So today is time to talk day – the initiative started by Time to Change to get more people talking about mental health.
It’s a great campaign, and one which I’ve taken part in previously. This year, I’m gonna get even more real and honest than before.
I have never been diagnosed with a mental illness, but that may be because I’ve never gone to a doctor about my mental health really. I have been through the waiting list for counselling three times, and had a few sessions of student counselling when I was at uni, but for the most part I have gone through life trying to solve my own struggles and figure out my brain myself. I don’t know if that’s the right course of action, but I have always felt like my problems were never ‘bad enough’ to seek professional help, or try to define and label them.
The past few months I’ve been doing a lot of work on myself. Reading and listening to personal development blogs and podcasts, doing online courses and workbooks, and most recently undertaking a training programme called Springboard which is all about women’s personal and professional development. All of this has got me to really look at who I am, where I am at the moment, and how the things in my brain have influenced that. It’s been eye opening to say the least, and has led to some realisations.
One of the most useful, and startling of these realisations came from following an amazing woman called Sam. Sam blogs, vlogs, and makes podcasts over at Smart Twenties – all about personal development for women in their twenties (and beyond). I’ve been listening to, and reading Sam’s work for over a month now, and one thing really resonated with me: perfectionism. The thing which I can finally stand up and say is that I am a perfectionist. Now when you hear that word it probably conjures images of somebody who irons their clothes meticulously, or quadruple checks the grammar of a text message. That is a false idea of what perfectionism is. (it’s probably best to describe that as attention to detail to be kind…) Perfectionism is actually an intrinsic belief that I am not enough. Not productive enough, not successful enough. Not good enough. Perfectionism, like most personality traits, comes from events and experiences when one is growing up. For me, it stems from a couple of places. Firstly the extensive bullying I faced during my secondary education, and the accompanying lack of friends. Secondly, and perhaps more prominently, the events surrounding my mums illness, and my role as a young carer. Both of these things put immense pressure on my young shoulders, piling more worries onto the usual things which teenagers think about, and crushing my self esteem and confidence.
All of this made me feel like I wasn’t good enough, and that I needed to ‘be better’ and ‘do more’ in order to achieve that elusive badge of ‘good enough. So I started to plan, and set goals and targets and tasks for myself. However instead of a usual, healthy amount of goals, I added more and more to my to-do list. I made bucket lists, 5 year plans, 1 year plans, 6 month, 3 month and 1 month action plans. I bought planner and notebook after planner and notebook. I genuinely believed that if I could achieve all of these things then I would be happy, and feel better. The thing is I was holding myself to completely unrealistic expectations. To go from the chaos I had grown up in to an organised, successful, ‘together’ grown up was a marathon, not a sprint. Not realising this, I frequently became frustrated and disappointed with myself for not finishing the race, when I hadn’t done any training beforehand. I trapped myself in a cycle of setting up all these expectations of myself, subconsciously knowing they were unrealistic, feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and then procrastinating to put off the fact I couldn’t do the impossible.
It has taken me about 13 years to get to a point where I’ve realised what I’ve been doing. In that time I have repeatedly reinforced the idea that I’m not good enough, and gathered extensive evidence to support that. All the procrastinating, and failure to complete the mammoth list of goals I set myself has made me more sure that I can’t do things. Which led me to stop trying. It’s a self fulfilling cycle which I’ve played out countless times, and it’s just trapped me in worrying, self doubt, and living a life where I’m not reaching my full potential.
Perfectionism itself isn’t a mental illness. However I believe it may be bound up with anxiety, depression, and hangovers from a lot of the events in my past which I never fully dealt with. So this is me talking about it, and vowing to be there for friends who want to talk too.
It’s ok to talk about mental health. If you need to look after yourself by *not* talking about it right now, that’s ok too. Just please don’t feel shame around mental health. Everyone has it, whether it’s good or bad. I’m going to be talking more candidly on the blog about all this, if you want to follow my journey then you can follow the blog, follow me on twitter or Insta, or like my Facebook page. I promise there will be more activity this year! See more of the conversation by checking the #timetotalk hashtag on Twitter or Insta!