times. After all, depression isn’t a condition we can out-think (trust me, if there was a way, I would have thought myself out of it by now). For some of us, it is as much a part of us as our eye color. But there are things that can help, so let’s focus on that.
(Try to) Avoid All or Nothing
How often do we start a new project or a new phase with optimism and excitement, only to soon slide quickly to All or Nothing thinking.
We may not always be able to stop the cycle, but we can try to slow it down. When we understand the effects of our actions, we can help ourselves avoid some of the mental mess. Learning to look at your to do list and say to yourself “this is impossible” will help you. It may not stop your perfectionist brain from ever saying “it’s not really impossible, just hard, and I can do really hard things if I work endlessly and try really extra hard,” but maybe it can stop that inner perfectionist at least part of the time. For instance, if we can learn to recognize All or Nothing thinking, we can slow down our insatiable drive and avoid burning out so quickly.
(Read All or Nothing for more on working through that, but know this: the “ALL” is elusive.)
Lay Off The Guilt
Always be kinder than you feel, especially to yourself.
Perfectionists are masochistic in nature with insatiable drives to do better, be better. Not only do we push ourselves past healthy limits to reach our goals and set nearly impossible standards, we beat ourselves up when we don’t meet the impossible expectations. Since they were impossible to begin with, we’ve set ourselves up to fail from the beginning.
Train yourself to see to see the good you do. If you need to, make a list of every little thing you’ve done in a day. Write even the silly things, like put a band-aid on your child’s invisible wound, helped coworkers (or family) through personal drama, talked to your friend on the phone, walked the dog … everything. If you’re wasting a bunch of time, you’ll quickly be able to see where, but otherwise, you’ll see all the things you’re doing that matter.
Learning to appreciate the progress and embrace better over best is one of the most challenging things I’ve tried to do. But perfectionists love challenges, right?! So go ahead and challenge yourself to take it easy on yourself!
When Burnout Comes
Burnout is the hardest phase in the cycle, because by this time, we are so pulled into all of the trappings of our perfectionist thinking, that it can feel impossible to break the cycle at this point. But, if we don’t try, the next phase is the worst. We must prioritize taking care of ourselves and let go of even important things that aren’t THE most important things. If we can’t slow down, we’ll end up going from 60 mph to zero almost instantaneously without choice. Once we’ve completely burned out, there is literally nothing left to work with and all those things that were too important to let go of yesterday come crashing down anyway.
To have even a chance of breaking out of the cycle here, we must let go of something and we must take care of ourselves.
Lifting Ourselves Out of Depression
If you suffer from depression, you may know what pulls you out the most. For some it is medicine, for others, it is a forced break from avoidable demands. Honestly, If I knew an instant-trick to this, I’d be a zillionaire who found the cure to depression.
All I know is: do what you need to do, take the time you need to take, you are worth it. Depression is a dark place. Don’t make permanent decisions when you are in this phase. Often, during my flare-ups, I want to quit everything: quit blogging, quit all of my responsibilities, quit friendships/relationships, nothing feels off-limits from my desire to quit. I’ve realized by now that it is my brain looking for a quick fix to feel better, it is my will to survive grasping at straws, trying to figure out how to feel better. Taking a break is definitely the right thing, and quitting some things may be right in the end, but I don’t make decisions until I feel a little better.
Really, the best thing I’ve found that helps the sunshine come back sooner is taking care of myself. Trying to eat healthy food (I don’t mean starting fat-shaming diets, but more about thinking through my body getting the nourishment it needs), getting some sunshine, taking a walk, reading a good book, low-pressure socializing, and definitely getting some sleep. None of these things are instant cures, but they set the stage for feeling better.
That moment I start to see life a little clearly always feels like a miracle. Miracles happen and can happen for you. Whatever you do, just hold on … there will be another project/ event/ phase/ purpose coming soon that will re-ignite the perfectionist within you. There’s nothing like a good challenge to bring out the beast. And if that’s what it takes to get over the recent bout of depression, bring it on. 😉
(If this article helped you at all, help someone else and pass it on.)
From my home to yours,
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Paula Rutherford says
Mary, this post made me cry. I, too, have suffered from depression most of my life. Thanks for sharing your experience, and the way you cope. I will say a prayer for you today.
MARY. <3 Thank you for your honest post about your struggles. SO many will identify. Blessings and prayers to you and everyone in your house as you come up for air. Sending you love, light, and permission to be and do whatever you need to do to FEEL and BE healthy – right now, and in the days/years to come. <3
Thank you, Angela. I hope this does help. And my family appreciates the prayers. They suffer when I suffer – I wish I knew a way around that.
Mary. I applaud you for being public. My husband went through major anxiety a few years back and it wasn’t until he started opening up about it that he was really helped. He was able to help so many others by not being ashamed of it. Please realize that it is a medical condition just as heart disease, a broken bone or the like. It’s just not on the outside to be seen. You can do hard things and learning how YOU need to deal with it is so freeing. Good for you. Take the time you need to get better. Life (and your customers) will still be there when you are. AND cheering you on. THANK YOU for this post and for EVERYTHING you do to help so many others all the time!
I had a therapist tell me years ago that my hiding was not helpful to anyone and to go public … I’ve thought of that advice so many times, and in just the last few days – it feels so good!
I so understand! Thank you for sharing… HUGS <3 PRAYERS
Thanks for always being there and understanding. You have been such a constant friend to me, even when I go into my hiding phase (which has been pretty steady for 2 years straight), you understand. Thank you, thank you.
Thank you for having the courage to share this private part of your life with us, your fans and customers. We ALL have “something”
So true. My girls and I saw the new movie Wonder on Friday. This was a major message of the movie – that we all have “something.” Such a powerful message and a reminder we all need.
Thanks for coming clean! For those of us who also fight with depression, knowing that you struggle gives us another ally in the fight. Now that we know, we can support you as well. The quotes you chose in your blog post are mostly unknown to me and caught me by surprise today. Thanks for sharing your hard stuff.
I know there are so many of us. We might as well just embrace it and each other. Glad you liked the quotes!
Eva Castle Goodman says
The first person I told that I had depression said, “Oh, good!” Not that she was glad I was sick, but rather, now I could fully understand HER depression. It’s been true for me. People can be kind, loving, and helpful. But they don’t really understand unless they have been there. I hope your words help others to understand, if only a bit, that dang vicious cycle. Wishing you all the best.
Finding a person that actually GETS YOU is miraculous. People, we all just want to be understood and relate to each other!
Gail Hoke says
Hi Mary! I’m so sorry to hear of your struggles lately. I’m sure you won’t remember me, but I found your Declutter Challenge a couple of years back. I had just lost my mom after a long illness and it was winter. I had fallen into a “funk” which I am at times prone to do anyway, and your challenge helped me to focus and move forward. I’m forever grateful for you and your challenge coming along when I needed it. I’m thinking and praying for you! Looking forward to joining you and your next Declutter Challenge. Take care!
I think there are no coincidences. Countless times, things have come into my life at the time I needed it most. I’m so glad the Declutter Challenge was something like that for you!
Your openness is appreciated. I especially struggle with the intense feeling of being overwhelmed beyond endurance when the days get shorter and darker. Thanks to the book The Mood Cure, I easily recognized myself as a person who tends to be deficient in an amino acid called GABA. I always keep some on hand, along with glycine to carry the GABA into the brain. It’s amazing what a difference it can make! Folks can go to the website to take a quick simple quiz to see if their particular mood disorder can be helped with particular simple nutritional supplements without having to resort to dangerous medications.
That’s a different approach than I’ve heard about. I’ll take the quiz. I’ll try anything helpful at least once!
Alice Seeliger says
Mary, you will never really know how many people you have helped today…but they will know. Blessings as you move through this cycle. So many of us understand and rejoice when the sun comes out again. Be gentle on yourself. Rest and replenish.
I hope the sun is shining brightly for you today. 🙂 Thank you so much for your sweet comment.
Mary, unfortunately I can totally relate. I stopped taking meds over the summer because I didn’t feel they were working. I thought I could handle it on my own, but I withdrew more and more. Especially since both of my kids were heading off to college in August . Before they had to leave, my family had to baker act me. Me… really? That’s all I kept thinking was how did I let it get that far? Fast forward, and I’m on a different medication and it’s like night and day. Not perfect but much better. I hope you find your way out.
I’ve tried 4 medications since January and still searching for the right one. I’m so glad you found something that will help!!!
Thanks for sharing. There are many of us in this fight. I suffer from depression and my husband was just diagnosed as bi-polar and we both have hefty doses of perfectionism. It can be a rough ride sometimes, but with patience we seem to come out better in the end. Sharing this will only make you stronger.
I already feel better having shared. I’m so glad I did. And you’re sharing here too! Prayers for you and your husband to have lots of good days ahead. I’m so sorry any of us have to go through this.
Beth McCullough says
Praying for you Mary! Your honesty will help many people!
Thank you, Beth!
Wow! I really haven’t tuned into this blog and then saw the topic and it caught my eye. Thank you for sharing your struggle. I can relate!!!
One thing is clear from the feedback: we are not alone! Thanks for coming by and sharing too.
Suzy Taylor Oakley says
Mary, thank you for being brave enough to be open. I suffered from depression for many years but didn’t realize what it was. (I now call myself a “recovering perfectionist.”) Fortunately for me, it didn’t require medication and, for more than 20 years, I’ve had only a twinge of seasonal gloominess. I’m so blessed that it hasn’t had a stranglehold on me in over 2 decades, and I feel for those for whom it is an ongoing struggle.
I want to share a book that made all the difference to me, but I want to state first that I’m NOT saying it’s the cure for everything, and I’m NOT saying medication (even though I didn’t need it) isn’t helpful for many people. I believe medicine can be a lifesaver.
What it took for me was my pastor’s wife reaching out (because she had overcome major depression) and going through the book and workbook with me every Tuesday for about 10 weeks. It opened my eyes to a lot of things about myself. The book required a lot of self-examination and perseverance. Why I was able to overcome depression (with God’s help) without more intense intervention, I don’t know. I think that may be rare.
Anyway, in case it helps someone else, here’s the latest edition of the book, called “Inside Out” by Larry Crabb (get the workbook, too, if it’s still available): https://www.amazon.com/Inside-Out-Larry-Crabb-ebook/dp/B00ZASKTNA/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1511113335&sr=8-3&keywords=larry+crabb+books
Keep on keeping on. Hang in there and, again, thank you for being brave. Openness helps others who are struggling, too.
That books sounds amazing, I’ll definitely be looking into that more. One thing is for sure, I am sick of feeling this way. I pray daily for the strength to even do the things I need to do to feel better. It really is a struggle, but opening up about it has been so healing these past 10 days. Encouragement like yours really validates filling opening up about it. Thanks so much, Suzy.
Caroline Drake Calkins says
Yes! Speak it out! And I’m here with a hearty ‘me too!’ Depression and anxiety are longtime passengers on my life journey – so I work at keeping them in the backseat and stopping them from taking over the radio… 😉 Thankful for your voice, grateful for your honesty, hopeful we’ll be able to sit down someday and swap war stories. Love you!
War stories sounds very appropriate, because it really does feel like a battle! I’m sorry that we have this in common, but speaking it out is so healing, so I’m glad you shared. 💜
I love this post! So many of us deal with depression and we all need to talk about it more 🙂 its healing. To know we are in it together right 🙂
A big turning point for me was reading the book “Learned Optimism” by Martin Seligman. Even though I have always identified myself as an optimist this book taught me so many life changing coping skills. It didn’t make the depression go away but now I don’t get stuck in some of the mental traps that make it worse 🙂 good luck! Feel better soon!
That book sounds really good. I know that those mental traps are the trickiest things to maneuver. I do believe that talking about it is one step to healing.
I too fall into this “circle”. Just coming out of the crash phase. For the first time, I broke down and agreed to speak to someone. By doing so, I was able to talk it out loud and “hear” myself going through these steps. 1session and I am more aware of signs/symptoms to look for and try for alternative thinking. I found my perfectionism is linked to control issues and when control is off balanced or there is a something/one blocking that control it spins my circle faster
I’m glad you’ve found help. Awareness is an important part of the battle. Happy thoughts to you as you find growth and healing. 🙂
Thank you so much for writing this post. I felt like you were describing me. You broke down everything so well. I now have a clearer understanding of what I’m doing to myself. It’s good to know that I’m not the only one dealing with these issues. Sometimes the cycle makes me think I’m crazy.
Knowing is part of the battle, but not all of it. I’m writing this reply at 2:40am. Ha!! But yes, knowing helps us examine and improve, which is all we can do.
You just described me to a T. I’m in a “funk” right now and I want to quit everything. Mom, wife, friend, church member, sister, house keeper, etc. It’s no fun. It’s really hard to describe the way I feel to someone else. It’s like I’m constantly in a fog. Everything in my brain is all jumbled up and I can hardly do anything. I’m hyper focused on one thing…right now it’s decluttering and organizing. If I can’t get it done the way I want and quickly, everyone around me suffers. My poor kids have to deal with me yelling and getting after them about everything. I absolutely hate it and hate myself when I’m feeling like this. It’s hard to smile and have fun or have energy to do anything. Thank you for your post. It gives me hope!!
I’m so sorry you are in this funk and going through this. I know it is a hard place to be. Whatever gives you hope, cling on to it, because you never know what is going to be the thing that pulls you out of this funk. Take care of yourself.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart, this post kinda saved me today.
I’m laying in bed tossing and turning, worried, upset, that I’m just not perfect enough to grow my blog, business and just everything in between.
But, after reading this it made me realize the cycle that I’ve put myself in! I feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel to finally break the cycle!
Thank you for being so honest, and inspiring!
I’m the expert at beating myself up for not being a “good enough blogger.” Lately I’ve really been practicing giving myself grace and it makes every day better. I checked out your blog – I love the concept. My unsolicited advice: Be good to yourself. Keep going and keep trying to grow, but don’t sacrifice taking care of yourself.
Thanks for this! 😊
You are so welcome!
Dr. Nadia says
This is a wonderful article. The distinction bw perfectionism and high achievers is so important as the former IS a vicious cycle. Thanks so much for the message of positivity and the great quotes to go along with it. One of my favorite quotes is progress, not perfection!
Thank you 🙂
I felt this. In almost every single way. Thank you for this. Its often hard for me to string the words together in how I feel. This helps shed some light and make me feel less alone. 🖤
I’m so glad this could help. There is one thing I know for sure – you are not alone in this!
Rachel M says
I know this is an older post, but I stumbled upon it by accident through a picture on pinterest and I’m so glad I clicked into it.
You’ve been able to articulate so much more clearly things I’ve thought, felt and tried to explain…and some things I never even considered stepping back from and analyzing.
Thank you! For being real. For sharing this even though it was difficult. For giving insight and suggestions.
Thanks, glad you found it and it helped in some way. Take care of yourself!
I ran across your info-graphic on Pintrest and am glad I did. The timing was perfect. I’ve been working to overcome my depression/anxiety for several years now. I have recently come to realize MUCH of it is due to what you illustrated in your info-graphic. The advice in this article is very practical and I will put it into practice when I can remember to stop and process.
I’m so glad to help. Namaste. 🙂
I am very grateful to you for writing this post. I am at a really bad time in my life and to read your words of honesty is so refreshing. Thank you.
I’m sorry you are having a tough time. Hang in there, there is always something better ahead.
Thank you so much for your honesty! I get so sad and worn out reading blog after blog that only presents the sweet sunny side, it feels so shallow and fake after a while! My cycle of frantic productivity-escapism-despair isn’t the exact same as yours, but it’s close enough that I am so encouraged by your writing about yours. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
It never gets old hearing that sharing my struggles helped someone. I’m so glad that they were able to help YOU! 🙂
Mary, I came across your blog thru pinterest & I truly was stunned when I saw your post the perfectionism & depression cycle. I’ve been married 2 times. I’m with my wonderful hubby for around 20 yrs y 2nd & last now going on 20 yrs. I have a son from my 1st marriage who is 23 yrs old & his father,myself & husband have always gotten along. I got lucky in that aspect! LOL! My husband has been in my sons life since he was 4 yrs old, so they bonded. My husband & I have our daughter whos 17s yrs old about to be 18 yrs old.
I have suffered the last 9 years from anxiety, add, adhd, ocd, panic attacks, depression & now ……major depression. My mom and I have always had a bad relationship . I never knew what exactly was going on until I finally found the answer she’s a narcissistic mother & I’m the scapegoat daughter & my younger brother is the golden child, my older brother is a scapegoat also. I went no contact about 4 yrs ago with her. Before
I went no contact with her I was put thru so much emotional, verbal, physical abuse by her, she manipulated me my children my husband. All i wanted was love & her approval that I was a good daughter, mother, wife business owner, housewife ect… I had always helped my husband run our landscaping business, land clearing business. Also had my son in sports and our daughter was younger son had her in part time daycare for awhile then, I told him I wanted to start my own boutique. I would start small. Well at that time my mom was taking my ideas & selling them. That just broke me, I just stopped doing anything creative. everything started falling apart my marriage. I grew up 300 miles away & I didn’t have any friends. I would hide in my safe place my room. I hated phone calls because I had so many fights with my mom over the phone I avoided it. I just wanted to die. I felt alone like a failure,insecure,hopeless,stuck and I didnt feel like i had someone to talk to. I have huge family & in 2016 when my grandfather passed away my close huge family fell apart.I only trusted my grandmother & a cousin or two. About a yr & a half later we bought our land & house and I said this has got to be new start for me & remember I had gone no contact with my mom abt 2 yrs or so before we moved into our new property & house. I did have to be around my mom only at functions that were absolutely necessary. I’ve slowly started feeling better I don’t have panic attacks, I still have adhd but with medication I’m doing better. I get anxiety so bad trying to figure out what i want to to sell or make to sell. I get ideas & I get all organized and I get completely wore out picking up the house and get my project together I feel overwhelmed and I dont start on my project I do 20% of the time! That makes me feel like a failure. I recognize my thoughts and feelings feelings during me trying to complete a project, I’m just not sure how to fix the issue. I wanted my husband to create things with me and we could travel together to festivals craft shows and spend time together but I guess he changed his mind well I think he’s waiting on me sadly!
My daughter will be leaving home in a few months for school. My son works on the pipeline so he works alot. I’m abt to be here in my own home I will be alone until my husband gets home around 3:30. I want to find happiness again i want to fall in love with my husband again & focus on my creativeness I know is in me I just need to find peace inside me I guess. I need confidence. When your married for almost 20 years you go thru rough times I think we grew apart but I know I love him he loves me he just needs to remember that we are 45 yrs old and its OK to hang out with your friends but we truly need to find our way back to each other we have only the 2nd part of our lives to live & I need to know he has some of our dreams and goals still in his mind. Things we said we could do together. I miss us! When I think about these things I see things clearer so maybe I need to journal my thoughts & I love meditation I just don’t fit it in my schedule. I have a lake across the street from my house and I bought a stand up paddleboard to use for yoga meditation to get my mind straight and get healthy, toned, in a way I enjoy. I just have not been out there since its been cool. I also have been going through menopause. I was taking Prozac before but I took it for like a yr the side effects were not horrible. I was put on Paxil after my divorce from my 1st husband it helped but I eventually stopped taking it it because I was happy. The side effects were not that great either so I know there are so many out there now any suggestions would be great! Also any advice on something I can take care for my mood swings & getting emotional,focusing,plus no weight gain for this menopause.?? This is kinda all over the place but hey my prayers are with you & thanks for being open & now I have found somebody I can run things bye and talk with & I’m here too bye Michelle
I really can’t give you advice for what medicine to take because I am definitely not a doctor or a nurse, but please go to your doctor or even switch doctors to find someone who is willing to keep trying things until you find something that works!! I am no stranger to anxiety and major depression. It can be so painful sometimes to not feel completely in control. I think you and your husband will have major improvement on your relationship when you feel good, but don’t wait until then to start working on it because the things that will help you two are also things that will help you. My best suggestion is a weekly date night, NO MATTER WHAT. My husband and I went out last Saturday even though neither of us were really feeling like it, but that actually when we usually need it most. By the end of the night, we both feel seen, heard, and loved by the other and we can start another week off strong together. I’m going to pray for you, because you’ve got so much you’re dealing with right now. Just remember that you can get through this and that better days are ahead. Just hold on.