I have some fun, funny blogs in the works, but today I’d like to honor all those who suffer from invisible illnesses.
Last week, Sarasota lost a mother and her daughter to those invisible illnesses. We who remain have a duty to speak. Like many, I have a silent struggle with mental illness. Among other issues, I have been diagnosed with depression several times in my life, including after my daughter was born.
There is no shame in this; it is a not a failure on anyone’s part. A very wise person once told me that depressions are like viruses. Everyone gets them; some more often than others. Sometimes it’s a cold and you get over it in a day or two. Sometimes it’s viral pneumonia and you’re fighting for your life with medicine and doctors on your side. There’s no shame in getting a virus; there’s no shame in mental illness, either.
I have no answers about mental illness in general, but I can share my experience. I can stand up and be counted, letting everyone know that I am one of those who struggle with something that leaves no obvious marks. There are far more of us than we know.
And I can ask that we all be gentle with each other. Love. Listen. Notice. Forgive. Help.
So here’s a blog I’ve been sitting on for a while. It’s in my nature—and my job description as a blogger--to be intellectual and humorous about things, so I do approach my issues that way…sometimes. In all seriousness, though, please reach out if you feel you might have a mental illness. And if someone reaches out to you, please listen. Take them seriously. Help them.
Great resources can be found here.
Hi, my name is Rosanne and I’m a perfectionist.
In me, depression often manifests as an obsession with perfection. I want everything exactly right for lots of warped reasons: if it’s perfect, then I’m good enough; if it’s perfect, then I’m prepared for any disaster; and (biggest lie of all) if it’s perfect, then I can rest.
Yeah, well. That’s why it’s not called “mental wellness.”
My life changed when someone told me that perfectionism is an addiction, just like alcoholism. Now I can see (along with how damaging and futile the addiction is) how so many aspects of life today feed the problem, providing the perfectionist’s equivalent to liquor stores, bars, parties, and even hotel mini-bars.
· Information—there’s always a way to do more and better. There always has been—but now, thanks to the information age, we know it.
· Advertising—it’s not a new idea, but it can’t be said too often. The basic theme of all advertisements is that you are not perfect and you don’t have perfect stuff. AND everyone is judging you for it. So buy this perfect product.
· TV and Movies—in high school, my English teacher hung enlarged photos from the movie To Kill a Mockingbird on her bulletin boards. I love the movie, but, in the stills, you could clearly see that poor, abused Mayella Ewell had a perfect manicure. Despite valiant efforts by some artists to film “real” people in all their imperfections, the disconnect has only gone on from Mayella’s nails. Designer clothes, furniture, and lifestyles abound on big and small screens (including “reality” TV)...and that is NOT real.
· Celebrity—beyond what we see IN the movies and on TV, the perfect images generated by celebrities and their advertising teams bombard us online, in magazines at the store, and even on our phones. Volumes have been written about how phony this all is, but it’s still there.
· Industrialization—my husband points out that, in this age of computers, we get instant, simple, and (depending on your source) perfect answers to our questions. This changes the expectations we have of our fellow humans, makes us less willing to allow each other time to think. I’d add that very little is handmade anymore. For most of us, mom and dad don’t make the clothes and the furniture. Factories make identical, perfect items without wobbles or quirks.
Knowing all that in my brain helps make sense of things. For weeks at time, I can know that and let go. I can tell myself that, at the end of the day, there’s a roof over our heads and the kids are sleeping sweetly. I can even joke that, as a mom, it’s a good day if half my decisions turned out okay.
That’s how I think about perfectionism. How I feel about it? That’s where it gets tricky. Sometimes, as I’m walking my path through life, I feel the abyss, like the circling water in the bathtub drain, tugging at me. It whispers, “You sure messed that up. Why bother?” and “You’re screwing up. Just quit.” And “You don’t even know what you’re doing. Forget it.”
Or it says, “What should you do now? What’s the right answer? What’s the right way to do it?” I may know it’s not black and white—there won’t be a right (perfect) answer in a lot of life’s gray situations—but I keep trying to find that right answer. And trying to find one can be paralyzing.
So, with my peripheral vision, I watch the whirlpool warily, knowing full well the catatonic depression that lies at the bottom, waiting for me to slide from imperfection to mistakes to worthlessness.
Sometimes, the abyss haunts me for a time, slipping up on me unexpectedly twenty times a day, then once, then twelve times. Sometimes it vanishes. Sometimes I stumble.
In the end, though, I try to remember that life is not a test. It’s not graded, it’s not even pass/fail. Nothing will go down on our permanent records--we have no permanent record for things to go down on. Every day is a do-over.
In the end, we leave our good works and our children behind us. Those don’t need to be perfect; they don’t need us to be perfect.
They just need our love—our messy, imperfect, miraculous love. And we can all do that.