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Perfectionism and Chaos

September 12, 2012

“From the 1988 album, How Will I Laugh Tomorrow…When I Can’t Even Smile Today” SourceLyrics.

There are some things you’re not supposed to talk about…like all the things I ever think about.

I get so tired I just want to sleep, sleep away the chance so deep. Feel my soul floating free, no more pain left in me. And if I sleep until tomorrow would I even care? I wake up in sorrow ’cause I missed another day, I probably wouldn’t remember it anyway.

Seems like the world is leaving me behind. When I try to explain, you say I lost my mind, you say I need some help. Well, what else do you think it’s going to do? You got to know it’s true, no help from you.

So I sit and think about the things that I’m not supposed to talk about. Thinking and thinking and thinking and thinking, never no progress, I know I’m not the only one…

No, no you’re not, Miko.

As the man says, “I’ll still wake up in the morning.” 🙂 But, besides still being on a bit of an ST kick, I couldn’t help but think about this one with some of the things I’ve been dealing with lately. Part of the reason I’ve been on a HWILT kick, in particular, anyway. Being introduced to that album, and ST in general, is still the most useful thing I got out of my own personal (appallingly ’80s-common, including the encouraged assumption that your kid might be on drugs) “Institutionalized” experience. Though my perspective has changed a lot over the intervening almost 25 years, it’s still valuable. Including the hefty doses of self-deprecating humor to make the introspection go down easier. Plus, the musical thinking.

But, yeah, it gets harder and harder to talk about things when that “you say I lost my mind, you say I need some help” is the kind of response you get, rather than any genuine attempt at understanding or finding out what kind of help you actually need. And especially when it’s hard to wrap words around some or even most of what you’re thinking/feeling in the first place. (Another theme that crops up several times on HWILT…) That’s something else that deserves a post of its own, at some point. But, that kind of response can lead into a downward spiral, which can sometimes take on a life of its own (I’ll get back to that), which ties in with what I wanted to try to write about today.

The stuff that gets labelled as OCD, interacting nastily with and feeding off of the stuff that gets called PTSD (not to reify here; I use these terms as understandable shorthand, but that doesn’t mean that I accept them as Real Entities), has been trying extra-hard to kick my ass into the ground lately. Try to make some changes in your life, hopefully for the better, that shit goes on the attack to try to keep you where you are. It sees threats in any kind of change, and tries to stop the change by any means necessary.

One of the things I have been trying to change is the physical state of my house. I’ll probably be writing some more about this, but the clutter was bad for a variety of reasons even before I got in really bad physical shape for years there, so that I am still having trouble doing stuff like bending down to pick up things out of the floor. (Mr. U has his own problems with keeping things up.) The visual clutter alone has been sucking a lot of energy, with my tendencies toward sensory overload, before we even get to tripping hazards, allergies and asthma, etc., making that even harder to deal with. Now my health has improved enough that looking at it and living in it is more overwhelming than the prospect of trying to get things cleared out. I’m having to try to take it easy–another problem sometimes–but I can do more work now, and have more energy to spend on it.

So, I have been spending some time again and posting on a really helpful board, with a very pragmatic focus on finding what works for you to improve your living situation.  Earlier today, I posted a reply to something on one of the public sections, which I hope shows up OK the way it pasted in here. I was not expecting the visual editor here to show the original formatting from there. Sorry if this causes a problem for people using screen readers, but I am not sure how to fix it without eating all the spoons available right now. 😦

 Re: Fighting for a new way
« Reply #3 Today at 3:57pm »
[Quote] [Modify]

Today at 7:10amMartienne wrote:

The smallest reactions from others, no matter how innocuous in reality, are magnified and twisted in my mind until I am afraid to do much of anything for fear of the judgments I will receive, even though most of the things I interpret as judgment aren’t meant as anything of the sort…
At least right *now*, I want to do this the way I have set out in my mind and feel tremendously stubborn towards making it a reality…In the past I’ve been afraid to be more bold about explaining what I’d like to achieve because not succeeding will cause others to judge me as a failure. This time I’m recognizing that besides the fact that it hardly matters, it’s also probably not even true.

Sorry things have been so rough for you, Martienne.

This post really resonated with me. I fall into some very similar patterns. In my case, at least, a lot of it is coming from my OCD seizing on every little criticism ever, and looping it back at me. (While I do get some external compulsions going, most of it is driving myself crazy inside my own head, which is easier for other people to miss than, say, the compulsive handwashing some of my relatives do: Combine that with growing up in an environment where you never learned that it was even possible to do emotional regulation, and you can get some serious instability going, to put it mildly. ::) I spent years being treated for bipolar, which really didn’t help, while still living in the same destabilizing dysfunctional environment with unrecognized OCD looping negative things back at me pretty much all the time.

But, no matter what the problem turns out to be, one thing that might help immensely: recognizing when you start having these demoralizing and paralyzing critical thoughts popping up, and just going “hello again, stupid brain tricks! :-* “. And it really is easy to get totally discouraged when these perfectionist fears pop up; if you’re expecting loads of crap from everyone, including yourself, why even try?! :-[ That can also help you run out of steam, when you started out determined. The common cognitive therapy approach of countering them with more realistically positive thoughts just leads to knock-down, drag-out fights in my own head, but it works for a lot of people. If I wouldn’t stand there and listen to someone else constantly telling me destabilizing crap, why should I have to take it seriously, much less engage, when it’s coming from me

Figuring this out has helped me be able to get more things accomplished. It’s a slow, ongoing process, but things can get better. Just last night, I caught myself being emotionally surprised at DH suggesting I take today off, to snuggle up with the animals and a good book, because I worked way too hard yesterday. In the back (and sometimes the front) of my mind, I am still afraid he’ll think I’m l***, because I can’t do paid work right now–and, because squalor. We just had our 8th anniversary (lived together a while before that), and he’s never ever said anything like that at all; still, stupid brain tricks based on past experience plus OCD. Just knowing why they keep popping up makes it a lot easier to deal with and recover from without getting depressed and/or frantic trying to deal with the flood of yucky feelings.

That also makes it easier for me to deal with setbacks, and keep taking bites off the squalor elephant. Still a long way to go with that too, but baby steps really can work.

Wishing you the best. :-X

Yeah, the focus here is less on “keep trying with the baby steps” and more on getting around obstacles. But, these can prevent even the baby steps approach from working in a sustainable way, as I know all too well. And, indeed, “lazy” is a dirty word over there. For excellent reason.

Also feeding into this kind of thing, at least for me: a multigenerational situation of living with other people with often unrecognized OCD, hairtrigger PTSD, and basically no emotional regulation, who get hypercritical because you’re Not Doing It Right–i.e., how their own OCD patterns dictate that it must be done–and they don’t see this as a problem at all. (My mother actually later on remembered and pathologized a suggestion I made as a little kid that maybe it’s better not to just keep thinking about something you can’t do anything about, and getting more and more upset about it, as evidence of repressed memory. Seriously.) That applied to simple household tasks, and just about everything else up to and including having a problem with someone calling you 40 times a day because they got afraid something had happened to you. (Narcissistic Grandma did this. A lot. With an extra control element worked in, because you needed to be available every time or you didn’t care about her and she would milk the guilt. No wonder I had problems dealing with stalking behavior later on. *sigh*) This shit was/is normal in her family, including taking your own distress out on other people and projecting it onto them without even admitting you have a problem. Bad way to live, for yourself and the people around you, and I am trying hard not to continue that pattern.

But, yeah, if you want paralyzing perfectionism (looks a lot like the kind that often goes along with OCD too, eh?*) with a side order of demand sensitivity/resistance, that’s an excellent way to start. And then be hypersensitive to the criticism over, erm, having trouble doing some things because of it.

Not too surprisingly, I think this same pattern also has a lot to do with the fact that I’m 37 years old and still have no idea what I want to do when I grow up. (And my mom was the same way, so not a lot of learning how to do that either. A lot of people seem to think that you’ll just automagically know how to do all this stuff.) Besides being, to some extent, what Barbara Sher calls a “Scanner”–with varied interests which can be hard to narrow down–I really don’t have clear ideas about what I might (a) even be good at doing, and (b) get longer-term satisfaction out of doing. And some learned helplessness plays into all of this, along with just being afraid of criticism for Doing It Wrong trying things. This is still faintly embarrassing to admit, especially if you have some investment in thinking of yourself as a strong and capable person, but it’s the truth.

The main point here, besides the unexpected ranting? 😉 Just being aware of the Stupid Brain Tricks does help immensely. Forcefully trying to make this shit stop is liable to make things worse. And maybe being aware of what’s happening, having learned some better ways of dealing with overwhelming emotions, and just mindfully riding it out will let me feel less stuck in my life, in general. Having a pleasant, less chaotic home is one part of this that I think I can deal with now. Familiar as the chaos–and getting into the loops of blaming and beating myself up–may be, it’s not doing me any good. (Again, at the risk of getting sucked back into the encouraged overanalysis for “true” motivations… :-x)


* And, you can probably see how some of the things mentioned there can interact nastily with honestly having trouble communicating sometimes.  (“5. When you write or talk with others, you worry that other people won’t understand you properly or that they’ll misconstrue your meaning.”) See also OCD & Checking: Part 2 (Mental Checking) and ‘Over-analyzing one’s own behavior or body and trying to do things “normally.”’#. Sometimes the things you start obsessing over don’t just come out of the blue–and, yes, this ties back in with the hypersensitivity to criticism thing.

I am planning to write more on how well-intended cognitive therapy approaches based on bad assumptions about what’s going on can be absolutely dangerous when the depression is coming from dealing with the out-of-control thought loops, and not the other way around. (Throw in atypical neurological setups and/or cultural differences making your responses and actual motivations/priorities look weird sometimes, and ouch.) But, yeah. Be strongly encouraged to overanalyze everything, look for your “true” motivations and feelings,  and try to control/counter the “irrational”, negative thoughts, and what can happen?

Source. Lyrics. (There is also the album version, but I like this live one better ATM. Trujillo‘s bass probably has something to do with it, besides just not liking the weird muddy production much on Join The Army.)

War inside my head ain’t a pretty sight
But I don’t want no sympathy
It’s happened a thousand times before
It’s just a harsh reality…

War inside my head every night and day
I never get no piece [sic] of mind
It ought to be a sin, I just can’t win
And pure hell is all I find #

At the risk of stating the obvious, when that is going on, it’s kinda hard to look “high-functioning” in the ways a lot of people are expecting. And it has nothing to do with some kind of progressive mental illness which requires more and more of the same treatment that’s making the situation worse. (Very possibly with an amazing variety of drugs thrown in to try to deal with the resulting agitation and depression, yeah.)

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