The (Im)Perfection Factor

Practice makes perfect? Maybe for some, but for most of us, it just makes us better. Should we only practice things so that we can get better at them? Why do we always want things to be better? Why should we strive for perfection all the time?

There’s something that has helped my day-to-day mental health. I’m calling it ‘The (Im)Perfection Factor’. It’s related to a way of thinking that stuck with me through much of my early life. It was a way of thinking that stopped me from getting much done and likely reduced my overall enjoyment of life.

I used to have a desire to have things as near to perfect as I possibly could. When things weren’t perfect (and the reality is that nothing I ever did was perfect), I saw the imperfections loud and clear, screaming out at me above anything else. If I didn’t think that I could do something close to perfect, then I would not do it. I’m not sure if this was some kind of ‘fear of failure’, with failure being rated according to the number of imperfections, but it interfered with my enjoyment of life and with the amount of things that I achieved. It filtered down to every little thing I did. If I was going to get a T.V. it had to be the best that I could afford, I wanted the picture and sound to be as near to perfect as possible. When my car needed cleaning, I cleaned every last part of it inside and out. If I didn’t think that I had time to fully clean the entire car then I would not clean it at all (a quick spot-clean was not perfect enough and so never happen). This did not mean that my car was always clean. While these are things did not have a major impact on me, I believe that this is how the imperfection factor manifested in my day-to-day life.

I know that for some people, this striving for perfection is part of what drives them to achieve greatness. However, my life has become better without it. I like to create. I write music, poetry, draw, and love building things from wood. However, there are many times that I did not complete a song because I did not think it would be ‘perfect’. There are many times that I did not embark on a piece of art because I did not think that the idea was perfect or that I could execute it perfectly. There is so much that was not created because I was hung up on the outcome being ‘good enough’. I would never just draw for fun and see where it went.

“…love the process not the product and cherish the beauty of imperfections”

What I have learned, that has significantly improved my enjoyment of life, is to love the process not the product and to cherish the beauty of imperfections. Instead of focusing on the quality of a final drawing, I focus on the process of drawing – which I love! I love to draw, I love to colour. When I finish a piece, I no longer see the imperfections as mistakes, but as things that add to the individuality. Because I am no longer solely focused on the quality of the end result, I create much more freely and my enjoyment of the process has increased ten fold. After all, who am I creating for? If for myself, should perfection matter?

By setting more realistic expectations, I no longer expect perfect behaviour from students. I accept that they are young children and I have learned to enjoy their quirks and approaches to life. This in turn has greatly improved my relationships with the students I teach. I’ve always loved the artwork of seven-year-olds and now I realize that it is because of the individuality of their work. They are creating because they love the process and are not hung-up on the perfection of the end result. It is so often us adults that point out the ‘flaws’ that we perceive in their work. We even go so far as to teach them to look for flaws and attempt to ‘correct’ them.  I choose not to be critical of others. Instead of critiquing our differences, I admire and expect the variety of character traits in people I meet.

Years ago, I could never have written this blog. I know it isn’t perfect. I know that it doesn’t get my point across quite as well as I would like. But, I have enjoyed writing it. I’ll probably enjoy tweaking it from time to time. It reflects a little bit of what I believe in – a little bit of who I am. I’m glad that I have written it, despite any spelling errors, grammar issues, and clumsy phrases that might exist. I hope that someone else will read it, relate to it, and maybe even learn what I, like Jane Austen and so many others before me have learned…

…it’s our imperfections that make us perfect.

Chapter 10: Part II: A New Outlook

Moving On From Depression…

I will do all that I can to prevent it from returning. I will eat healthy (within reason… no need for all those chocolate chip cookies to go to waste), exercise within reason, do my best to focus on the present, and for the time-being, take my SSRI each day.

When you are not depressed it is almost impossible to imagine that you will ever feel that way again. Even on the good days that happened during my period of depression, I could not imagine that the feeling would ever come back. It did. My perception was that I had way more control over it than I actually did. The truth is that it can happen to anyone and it can have a devastating effect.

“Depression changed me. It was awful, but it ultimately changed me for the better.”

The good news is that for most people, depression is curable. The challenges lie in accepting what is wrong and then getting the necessary medical and therapeutic help. In many places, Mental Health Care is still grossly underfunded so the quality of help available to individuals varies considerably.

So, as I heal, what next?

I felt fragile for a many months as I recovered. I felt that something could easily make my depression come back. Thankfully, it didn’t and the feeling of fragility gradually faded. Twelve months later and there’s still a tiny bit of that feeling, but it only wakes up for a few minutes of each day. With it comes an appreciation. An appreciation for the life that I have. We take our health for granted? I believe that most of us do. But, in the aftermath of something like this, it is so wonderful to wake up and realize how fortunate I am to have the life that I have. There’s something special there when I see my family. It’s something that wasn’t there before. It’s a love of the simplicity of being alive and having each other. Am I saying that I’m glad that I went through my depression? No – I wouldn’t wish depression on anybody. I’m just saying that there is some good to have come out of it. I would not be who I am now without depression and in many ways I feel better than the person I was before. When I teach children, I am so much more aware of their brain/mental health. When I hear of others experiencing mental health issues, I am so much better equipped to be helpful and supportive. When I interact with those around me, I do so with a belief that my words and actions can affect the health of their brains. Depression changed me. It was awful, but it ultimately changed me for the better.

I don’t intend this book to be ground-breaking – I know that it isn’t. However, I do hope that it will help someone. I know that hearing about the experiences of others was a great help to me. The unfortunate thing was that people weren’t very willing to open up about the topic because of the stigma still attached to it. I had to go through all this to learn what I learned. Surely there is an easier way? Hopefully we can change this for our children.

If you’re out there and suffering, hang in there. If you’re out there and talking about your experiences then keep going. Together we can change the way things are. Together, we can make mental health stigma a thing of the past.

THE END.

FOR NOW.

Thanks for reading.

Justin

Chapter 10: A New Outlook

A NEW OUTLOOK AND CONTINUED DIAGNOSES.

Is this over for me? Did I have a terrible experience, get through it, and manage to learn something from it to help make me a better person? Yes, no, and maybe to all of the above. I did have a terrible experience. I think that I am through it. I do feel like I’m a somewhat better person for it. I have no idea if it’s completely over. My psychiatrist has talked of a potential bipolar type 3 diagnosis. From what I understand, bipolar type 1 is extreme mood swings in a very short amount of time. You wake up in the morning, feeling great, but arrive home at the end of the day feeling the exact opposite. Bipolar type 3 is similar swings, but they happen more slowly – over periods of years. Type 2 is somewhere in between. I’ve greatly over-simplified, and mostly due to my own lack of knowledge about Bipolar, but the idea is there. (Maybe one of my awesome Twitter friends will help me with this part.)  Bipolar type 3 is very difficult to diagnose, but if that is the best description of my issue then it means that there is a cycle to it and that I will likely go through the cycle again.

“Alas, the litmus test for depression and related disorders still eludes us and so I am left uncertain as to the reasons for my experience.”

The cycle can often be seen with periods of high productivity, either at home, at work, or both. These are followed by the periods of depression. As I mentioned earlier in the book, I was feeling very creative and being very productive leading up to this ‘crash’. I was writing, building, raising my family, being husband, working on my guitar skills, my swimming skills, and working out to a point where I was no longer enjoying any of this. I also remember this from ten years ago when this happened before. Through discussions with my psychiatrist I have also identified at least two other similar cycles between these two depressive episodes. In these ‘intermediate’ cycles, the highs and lows, were not as pronounced, but I can certainly identify them and link them to similar feelings, such as health anxiety.

Alternatively, maybe it was a reaction to the antibiotics. Perhaps that was the trigger. Perhaps it was also the trigger ten years ago when I went through something so similar.  I don’t remember being on anything back then, before it happened, but it is certainly possible. Maybe the cause was negative life experiences and stressors? Environmental? Dietary? Genetic? Developmental? Maybe it will never come back. Hopefully.

Alas, the litmus test for depression and related disorders still eludes us and so I am left uncertain as to the reasons for my experience. I’m left listening to the expert opinions of others and ultimately arriving my own conclusions. I wonder if, in years to come, we will have many more ‘names’ for what we currently describe as just a few related conditions? Maybe what has happened to me is an as yet undiscovered/named disorder with a specific cause and cure? Time will tell? Hopefully.

 

 

Chapter 9: Part V: 10 Things That I Learned From Depression

10 Things That I Learned from Depression That I’d Rather Have Learned Another Way:

  1. Depression is a life threatening illness. It is more than just feeling sad.
  2. It is not something that you can just talk your way out of.
  3. We should seek the help and advice of medical professionals at the first sign of depression.
  4. Our brain is a ridiculously complicated and finely balanced organ.
  5. Life is fragile.
  6. Mental/Brain health issues are both real and serious. They can affect ANYONE. Depression does not discriminate.
  7. We are a big bunch of chemicals. When those chemicals get messed up, we’re in big trouble.
  8. Life is too short to spend it regretting what has happened and worrying about what might happen. When you have the choice (i.e., when you are not depressed), choose to live in the moment as much as you possibly can. Stop and smell the roses. Taste your food. Hear the music. Hold and cherish your loved ones. I’m too conservative to truly believe in living each day like it’s your last, but maybe live each day like tomorrow is your last.
  9. Depression is so torturous that thoughts of suicide can start to seem like a legitimate way to obtain relief. For the first time, I understand how people can have thoughts of suicide.
  10. Thoughts of suicide, if you survive them, can pass and there will be a time that you are glad you didn’t take active action.

 

Chapter 9: Part IV: Friends and Loved Ones

Continued from Part III:

It’s important to realize that the support network does not end at close friends and loved ones. Employers and work colleagues can be major players here. It was hard to tell my boss what was happening to me. We had a great relationship and I had much respect for him. The day that I told him what had happened, I was in a bad state. My body weight was down from 170lbs to a scrawny, sunken-eyed 150lbs. I was shivering from a coldness that felt like it stemmed from the inside of my body. Muscles in my arms were twitching uncontrollably. He showed complete compassion. He told me that he had been thinking that something was wrong but was unsure how to approach it. He helped me to organize the necessary accommodations that had to be put into place so that I could reduce my workload to half-days.

My immediate work colleagues were supportive beyond what I could have ever hoped for. Without hesitation, they picked up the slack that my half-days created. They listened to my attempts to verbalize what was happening to me. They shared their own experiences and insights in the kindest ways possible. They know who they are and I don’t know the words that will do justice to the amount to gratitude that I have for them. Their actions stand as an example to others and have bonded our friendships for the rest of time.

“Their actions stand as an example to others and have bonded our friendships for the rest of time.”

This support makes a huge difference and the facts apply to any illness, not just depression. Unfortunately, many people do not show this help and understanding for brain health issues (or many other ‘invisible’ sicknesses for that matter). They are often quick to dismiss them as fabricated, imaginary, or self-imposed problems. Yet the reality remains that depression is a cruel, potentially fatal, illness that can be as painful and torturous as any other.

Chapter 9: Part III: Friends and Loved Ones

A COMMENTARY ON THE ROLES AND PERCEPTIONS OF OTHERS (STIGMA SUCKS).

During my most recent depression, I was blessed with both a caring, empathetic wife and a friend who legitimately comprehended the seriousness of my condition. They were both ‘there’ for me. My wife took on 95% of the household chores. She let me rest, yet helped to keep me active. A few hours of rest on the couch was balanced by a trip to the local indoor running track. Here, we would walk the track, talking and enjoying the time with our children. She organized my medical appointments and helped me get to them. She took me to the emergency ward when it became necessary. She supported my doctor’s decision to reduce my workload to half-time. She picked up my prescriptions and, most importantly of all, she never lost her patience with me. Thank you, Kelly, you are amazing and you helped to save my life.

“Thank you, Kelly, you are amazing and you helped to save my life.”

Trust me, a depressed person will test your patience. Their perceptions are altered, but very real to them. They will be confused at times and whole-heartedly believe their own perceptions at others. They may be excessively emotional, possibly mean. Men especially often manifest their depression as anger. Man or woman, they will likely be resistant to many efforts to help them. If you truly love them then see your role now as saving their life. You are helping them to recover. You are a major part of the cure. You are a police officer on the highway back to health. Your lights and sirens are on as you drive ahead of the patient, clearing the road of traffic and other obstacles. “Make way, brain-health patient coming through.”

“Trust me, a depressed person will test your patience.”

My friend answered texts in the middle of the night. She spoke to me on the phone when my wife was busy/exhausted and I needed to talk. She came around after work to make sure that I did not have too much time alone. We drank tea and ate biscuits. We went for walks and chatted endlessly about my thoughts and feelings. She helped organize low-key get-togethers on the weekend so that I had something to look forward to. In short, she also helped to save my life.

Chapter 9: Part II: Friends and Loved Ones

A COMMENTARY ON THE ROLES AND PERCEPTIONS OF OTHERS.

Whether or not we believe any of the inaccurate viewpoints about brain health issues, we still know that they are out there. It makes it hard to admit to others that this is happening to you. Heck, it even makes it hard for us to admit it to ourselves.

“We need our friends and loved ones to believe in us.”

We need our friends and loved ones to believe in us. We need them to do their absolute best to understand and help. We need them to believe that one of the organs in our body is having trouble right now. It’s the most complicated organ of them all.  It’s the one that affects the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us. They have to understand how authentic this is for us. They have to know that this is not something that we can think our way out of. They have to understand that this is more than merely feeling lousy. This is feeling like there is no point to anything. This is the feeling I’d feel if my entire family were killed before me in a gruesome car accident. I don’t want to go on living… I’m sure that everyone’s experience of this misery is a slightly different shade of grey, but in each case, it is real beyond real. And, in the absence of any external issue (such as the family car accident) our minds may turn on ourselves, destroying our self-perceptions, ripping open our souls, and possibly removing our will to live. We are in serious trouble. Depression is a potentially terminal illness.