Perfectionism Part 2: Excuse me- where has my life gone?

Song of the Day: Bloodstream by Stateless

(Photo Credit: TONY-M available under a Creative Commons Licence).

If school and sixth form were my years of achievement despite the perfectionism (covered in Perfectionism Part 1: The School Years), then everything since then has been completely the opposite. Although obviously Bipolar has played a major part in this with the destruction of my confidence. But ego seems particularly good at sucking up your soul when you’re a perfectionist.

Perfectionism destroys the sense of pleasure and fun I used to get from drawing and music lessons, as well as trying new things. Needless to say my bipolar symptoms would probably improve if I allowed myself to experiment in these areas again, as they are part of my identity. Thought a bit of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy might help. If I sit down to draw this is what happens in my head:

“Nothing I draw will be a masterpiece, so I may as well not bother”

“Drawing is only worth doing if it’s for money- nobody would buy my art”

“I should be better at drawing by now- I’m still GCSE standard at 31”

“Nothing I draw will look the way I want it to”

….and on and on. You get the picture?

Believe it or not I have let these thoughts control me for near-on 10 years, during which time any drawing I have done has been a real struggle and not particularly pleasurable due to the above negative judgements. I have to battle with that inner critic to get anywhere, squeezing every ounce of joy out of the artistic process!

I want to learn to have fun with art again, to experiment and play about on paper- go back to the finger-painting years! I never used to judge myself so harshly. Maybe if I go back to my 12-year-old self and see what she would think about her drawing:

“Wow, I didn’t think that would turn out so well!”

“I love the feeling of drawing”

“I love drawing horses and dancers- they’re so beautiful”

“I can create my own world on paper- that’s so exciting”

“I can put this on the wall, give to Mum & Dad. etc”

Obviously my 12-year-old self was much wiser and I’ve regressed since then!

I guess I can make some mini-goals to get over my pencil & paper phobia:

– 15 minute sessions only- little and often. Sit with the feelings of discomfort, jot a few down.

– do some felt-tip squiggling, like when a kid, to get in touch with creativity and get over phobia of making a “mess” on paper.

– Try not to be ashamed of “childish” subjects that I love- fairies, angels, unicorns, fantasy in general- I have this inside me and need to express it.

There is also a fear of success (as well as failure) lurking in the background. If I achieve my potential my peers may no longer accept me. What if I really could be as good an artist/musician/writer as my potential allows- would it alienate people? Would they dislike me for my fantasy world? (I was teased at school about my drawings of unicorns). Think it was stupid? Laugh at me? Right now I just have to risk it and trust that people wont care! But there’s also the even scarier thought that “what if my best isn’t good enough”- This could lead to real, painful disappointment. Why should I get my hopes up?

My ego has robbed me of fun, play and joy with art and music for too long. It doesn’t want me to express who I am and blinds me with perfectionistic thoughts of fear of rejection, and criticism. I want to be braver than that now.

Baby steps…..


6 thoughts on “Perfectionism Part 2: Excuse me- where has my life gone?

  1. Hannah

    Yes yes yes, I totally get this!! I completely stopped playing the piano for just the same worries & fears, BUT, am now doing a small amount of playing again accompanying a choir. That said, it is something that doesn’t stretch me – less is expected of me, but because of this I can usually do pretty well, and the encouragement from other people helps me continue… I still have (lots of) wobbly moments, but also lots of positive moments again from making music. I hope you can get back into your art – I don’t know what the best way is, but you seem to have some strategies worked out. It probably won’t be easy, but I’m sure if you can make that step you’ll find you’ll get something really good from it.

    Can you tell I’m hooked on your blog?!

    Hannah xx

  2. rachelmiller1511 Post author

    It’s so silly really isn’t it?! But totally crippling. I play the piano too and have sung in choirs- you must be my secret twin;-). My Mum is a piano teacher (well, was) and she’s amazing at the piano but is always putting her playing down. Me being not as good as her, when she talks like this, just indirectly insults my playing! I’m no way near good enough to play for a choir, so you must be pretty good- that’s a hard thing to do, plus playing infront of loads of people! It’s learning to enjoy it all again rather than find it stressful isn’t it?
    Did a bit of drawing yesterday and found that as soon as I started drawing, my critical thoughts just went quiet! It’s the bit before and after that were way worse!

    Have a good week Hannah, thanks for your comments.


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