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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