Perfectionism → inconsistency → depression
The vicious cycle that keeps me silent and afraid
I know exactly when I started to face problems with getting myself to just write.
It happened right after I posted an article on on my blog (which I ported to Medium), Read Other People’s Code. Funny enough, I didn’t even think it was that good, and it didn’t get much exposure.
It was the first piece I had written from kind of a “directive” approach, and I did a good bit of research to ensure that what I was sharing was accurate. I got some followers from it, because it was apparently helpful. And that was that.
But something happened in my brain at that point.
Every time I tried to write… it was like peeking out from the curtain to see what my brain perceived as a full house.
Those people now expected me to create content that took time to craft, and wasn’t just from my heart. They obviously preferred content that came from more a place of authority and expertise.
And because I am a perfectionist — I will be writing more about the roots of my perfectionism — I thought that I had to step up to the challenge. And I did, for about 6 seconds.
It turns out, stressing about content you write kills your desire to write it. And, it was like writing a freaking research paper every week.
Hilariously, this exact same thing happened when I began producing my podcast too. It was too much work.
I assumed my audience wanted too much of me — as much as I wanted from myself — and my episode production became inconsistent. At the time of writing this, I’m just finally climbing back from a month-long break as a result of hitting a wall. No shame in that; it is what it is.
I’m sure you know this feeling, if you’ve ever faced a lot of anxiety over one thing, then jumped to another thing — and realized the feelings just followed you to a different place.
Because wherever you are, that’s where you’re at. You can’t run away from your thoughts and feelings. They’re inside you, ya dingus.
And, any response rooted in anxiety is going to create problems, regardless of the thing you’re responding to. I tell myself this every day.
And yeah, let’s just forget that I’m, like, really new at this myself too while we’re at it! Because mentally, I flipped the switch from just writing for fun as a newbie, to writing to inform and educate others. I understand now that my writing can be both… but at that point in my life, it was clearly a zero sum game.
And hell, even I can look back and see that wasn’t what it meant. I can see that now. But in the moment, sometimes it’s hard for me to recognize when things begin to go sideways.
I’m sure you can guess what happened. I stopped writing.
And because I stopped writing, I felt badly. I started to isolate and disappear from the communities I was previously very active in.
I see now that while I was avoiding writing, something was happening inside of me.
Every time I avoided what I desperately wanted to be doing, it validated my anxiety. It confirmed to my brain that I was doing the right thing by not facing it.
By avoiding writing, I self-reinforced that writing was worth avoiding, continued to have anxiety over it, and became inconsistent and absent in an area I really enjoy.
And for a perfectionist like me, inconsistency can trigger depression, which is exactly what happened.
Wanting to practice a craft but being too afraid — and being paralyzed by that fear — leads to this build-up of desire and longing for it. I needed to put myself out there, but I had convinced myself that I wasn’t good enough to deliver.
When I stopped writing, I felt:
- Guilty for abandoning what readers I had
- Inadequate, as if I couldn’t meet their needs anyway
- Weak for falling prey to my own irrational fears once again
- Like I’d never be able to start again, because I’d failed once
And all because I projected onto myself that the small amount of technical consideration I had to put into one article meant I had to step up my game, when nobody was asking or demanding me to step up my game to begin with. As a result, I crumbled and stopped doing it all together.
That’s peak perfectionism, folks. Can’t do it perfectly, so don’t do it at all. And where did it get me? Absolutely fucking nowhere.
So, here I am. Writing posts without giving them a deep editing (read: self-rejection) process after getting them out of my head. And man, it feels good. It’s imperfect, just like I am. It’s me.
Hearing that my “raw” thoughts are actually able to be understood by others is helping me immensely, so the limited feedback I’ve received has been helpful. This has pushed me to seek feedback more often, which I think may need to become a permanent part of my approach.
Apart from perceived expectations, I suspect that I may also be facing some information processing issues that lead me to deduce that people also face difficulty understanding me. I guess that’s a post for another day, too.
Ok, I’m going to push through and get some of my more difficult work done now. Don’t worry, I’m going to break into the nitty-gritty of what I’m actually doing soon. This is just laying the groundwork for understanding why I needed to do it. If you’re still reading, I believe you understand all too well, and probably want to hear about things that work.