The Pressures of Perfectionism

The Pressures of Perfectionism

Welcome (back?) to my blog! So sorry that I haven’t been as regular with posting recently. With a holiday, exams and post-exams celebrating, I’ve not had much time to sit down and write. But I have 40 minutes till tonight’s Love Island so I have plenty of time to write this post and hopefully I will be back to posting on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays weekly now. One of the reasons I’ve let myself stop posting so regularly is because it’s another way of getting over my perfectionism. I’m definitely not a perfectionist in every area of my life but in the areas where I set myself goals, I most definitely am. I’m most regularly setting myself goals within UNI and blogging, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about the pressures of perfectionism in each of these parts of my life.

I decided to discuss this topic in a post with these photos because I very much had an ‘ideal image’ in mind before shooting them, as I do with most planned shoots, and the outcome wasn’t as good as I had hoped. This is partly because we were in a rush whilst taking them but also because they were taken on a busy street in Corfu where lots of people were giving me strange looks and I’m still not totally comfortable with shooting in front of strangers, especially when the people who I’m with/are taking the photos feel the same way. I was kind of inspired to use this backdrop for my photos by Lucy Williams’ recent campaign with Mango. Obviously my photos haven’t come out half as good as hers because I didn’t have a professional photographer shooting the photos, nor did I have a full day (or maybe even days) to perfect them, plus the backing and support of a major company. Considering the circumstances in which these photos were taken, I should be happy with them and I am after thinking about it! But this is just an example of one of the ways in which I hold myself up to ridiculous standards (and a segway into the rest of the post).

The Pressures of Perfectionism

So, personally, I am mostly a perfectionist academically. This is something I’ve talked about previously in my post on work-life balance as well as my post on my experience with anxiety, so I won’t really go into it too much. But it is interesting to consider how much of the pressure I used to put on myself (and still do sometimes) academically is really created by myself rather than influenced by social factors. The pressure I put on myself during A-Levels was mostly generated by people telling me how difficult they would be and perhaps maintained by the feeling that I would inevitably be letting people down if I didn’t do well. Although it really was me and, mostly, no-one else putting this pressure on myself, I think it was created by my social situation i.e. the fact that doing well in A-Levels is seen as the be-all and end-all during sixth form. My first-year of UNI has allowed me to be a lot more laid back because rather than being told that grades mean everything, we are instead told that grades don’t matter this year, which has been endlessly helpful for me.

Moving onto university (I’m on a roll with the segways today), this post was actually inspired by conversations I’ve had with various people about the social pressure of university, particularly inspired by one with my friend Lucy at Parklife festival this weekend. You might be surprised by the amount of people who have dropped out of university this year based on the appearance of their Instagram feeds. Social media definitely suggests that EVERYONE is having a great time at university because, as my friend Katy said, no one is going to post a picture of themselves during one of the (probably) many times that they are crying in their bedroom. First year of university is difficult for most people but because we are constantly told that it should be ‘the best years of our lives’ and that we should be extremely social, there’s lots of guilt attached to feelings of sadness, boredom and loneliness at university and I think the pressure to be perfect is extremely prevalent here. I’m glad I’ve been able to share some of my more difficult experiences with university on my blog because it is so isolating seeing people with lots of new friends going out every night on Instagram, when you’re spending your 5th night on a run eating leftover bolognese and writing an essay on a Jane Austen novel (I’ve written on three Austen texts this year which might just have put me off her forever). But no one, that I know of, is really having an amazing time all the time so just remember that. I’m definitely going to be making more of an effort in second year to talk about some of my more difficult moments at university on Instagram. Even if I don’t post a photo of myself crying in bed- because, quite frankly, I don’t want to do that and I am 100% sure that no one wants to see it- I might talk a little bit about my shitty week in the caption or on Instagram stories. Not to moan but to prove to anyone who might think that my life is in any way ‘perfect’ that I have as many shitty times as they do and so they should never feel bad about them or pressured to have to feel better.

My perfectionism is something I’m trying to let go of in all areas of my life and I think I have been able to do so in lots of ways. I’m never going to be totally laid-back and I really don’t ever want to be as my motivation and determination has been really good for me in lots of ways. But when it starts to affect my mental health is when I know I’ve taken it too far and hopefully in ignoring and abandoning any pressures to be perfect I won’t have to let it get that far again. My Instagram and Twitter DMs are always open if you want to talk about any of your experiences and if you’ve gone through anything similar, do get in touch! I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and that it’s reminded you to focus on yourself and ignore any social pressures around you.

The Pressures of Perfectionism

The Pressures of Perfectionism

The Pressures of Perfectionism

The Pressures of Perfectionism

The Pressures of Perfectionism

The Pressures of Perfectionism

The Pressures of Perfectionism

The Pressures of Perfectionism

The Pressures of Perfectionism

Dress- Zara

Bag- Zara

Sunglasses- Mango (No longer available on the website, will update the post if they re-stock them)

Shoes- New Look (old)

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My Experience with Anxiety

This past week has seen a great deal of discussion around the subject of mental health as it has been Mental Health Awareness week. Dealing with anxiety is something I’ve mentioned briefly in previous posts on my blog but is something that affects my life significantly, so I thought I’d take the opportunity of this week being specifically dedicated to mental health awareness to discuss my experience with anxiety. The photos I’m sharing alongside this post don’t really have anything to do with the topic of mental health but I wanted to write about this topic and share these photos on my blog so it made sense to include them together. Plus they were taken in one of my favourite places that I like to go to to de-stress. I want to share this because I’m very aware that social media and blogs only present the best bits of life, which can be really disheartening if/when you’re feeling bad and so I want my blog to be a space that is honest and really reflects me as a person. I’m also hoping that in sharing my experiences I can help anyone reading this who might have struggled with similar experiences feel less alone. I thought I should also mention that I know people have it worse than me and I’m really not writing this post to complain but just to bring awareness to the fact that all mental health struggles are legitimate and you should always try to look after yourself and those around you.

That brings me nicely onto the beginning of my ‘journey’ with anxiety, as I dismissed my feelings as ‘nothing’ for some time. My anxiety is very much linked to the education system, as I will discuss a little bit more later on, and they began when I started sixth form and studying for my A-Levels. From day one of sixth form, I was prepared to do crazy amounts of work because I had been warned again and again and again about how difficult A-Levels are. And from day one I pushed myself very hard to do as much work as possible. For the first few months, I thought I was coping fine and for most of the first year of sixth form, I felt like I was. It wasn’t until after my AS exams that I realised the extent to which I’d exhausted myself mentally and was left feeling a little empty (I know this sounds vague but I can’t explain it in any other way). I don’t think I’d really developed anxiety at this point but I’d definitely planted the seeds. By setting my standards so high in terms of work, I became so overly-organised, becoming overwhelmingly angry and disappointed in myself if I didn’t reach both my daily and long-term goals, which, in turn, inevitably led to lots of feelings of stress.

Going into my second year of sixth form were when things started to get really difficult, with the stress of applying to UNI and, of course, the exams. Again, I worked myself crazily hard from day one but, both because of the standards I had already set up for myself, the exhaustion I was still getting over from the previous academic year and because this year’s exams were much more important than the ones I had just sat, the pressure and the stress really started to get to me. The ‘work-life balance’ I had managed to mostly maintain in my first year of sixth form fell through the roof and the only thing I could focus on was work. I declined most plans because I was too busy revising and if I did do anything social, I spent most of the time resenting myself for leaving my desk and worrying about how I would fit all the work I had to do in around it. It’s important to mention that, at the time, I really did not think my academic habits were unhealthy because totally overworking yourself to the point of exhaustion has become such a norm within society, especially within the education system, that I thought what I was doing was normal.

Basically, to cut a very very long year short, I spent the entire academic year working towards my exams whilst feeling rubbish about my life and constantly worried. The only thing that was getting me through my exams was the thought of a couple of months off for summer; this thought, though, only further justified the amount I was working because it allowed me to maintain the mindset that I would have time for rest and relaxation later, which, as a mindset, is fine for a week or two but not for two years. During my exam period and the months leading up to it, I was so stressed that social interaction was genuinely too much for me. Having to even talk to anyone who wasn’t my boyfriend or in my family took so much energy that I felt like I was going to cry. I really didn’t understand this at the time and had no idea where this feeling was coming from and it obviously really damaged my friendships, which I endlessly regret now, but all I knew was that I couldn’t do it and that I would rather walk to my boyfriend’s house (mine was literally too far away) during sixth form lunchtime hours than simply sit in the common room for half an hour. This time in my life honestly feels like a blur and I can’t even remember if I had started having panic attacks at this point. But if I had they were infrequent and it was the general anxiety (feelings that my head might explode at any moment, sickness in the back of my throat and the constant holding back of tears) that affected me more.

Anyway, I got through the exams. But the feelings of relief that I had expected after sitting my last exam on a Wednesday morning (I remember this very vividly) just didn’t come. After finishing my GCSE and AS exams I remember feeling so relieved and happy to spend the bed in day catching up on TV and sleeping. But this time I could not relax. All the feelings of anxiety that I had been pushing away throughout my time at sixth form because I had ‘more important things to focus on’ now materialised. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this but I often find that, during the winter months, when you feel a cold coming on, your body will keep holding it back whilst your busy. But as soon as you have a lie in or let yourself relax in whatever way, the cold develops. This is what I think happened with my anxiety. My brain didn’t even have time to process it during sixth form so as soon as that was done with I had 2 years worth of worries and stress to deal with.

At the time I didn’t realise that this was why I was having almost daily panic attacks though. I was so confused and had no idea what was wrong with me because I was supposed to be happy now exams were over, wasn’t I? It didn’t help that the people closest to me were constantly asking me ‘What’s wrong?’ or telling me ‘I don’t know why you’re worried- everything’s fine’- not that they had bad intentions (I am so grateful to them for offering me support and help) but one of the worst things about anxiety for me is that often there is no reason (that you can identify) for it, which makes you think something is wrong with you, which leads to more worrying- it’s a vicious cycle.

I guess this constant anxiety throughout the summer months culminated on results day. I got into my first-choice University but I just didn’t get the grades I wanted and I was devastated. I understand that I was in a much better position than lots of other people and I totally sympathise with that- I wasn’t, nor am I now, comparing my position to theirs. All I could think about was the hell I put myself through with the end goal of the grades and I was just gutted because I felt like it wasn’t worth it- and all I wanted was for those terrible years to be worth it. I’ve been waiting for something good to come out of those feelings that I felt last August as that is what I would describe as the worst I had ever felt and recently I feel like it has. That day and those feelings made me realise that nothing is ever worth damaging your mental health for. Nothing. And if you’re in the midst of exams right now, please remember that.

Anyway, after this very emotional day, I had a few sessions with a counsellor. I don’t think it helped very much because my head was still in too much of a mess to be able to process my own problems and I generally spent most of the sessions crying and feeling shit about myself.

After this, I left for university and the first couple of months were great. There were some panic attacks and moments of anxiety but generally, I enjoyed them so much and felt the happiest I had done in a long time. But, once again (will I ever learn??) I had started pushing feelings of anxiety, to one side, which led to frequent panic attacks throughout the months of November and December. When I say I pushed them to one side I did so to such an extent that at one point, I had to leave a seminar to run to the bathroom (to avoid not having a panic attack in front of everyone in the room) and then miss all of my other classes that week so I could go home for a few days to recover. So the end of first semester was a little bit rocky. But, unlike during my A-Levels, I now felt comfortable talking to my family, boyfriend and close friends about how I felt and treated my mental health as something that was important, which helped a lot.

After returning to university after Christmas, and a difficult first week or so back, the first thing I did was book myself in for an appointment with the university counsellor. I had around 3-5 sessions with her and they helped me so much. I can tell you right now that before these sessions, I would not have been able to write this post because, firstly, I would have been too worried about what people thought about me but, mostly, because I had absolutely no idea where my anxiety came from or what caused it. My mental health has been much much better over the past few months and being able to talk through my experiences with the counsellor with a clear head allowed me so much clarity.

So now, here we are. My mental health is the best it has been in a long, long time and I’m learning (if slowly) not to push myself too hard. I’ve enjoyed my first year of university so much and feel like I have cultivated a really good ‘work-life balance’, whilst also being able to do other things that I am passionate about and enjoy, such as running this blog, plus a part-time job. I’m lucky enough to be heading to Corfu in a few days and will be spending the entire week before my only university exam there. This is really going to be a test for me of how far I have come in terms of allowing myself to become more relaxed about academics and right now I’m feeling great about it so let’s hope for the best. First year doesn’t count anyway, right?

Anyway, this has been one hefty post and I still really feel like I could have gone into much more detail… I’m bet you’re glad I didn’t! But if you are feeling like you’re struggling with your mental health in any way, please tell someone. Even if you feel like your struggles aren’t legitimate because they’re not on the same scale as some other people’s, they are and you should treat them as such because, as you can tell from hearing about my experiences, they can build up and get worse very quickly. Everyone struggles in some way or another and you should never feel embarrassed about your own struggles. Speak to anyone, just speak to someone because holding things in only makes them worse. My DMs on Twitter and Instagram are always open if you want to talk about anything you might be struggling with at the moment!

Top- Old Hinds Merchandise (no longer available but they sell more merch here)

Skirt- & Other Stories

Jacket- Topshop

Shoes- Vans

Sunglasses- Le Specs

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