You Don’t Have to be Perfect to Kick Anxiety’s Ass.
We all wish we were invulnerable. That is just how it goes. We all wish we could take on the world even if all we need to take on is taking out the garbage. It’s easy to just lose yourself to your anxieties especially as a creative. Whether you are blogging, writing novellas, painting, dancing, directing, or whatever there is an added dimension to dealing with feelings of anxiety, depression, helplessness, and failure. Our works are ours, and that makes it harder. Even if we’re on a team of people the things we bring to the table are wholly ours in a way other things are not. We create something and it comes from the ether of our minds and our hearts. For that same reason entrepreneurial and small enterprise failures hit extra hard. This makes it so easy to blame ourselves when something goes wrong or just when something doesn’t go 100% like planned. For many of us unless something turns out far better than we imagined it may as well be a complete wash.
Your blog only have 10 followers during week one? Fuck it. Not worth it. You not getting sales day one on your book. Chuck the manuscript out a window! Your yoga website getting subpar views in the third month of its existence? Shut it down.
None of that is about giving up in and of itself. It is about the notion of wasting our time being imperfect and unsuccessful because when things don’t go as planned, especially in business the biggest indicator of societal success, the instinct is to just toss it aside as failed. Humans spend out time bemoaning all the things we could have done. Lord knows I do. So why would you waste our limited time on things that don’t put money in your pocket and keep you fed? But you can’t live life this way. You could have great ideas that need polishing. but they get put aside due to self-doubt. And if you’re like me and have anxiety triggered by a deep fear of falling into or never escaping poverty, of feeling like nothing is falling into place, of feeling your plans just aren’t coming together fast enough than it is more than a little hard to ignore that instinct and all the nagging voices in your head.
There are times when I descend into my obsessive thought spiral of existential and personal depression. That’s when the only thing I can think about is my fear of continuing to live as lower class, of my dreams never coming true, of my never leading the life I want to lead, and the distinct feeling of being a failure creeps in. In short I’m not perfect, nd I’m not the sort of perfect I thought I’d be when I became an adult. It hurts like a mother fucker. Not to be vulgar, but it is not a fun place to be. In fact I’d say it is one of the worst places to be in. That is why I work so hard to kick my way out.
Now before I continue I’m going to offer this disclaimer both for Rosie’s sake and mine. Anything I say in my book and here is in no way meant to replace actual therapy or medication. If you are like me and you feel you can cope without those things. I wish you luck because you need it. But don’t think you can just ignore crippling emotional problems with behavioral changes and reading this post. The purpose of this is demonstrate behaviors that can help explain and alleviate anxiety related to feelings of failure. The sort of mental work I’m about to talk about is actually designed to support any changes that occur while on medication. Why? Because a lot of times once you are medicated even when you do feel better your depression and anxiety have taught you how to see the world. Much like a parent or a teacher your struggles with anxiety and depression are with you constantly showing you that life is shit, you are shit, and even once you’re medicated that can’t just be undone. Like a muscle your brain has learned to fire certain neurons down certain pathways, and like a bad habit of biting your nails, you don’t have to consciously think of it.
My book The Art of Teaching Imperfection: Everything No One Ever Taught You refers to a lot of positive thinking and learning to retrain those neurons to go down certain pathways in order to change your thought patterns. It isn’t about simply thinking positive. It is about replacing unhealthy behavior and thoughts to consciously positive ones, learning to minimize your negative behaviors(without developing arrogance), and learning to be compassionate enough to yourself to forgive your failings so you can accept them. The biggest mistake people make with this whole approach is pretending you can just…do it. You can change every thought all the time without any effort. As I often say to my friends “Fuck. That. Noise”. Changing how you think, how you act, and how you respond isn’t some mystical over night thing. It is about practicing a new way of being which is terribly difficult. It is totally worth it, but still difficult. This sort of change demands you reach a new level of being conscious of yourself, a dedication to developing discipline, and being ready for it to take some time.
No change comes over night. I’m doing Nanowrimo this year and I catch myself bad mouthing my writing, and being afraid to share it all the time. But if I focus on my anxiety and fear, if I don’t try to think thoughts that cancel out and minimize my anxiety I won’t do anything. If I don’t do what I love I won’t be happy. This morning I got up and started to write (at 12k words woo!) and I felt so overly critical. No real reason. Just having one of those days where “This is garbage. Why am I even trying? This is shit and people will say so” plays on a loop in my head. If you find a way to disrupt that loop you can better bulldoze through it. For me disrupting the loop involved reading a part of the story I am very proud of, reminding myself other people have liked my writing in the past, and most of all…allowing myself to not be perfect (because for Heras sake it is a draft). I also told myself “It’s ok to not be perfect. I’m not some horrid person and even the best writers have to improve”. There isn’t a single perfect person on this world and you have to begin accepting that.
You also have to begin doing the really hard part of looking inward and understanding where you anxieties come from whether it is trauma or something more mundane or just purely emotionally driven. Sit down with yourself, or a trusted friend, or a therapist and begin to unpack the sources of your anxieties. Why do you feel like a failure? Why do you feel mediocre? What are you doing that you’d like to change? What triggers your reactions to those feelings? Maybe it is making a mistake at work or being chastised. Maybe it is simply you’re plans never looking like you pictured in your head. It could even be you wish you pursued another life plan. When you sit down to write and you find yourself feeling anxious ask your self why? Ask yourself what you want to accomplish and what it means if you don’t.
Challenge your reactions, your thoughts, and your feelings because that allows you to think of nicer thoughts. As you do this minimize those mistakes, remind yourself it is ok to make mistakes because mistakes allow you to learn. Don’t say “I fucked up” say “I messed up, but I can do better. I can learn from this and grow”. Say “Just because I’m not buying a house at 30 doesn’t make me a failure. My road may just take a bit longer, but I’ll get there.” You can do many things in this life, and you need to embrace that. You need to stop looking at every flaw as an indictment on your character, but as an opportunity. It’s a lot easier than it sounds, but the more I put my words into practice the more I find myself actually enjoying what I’m doing whether I’m at work or I’m working on my books.
Kicking anxieties ass isn’t something you can do at once. For any fight you need to train and the more you train the better you get. It won’t happen over night, but by learning how you think, and teaching yourself to think better you can begin to tackle the hurdles of those negative and painful emotions. The biggest reason people quit therapy and that it doesn’t work is a refusal to change and a refusal to work at it. Not because people don’t want to get better, but because you have to look inward to be able to change your thinking and acting. That is painful and when people are insisting you just change when you wish you just could the whole notion of positive thinking and Cognitive Behavioral therapy seems childish…even ignorant. But you have to train your mind not because you or it is weak, but because the human mind is an incredibly powerful thing. Once you’ve learned to think a certain way and you act on it time after time your mind is used to it. It becomes natural, and feels like a part of you. sometimes I even wonder who I’d be without my depression, but once again…that’s not a way to live a life. Those negative thought patterns are part of you and changing them is incredibly difficult to do because they’ve set in. Like a wound that closes around shrapnel those things are there…but by beginning this process of altering your thought patterns, replacing them with new happier ones, and reminding yourself that your mistakes do not define you and are minimal parts of your life you begin to get used to new ways of being.
One of my biggest pet peeves are those people who are over helpful and/or dismissive of mental illness. You know the type “Just go for a walk” or “Just be around people”. It is annoying and insensitive because the fact is plenty of people would do that…if they weren’t too anxious at the thought of going out or too depressed to get out of bed. Usually these people are self-righteous and will list 20 new supplements by herbal companies who are as under handed as snake oil salesmen before listening to you. Now not all of those people are completely ignorant to what you’re going through. Further there is evidence(I’m too lazy to link, sorry ya’ll) that suggests a correlation between exercise and going out to improvements to mood. But that doesn’t automatically change what’s going on in your head.
You have to buckle down and be willing to work every day to try and treat yourself better than you did the day before. You have to tell yourself that:
- Everyone makes mistakes
- You aren’t horrible for making mistakes
- Just because you get upset doesn’t mean you failed at changing your thinking
- And it is healthy and ok to be upset and uneasy…
- But that you also can do your best to take steps to be nicer to yourself…
- Because you’re only human and begin imperfect doesn’t make you a failure…
- And not getting to where you think you should be doesn’t mean you’re wasting or have wasted your time!
Every day. This is what you have to tell yourself and you know what? You’re still going to struggle. I know I make my advice sound terrible, but I’m not one of those fly by night self improvement gurus who is going to lie to you to sell a book or an idea or themselves. I am telling you the honest to god truth. Changing who you are and how you operate is a life long process…but every day it gets easier. With every moment you get anxious and you try to practice these tools you’re getting better at them. Every time you allow yourself to accept your imperfections, flaws, mistakes, and your need(like all of our needs) to improve you are doing important work. You are getting better and are better preparing yourself for addressing the internal and external struggles you face.
Transformation takes time, energy, and a dedication. There are far many other steps I didn’t cover here, but I wanted to give you a bit of where I’m coming from and share my approach to addressing my anxiety, depression, and feelings of inadequacy. You deserve to live a happier life and if my approach can help you than it is my obligation to share it. I hope I’ve helped you on your road of transformation. It isn’t easy, but you can do better by yourself and others by being kinder and more compassionate to imperfection both inside and out.
D.D Griggs is the author of The Art of Teaching Imperfection: Everything No One Ever Taught You a novel aimed at encouraging people to no longer feel like they have to be perfect in a world that defines perfection as the ends and the means of success. She’s struggled with mild depression, anxiety, and being overly critical for much of her life even during her most confident periods these feelings haunted her. While she is still on her journey of making piece with those things she has a powerful approach to it all beginning with accepting our imperfections and then turning them into opportunities. Using a philosophy influenced by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and sociology she makes a compelling case for how we have all participated in pushing each other to accept nothing less than perfection and how that has crippled us. She then uses basic CBT approaches combined with positive thinking to construct easy to follow means for people to be kinder to themselves. Follow her on Facebook!