To understand where I’m coming from, you’ll need a bit of background information. This will put my journey in perspective. I’ll start with something from my youth that has had a large impact on me even in adulthood.
From a young age I learned to see my achievements and talents as my basic virtue. My parents could not really give me the emotional nurturing I needed. They just praised me for being a good, smart girl, and as a result, I became perfectionistic. Yes, it really is that simple. A child wants to be loved and adapts to whatever will secure receiving that, even if it’s wrong or broken. In the words of Brené Brown:
- Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimise or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. Perfectionism is a twenty ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.
- Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance. Most perfectionists were raised being praised for achievements and performance (grades, manners, rule-following, people-pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, we adopt this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect. Healthy striving is self-focused – How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused – What will they think?
Brené Brown – “The Gift of imperfection”
I was walking a tight rope though. At home I was praised for being good, reliable, and smart, but at school I was bullied for it when I was about nine years old. My classmates did not like my high grades, my interest in music, and my learning speed. The bullying was mostly emotional, not physical. For example, someone would write a note saying “playing the violin is stupid”, which would be passed around and read by everyone and finally it would arrive at my desk. The other children would all look at me while I was reading it and laugh at me. I was the only kid in the class who played the violin. That kind of thing. It hurts, but it’s hard to explain why. There are no visible bruises to show.
So while I was smart and fast and performing well, I also felt shame about it and tried to hide it a bit from my classmates. My intelligence was both a virtue and a vice. I was praised for it, identified with it, but at the same time I was despised for it. And because I saw myself as little more than my intelligence, achievements, and performance, I took the rejection very personally. They did not reject my skill, they rejected me, the person. I continued to struggle with this for a long time after the bullying had ended.
Even when people accepted me, became friends with me, and I blossomed into a multi-faceted person, I still did not feel really close to anyone. I did not love myself. I tried to achieve things to impress myself (and others, but mostly myself). I based my self-worth and my self-image on what I could do, not on who I was. I lacked unconditional self-love. Because of that I was not allowed to be who I really am – whoever that is. I had to fit my story, the story of the successful, intelligent girl who had no weaknesses and made no mistakes.
After high school I chose to pursue a musical career. Of course I could not restrict myself to only one main subject, no, I had to have two, because I expected more than average performance from myself. Studying music was great. I loved it. I did however miss the other stuff, the more intellectual side of things. But it was good for me to challenge myself physically, emotionally, and try to pry myself out of my shell. I learned a lot and I ran into some very hard walls. The main one was that I did not want to make mistakes. At all. I could let people in, but I could not let myself out. Both are necessary, though.
People would try to help me by telling me that I could allow myself to make mistakes. But I could not really do it. I tried stepping out of my safe zone, but it was so easy to step back into it. Whenever it really mattered, I stayed in there. And I became frustrated with myself. At one point I was crying in every private music lesson, which probably frustrated my teacher as well. I talked to a school counselor, but it helped only a bit. I think I was moving towards a depression. I somehow averted it by dropping my second subject after the second year. That gave me enough breathing space to recover a bit.
In the end I managed to get my Master of music, after a big struggle with loss of motivation, inspiration, and joy. That precious spark that I had, that made me choose this path, felt as if it was gone. I did still perform and teach, but I did not enjoy it as much anymore. I did enjoy the music, but I just did not have the energy or motivation to pursue a great career. I felt like a failure.
It was hard being a musician. Especially when the economic crisis hit. I became quite stressed about finances. I also missed having an intellectual challenge, and having some stability in life. So I decided to study Computer Science at the university. This was purely a rational choice. Once I had my diploma, I could just combine the two subjects: work a couple of days in IT and do musical stuff the rest of the time. It sounded so simple and convenient.
But it wasn’t, of course. This subject did not have my passion. I made a rational choice, based on job prospect, on getting a university degree (which I should, being as intelligent as I am *shudder*), on having a stable life. But getting through a study that doesn’t have your heart, and frankly, not your interest either, is tough. It sucks you dry. So after the second year I was going toward a burn-out, and I got into a depression as a bonus. I took antidepressants for a year and saw a psychologist for a few appointments. She sucked and I didn’t have energy at that time to find someone else. So I read self-help books and tried to pull myself out of the gutter. In the end I even managed to get my diploma.
And yes, I found a job within a week after getting my degree, and I did my best to do it well and like it. And I did, for a little while. I was so bone-tired that I loved having an office job. Stable hours, no working late at night, no real creativity necessary… it felt so quiet and soothing. But then, after a while, I started feeling the inner conflict and the emptiness. I wanted to do something meaningful. I wanted to create. I wanted to do anything but programming. And at the same time, I had no energy left to do those things when I did have the time. It was exhausting to bounce back and forth like that. I was only able to work three days a week, and I needed the other days to recover. I did not manage to make music or do anything meaningful in the weekends. Again I felt like a failure. I wasn’t a successful musician, nor was I a successful computer scientist.
After a few years I moved from being a programmer to being a tech writer, which was much better suited. The combination of analysis, insight, language, and logic worked for me. But when I lost my job there due to being redundant, I fell into a new black hole. It was really hard to find a job that suited my needs. I could not work full-time, and I did not want a long commute. In the end I found a job that was almost perfect. I was able to partially work from home, which made a big difference. I also met a colleague who quickly became my best friend.
In the past year and a bit, I have been working there, and I have been working at getting back on my feet. I’ve been reading many books about self-compassion, youth problems, parents, and other psychological stuff. I have been talking about problems with my colleague/friend a lot (she is awesome and is also finding her way). I have worked on the physical side of things as well.
Back when I got into that burn-out/depression, almost seven years ago, I gained a lot of weight quickly because of a combination of factors:
- I ate more comfort food
- It was a side-effect of the anti-depressants
- I injured my knee and was unable to walk or exercise for three months straight
- I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, which also makes you gain weight
I was about 90 kilos at my heaviest (almost 200 pounds) and I felt as if I had no power. I could not lose the weight, even though I tried. But this year I finally managed to make a change, and it was not even that hard. I will write about that in another post.
I started taking supplements for some vitamins and minerals. I did not have deficiencies yet, but was in the low regions for B12 and D. The supplements helped clear up my brain which felt really good. I started feeling more joyful and energetic, even if it’s not a 100% yet.
I also became a vegetarian. During the last couple of years I was eating meat, but I didn’t feel good about it. I hate the meat industry, the way the animals are treated, and the unnecessary killing and suffering. For some years I only ate free-range meat once in a while, but cutting it out completely felt like a big relief, even though I love the taste of meat. I still don’t miss it.
I started doing mindful meditating daily. It helps me more than I had expected. I’m using an app with guided meditations, and I’m slowing down. I’m even really reading again – paper books, not internet articles. It had been a couple of years since I had the space for that.
And finally, and probably most importantly, I have been trying to love myself, to give myself space for being me. I am trying to be more aware of what I’m feeling, and giving myself time to find that out. I’m allowing myself to not always be what other people want me to be, or what I want me to be. It’s not easy, and I’m progressing slowly. Once in a while I realise how slowly it goes, and then I try to not judge myself for it. It’s slow, and it’s also painful at times. I’m lucky enough to have friends who support me and who are compassionately critical of me.
And even now I’m worrying about this post. Is it too long? Too self-centred in an unhelpful way? Am I just whining about everything that doesn’t seem fair? Shouldn’t I just be grateful for what I have and shut up and live my life?
And yes, this post is long. People may not read it. They may hate it or love it or not care. They may think I’m egotistical, spoiled, arrogant, posing. They may also think that I’m a bit like them, and flawed, and still lovable. This blog may be only interesting to myself. And all of that is okay.
I want to avoid complaining and whining, but I do want to share the stuff that led up to this moment, this reality. I cannot change the past, but I can learn from it. I can see it from my current perspective and decide what I find important. I can be grateful for all the things that I experienced that led me to this point in time, to the person I am now. And I still do not have to let it hold me back from being whatever I am.
I hope that you will join me on this journey and I’m curious where it will lead. Thank you for reading this!