Read about me
June 27, 2013 posted by littlewhitecottage

Learning which mountains to climb…(coping with perfectionism)

jason's birthday cakeNow the title of this blog will have some people thinking that I think I am perfect. For me, that’s not the definition of perfectionism. No perfectionism is when I have an idea in my head about something, it could be anything, and I can see how I want it to go and what I want it to look like and instead of doing my best to make it happen, I make it happen no matter what the cost. I define cost in this case not necessarily as a financial one as it could be a time cost, stress cost, annoyance to my family (as I become more and more blinkered to achieve my goal) and a cost to search and find the ‘perfect’ resources that I need whatever they may be. Oh yes perfectionism isn’t all lovely and perfect you know. It can be a real pain in the backside…

When I taught, in those days, you were responsible for your own display boards and my class as well as having the most children -36 – also had the most display boards as there were 10. Now instead of just doing my best (which when it’s anything to do with creativity isn’t that bad really!) in the time I had available (the mantra of a then friend) I would re-do whole boards if they weren’t ‘quite right’. No-one ever critised my boards in fact it was the opposite as my colleagues mostly said how good they were but for me, again, there was always that nagging doubt of something I could have done better, could have got better. Nothing was ever just right.

My paperwork all had to be in the same format with the same size headings and fonts and I would spend time arranging and re-arranging my planning so it matched. Looking back I can now see these were compulsions and I believe I may have had a form of OCD as the compulsion to do something overrode all my usual sensibilities. I had lost focus and couldn’t see what was good, just that what I had in my head didn’t match what I saw and I couldn’t see how to accept the difference.

I also see that this was a form of control for me. I was very anxious at this time and unfortunately depression would only be a couple of years away for me and looking back those 12 years I can see how my anxieties and depression began. My home life was mixed up and I didn’t have the secure family life a lot of my friends had and I now know I was searching for comfort in the wrong places. Controlling my visual surroundings however unconsciously gave me a sense of calmness, but only after a lot of stress.

Fast forward those 12 years and I am in the middle of planning my youngest sons 4th birthday party. At first he wanted a Knights party and I had great fun thinking up knights games -jousting on scooters would have been fab! – but just at the last minute he changed his mind and wanted a superhero party. He is one not to be moved and as this is to be is first ever party I wanted him to have the party he wanted not one that I had got overexcited about.

So superheroes it is.

Now, for someone like me who can ‘see’ what she wants things to turn out like my mind had obviously gone off into overdrive but now there is a change in me. I can reign myself back in and know that I have not only a fledgling business to run, 3 boys to sort out a Hubbie who is 2 years into a start-up business during a recession and a house to try to keep organised -who am I kidding it’s never organised! I have all this so I have to accept that I cannot be the perfect party planner too.

I’ve been learning how to bake so I can bake all my boys birthday cakes this year. Tobes is the 3rd cake and I had thought about branching into icing. I researched, asked advice, had a look at some ideas and had nearly fallen into the trap of ‘I can do this, I’ll start it on Saturday and I’m sure it’ll be fine..’ It won’t be fine. I’ll have the perfect cake in mind which probably won’t come to fruition or if it does it will take hours of time and stress before it does.

I accept now that some things just won’t be done how I’d like them and how I know I can make them. I still do try however, to use the same idea but just water it down a little so it is manageable and not just for a neurotic, controlling, perfectionist who, at 37, really should know better.

I made simple bunting – pinking sheared triangles sewed at equal distances (the control doesn’t quite leave though!) onto a thin ribbon. It took just under 1/2 hour to make 9 metres and it looks good. Yes it’s not my double sided with bias binding tape bunting that I would have liked to have made but it’s good quality for how I chose to make it and it looks good.

I am going to make a Victoria sponge cake and not attempt to climb Everest in terms of cake decorating the day before a party. Tobes loves my cakes and I know that as long as there is a bit of drippy icing and lots of candles to blow out he will love it and I am NOT doing him short. I am going to make a tiny string of bunting -in the same way as the easy bunting I made – using the same fabric as the other bunting to tie as a ribbon around the middle of the cake and I’m making a superhero gingerbread man with matching cape colours to Tobes and putting that on the cake as a decoration that he can then keep forever. It’s making it personal to him, visual for me and I think it will look great.

For food we’re doing sausage in a bun and the cake will be pudding. How simple could that be? Hubbie and I are organising the games from things we already have around the house and the older boys pus a couple of their mates are being the ‘baddie’ superheroes that need to be caught. I am making the 16 or so capes we need and also the matching felt masks and this is the only bit that’s taking some time but as it’s also their party bag filler it’s still saving us money.

It’s hard when you’re a perfectionist. Those around you might not understand your unhappiness when things that seem okay just aren’t ‘right.’ Don’t get me wrong I am so much better than I used to be and I think that’s due to many things; a course of CBT, a much happier family life and a new self belief in myself that I never really had when I was younger. Yes I don’t always get it right now but I don’t kill myself trying.

There are still the times when I ‘go off on one’ as Hubbie calls it. I don’t like a messy kitchen, I get stressed when the utility room (the front door of the cottage) is covered in dirty washing and I absolutely hate the toilets being left un flushed but I am so much better at separating what is actually important to what really isn’t. I used to climb every mountain (I feel like bursting into song now!) but the older I get, the more sensible my brain is becoming I am better at picking which mountains to climb…

3 Comments

  • I’m 70 and still struggling!!

  • I though you were talking about me for a minute! Although I have not progressed as much as you have…. Nice to realise we’re not alone! xx

  • Hmm, this is me…since having children though, I have found myself going the ‘other way’ relaxing too much but then crashing and wanting everything to be better all at once…being a single mum means I can’t make everything better all at once, hey ho. Thanks for this blog, makes me feel less alone xx

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