I found myself reading a passionate and personal facebook plea this week on the subject of mental illness. The writer pointed out that the days of not talking about it, shutting it away, or criticising those with this kind of problem should be over. There should be open discussion to reduce the still entrenched stigma surrounding it to make life just that little bit easier when any one of us, with no exceptions, can succumb to darker periods in our lives, which need to be worked through. We are all subject to both ebb and flow by way of our very humanity. I’ve had my own share of this ‘ebb’ and we know that creative, and thereby usually sensitive, people can be more vulnerable to it. Here is an article by writer, Esther Rivers, on this topic. When we’re not creating we can get depressed, and if we get depressed or anxious about something else in our lives, then it can make it tougher to create. We usually find it hard going to earn a living at what we do, and all our motivation has to come from within us, and only us, which requires copious amounts of self belief, at the same time as inherently disposing us to doubt ourselves and to ask existential questions that we just can’t answer.
But what I picked up from the facebook post was a point made that is very close to my heart – that if certain other people weren’t so keen to maintain the façade of their own ‘perfect lives’ which they believe could never be tainted by such ‘unsavoury aspects’ of life by one of their family members getting depressed or suffering some other form of mental illness, then we’d all be able to share experiences and encourage a cultural milieu of support. So it got me thinking about the issue of the apparently perfect lives lived by others. Do other people who project this reality in their way of being, conversational practices, and imparting of high achievement information about their family members, really have perfect lives? Well, I believe the answer is no, of course not. Here is a beautifully honest article to demonstrate this truth by Lindsay Zdep, writer and researcher, on her own ‘perfect life’, where she was treated as the golden child growing up. And as creative people we have to remember it can be poison to compare our work with others or be envious of other’s successes where that writer or painter seems to ‘have it all’.
What I’m curious about is how we get such entrenched ideas into our heads in the first place – namely that other people have ‘the perfect life’ and not us? I first got this message in my childhood, assimilated I think from my mother’s comments about my friends, their parents, and where they lived. Oh the joys of social politics in suburbia! So I went around thinking that certain friends of mine lived in more select semi-detached houses than ours, that their parents were somehow ‘better’ than mine, more ‘well to do’, or that they thought far too highly of themselves, according to my mother. They weren’t any better of course, my mother just didn’t have the habit of seeing her own worth. I noticed my engineer father, who scowled a lot when my mother brought up such topics, couldn’t take any of this seriously and I suspect he’d rather have been back at sea in the navy. Wouldn’t we all? My Mum worked as a teacher, something I was proud of at the time because she was relatively ‘advanced’ in this way for the times. After childhood the concept of the perfect life was getting a university degree, a first was naturally best, then getting a well paid job, getting married and having a family of well-behaved and clever children. I screwed this up by picking the wrong subject for a degree and dropping out after a year, no job for far too long, no parties to go to, but lots of reading and drawing (harbingers of the future) , until I finally chanced upon my Prince Charming and left the area with him, then married life, working in a department store (but hey, it was a posh one), no little darlings by choice. And my poor mum had to convey this wiggly line life progress to anyone back home that asked about it. By the time I got my degree as a mature student (and I got the coveted first) there was no one to actually care, except for me, my hubbie and my mother. For years I’d listened to the ‘perfect life lot’ talking about their children, nieces, nephews or grandchildren – how well they were doing at Uni, being shown pictures of them on graduation day holding their red ribboned scroll, and how they’d got this amazing job now, and then there were the baby photos to look at. By the time my mother got to brag about me and my degree, there was no one listening, because my life hadn’t gone in the consummately skilled straight line direction of the perfect families we’re talking about here, and I’d missed that particular window of opportunity. Time had marched on. And what surprised me was, very few of my peers seemed to care either – the ones who did, you know who you are, and thank you! But it was generally a case of, well, I was older, so what did it matter?
So I’ve always been aware of those who project perfect lives, and that what you see on the outside can be so different from what’s going on behind the drawn curtains. As I’ve grown older I’ve seen through this, sometimes by digging deeper. I know that the people who seem to be living in that gorgeous country cottage have problems, despite the fact that they may never reveal them. I know that there are those that go around with a doggedly cheerful disposition and glowing smiles because that is all they know how to do. Telling the truth would be too painful and the neighbours mustn’t find out. It would be far too embarrassing. It’s not necessarily their fault, they don’t know how else to handle themselves or the problem. I know that if everything appears to be coming up roses on the surface of someone’s life, it’s got to have thorns buried in there too. Here is an article taking a look at this question of Can Life Be Perfect? by Jeff Skolnick MD, PhD, where he points out that we are socially and culturally programmed into this thinking that there can be a perfect life – an ideal we dream of, but that never really can exist, unless we make it so for ourselves. Something can be faultless to us, but full of mistakes to others, like a work of art – its value impossible to estimate where the personal response is concerned. Our own life can have all the desirable elements we could wish for, if we can make them happen and keep them simple, by counting our blessings and not wishing too much for the stars. And even if you get a few stars dropping into your lap, they may well tarnish in your grasp with what they bring into your life. Who wants to be famous? Not me, not with all the stresses we know it can bring.
All these terms are synonyms for perfect: ideal, model, without fault, faultless, flawless, consummate, quintessential, exemplary, best, best-example, ultimate, copybook, free from any flaw or defect in condition or quality, mint, pristine, impeccable, immaculate, superb, superlative, optimum, prime, optimal, peak, excellent, faultless, as sound as a bell, unspoilt, ideal, just right, right, appropriate, fitting, fit, suitable, apt, made to order, tailor-made…
A wee bit boring, isn’t it? But notice how subjective they all are.
So to bring myself back to the point of this post, if we could encourage more openness in our lives, more sharing of our all too human problems, of which no one is exempt, if we could realise no one’s life is perfect, then we’d be able to respect each other more, and give support. We would know we are not as alone as we may think we are, which is something we all need to know at some point in our lives. How many times have you thought, something you felt was ‘just you’? Only to discover another feeling it too. It’s important to remember never to assume someone else has a better life, because the truth is, you just don’t know what their life journey is about. You have your own to live through and make the most of. And always remember that perfect is just a state of mind, so please enjoy smelling the ‘roses’ that grow in your very own garden.
(pics from Pixabay)