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How Perfectionism and OCD Interfere With My Creativity

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with a body-focused repetitive behavior, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can find resources at The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.

I’ve always been creative. When I was a kid, my imagination ruled me, letting me live in a world of book and TV characters, becoming part of their stories instead of being present in mine. As I got older, I stopped living in the worlds of those characters. but that didn’t stop my creativity. Instead, I channeled it in different ways. Whether it was painting, photography, writing or crocheting, I was constantly able to find a new outlet for all of that creative energy inside my head.

But things started changing. Suddenly I didn’t want to pick up my camera as much as I used to. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it anymore; on the contrary, I adore it more than ever, as it is and always will be the thing that gives me sanity. But what it wasn’t giving me was perfection — it wasn’t giving me the images in my head, and my head wasn’t OK with this. My head wanted all or nothing, and since I wasn’t giving it the level of detail, perfection, finesse and polish that I craved, anything less just wasn’t good enough, and being not good enough was not OK by me.

It wasn’t just photography. Every one of the creative outlets I loved so much started filling me with this kind of dread and anxiety. Instead of being excited and inspired at the thought of spending an afternoon painting, I noticed my hands starting to drift, my skin starting to itch and my fingers starting to pick, pick, pick at my skin, nails and anything they could get at.

I’ve lost track of how many stories and blogs I’ve written and deleted this past year, never hitting “post” because of the relentless poking and prodding happening inside my head, determined to get my attention and convince me my words aren’t worthy of anyone else’s eyes. And inevitably it wins, the delete button does its job, and those stories disappear forever.

It was only when I realized I was picking the skin off my hand that it clicked: my OCD was the barrier between me and my creativity — an invisible wall in the way, or a door I cannot unlock. This barrier only comes down when 100% perfection is reached, and when you’re your own worst critic, that’s a tall order.

All I can do is continue to write, take photos and paint, even when the results are all destined for the trash. It means I can keep fighting the invisible barrier, and pray that eventually, I find a way to bring down the wall altogether, and let my creativity shine once more, unhindered.

Getty Images photo via fizkes

Originally published: September 29, 2020
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