On Perfect Lives

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)

 

 

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About lynnefisher

Writer and visual artist living in Scotland, INFJ type Writer's blog: lynnefisher.wordpress.com Art: lynnehenderson.co.uk Twitter @writeartblog Writers page Facebook https://www.facebook.com/lynnefisherheadtoheadhearttoheart/ Artists page Facebook https://www.facebook.com/lynnehendersonartist/
This entry was posted in On Art, On Life, On Writing, Pyschology, wellbeing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to On Perfect Lives

  1. Laura says:

    Thoughtful post and so true. Also often the pictures that are shared have a filter so things always look better and brighter than they actually are. My life is by no means perfect but there’s not a negative thing to find on my Facebook wall because I never choose to share the bad things. Perhaps because I don’t want to remember them. More likely because I don’t want other people to remember them about me. Why feel embarrassed about sharing the bad things when everyone else is living through similar things?

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    • lynnefisher says:

      Thanks so much for your thoughts, Laura, very well said. Yes, those filters are in operation all the time, and we all use them quite understandably as a coping mechanism. The facebook post stood out exactly because it was out of the ordinary for the cheerful face of facebook! We’re all taken in one way or the other, it’s just a case of trying to keep some perspective. Cheers to you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I felt kind of sad for your mum reading this, having missed out on bragging rights – it was really touching actually. I’ve had a similar conversation on the subject of happiness recently. Nobody is happy all the time – it would lose context if we were, but with more people on social media than ever before and lives laid out on show, but not really because generally it’s only a glimpse of the good stuff. I have to say I’m more drawn to the ‘less than perfect’ posts / statuses because I can relate to them more.

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    • lynnefisher says:

      Thanks predictability, well I think my Mum still had something to ‘brag’ about in the end, for whatever it’s worth, but I know what you mean. Yes, I’m drawn to the less than perfect tweets, posts and blogging topics too – far more real life. Thanks for your thoughts!

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  3. Great post. In fact, what you say here:

    “How many times have you thought, something you felt was ‘just you’? Only to discover another feeling it too.”

    …has allowed me to break through so much fear with my writing.

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  4. So true and accurate an observation Lynne. Suspect for many this is a generation thing. Many younger people do not appear to care though that also has its drawbacks e.g. lack of respect for self and others. But then each generation has had its faults and, of course, its positives.

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    • lynnefisher says:

      Yes, you might have a good point here, I wasn’t seeing it so much from that perspective. I know my nephews put on an ‘everythings cool’ front, but they’ve had their problems just like many young people. The pressure on young people in their twenties is immense these days. Thanks for your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Rick Ellrod says:

    Lynne, you’ve got some good points worth thinking on here.

    I’m a little uneasy with one angle: that the people who go around with “doggedly cheerful disposition and glowing smiles” are doing it to hide their lack of perfection. Sometimes they may do it because they want to encourage other people and make them happy — an act of courage, not of concealment. As long as this doesn’t become so pervasive that (as the post points out) it masks the less happy moments altogether and makes us think everyone else is perfect, I think that dogged cheerfulness may be a good thing rather than a bad thing. 🙂

    Rick

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    • lynnefisher says:

      Hi Rick, yes I see what you’re getting at. I was thinking of some people I have come across who never reveal or own up to anything in their lives being ‘undesirable’, but of course being doggedly cheerful can be more simply a case of positive thinking or wanting to put people at ease and be an encouraging example. I know I do a good degree of this, but I also believe in honesty and being yourself – so it’s a delicate balance!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Your posts really stir up old stuff, Lynne… Oh yes,’ the doggedly cheerful disposition and glowing smiles.’… I did it all my life, and no-one ever believed that I needed help, support, encouragement etc etc… so when I cracked a few years ago, and refused to go on doing what everyone expected of me, they were very angry… why – I’d never showed I wasn’t happy etc etc !!!
    And Yes, I know that feeling of looking at the neighbourhood in envy… everyone else seemed to be loved in my childhood, which was why I put on my lifelong face of being okay, to hide that my stepmother and father did’nt really care !!! Old habits die so hard !!!

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    • lynnefisher says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your own experience, Valerie. Rick made a fair point on this, which I should have considered…that we do put on an ‘everything’s alright’ front for other people’s sakes and for our own, but as you’ve pointed out this can be to our own detriment. I know exactly what you mean about cracking when it goes on for too long, ignoring what’s going on inside for too long eventually erupts out because the inner spirit must have its say. And because it’s been suppressed it can be quite a dramatic turn around! That happened to me a few years ago too and it came as a shock to others as well as to myself! So I’m wary now of this feature of human habit in myself and others and never take surface stuff from others as being the exact ‘truth’. Food for much thought. Thanks’s again, Valerie!

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  7. galenpearl says:

    I ran across this phrase just this morning–achieve perfection by releasing perfection. The idea, I think, is that when we release our fantasies and judgments about perfection, we realize that everything is perfect just the way it is. Or, as someone else said, we realize the perfection of imperfection.

    In my own life, I spent many years holding onto and propping up an image I had of myself and my family. As previous comments observe, at some point the effort is just too much and everything begins to crack and fall apart. As terrifying as that was at the time, I later recognized that it was liberating.

    Great post–thank you

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    • lynnefisher says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Galen – this idea of ‘perfection’ and ‘measuring up’ to expectations is so insidious a presence in our lives, isn’t it? Yes, it’s about letting go of perfection fantasies and judgments. I’m really fascinated by this ‘cracking process’ that seems more common that I realised, and I’ve read a few psychology and spiritual books on it. I would love to write about it some day when the time feels right. It must be to do with the cultural and familial expectations we’ve absorbed from an early age which prove so restrictive and binding to the point of suffocation. Terrifying to liberating is how I would describe getting through it too, so it’s a dramatic event. And taking that turn in the road to live a more enlightened life is scary, but so rewarding, though on going vigilence is also required! Thank you so much for sharing.

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