Perfectionism, Anxiety, and OCD

I have written previously about Panic Disorder, which, for me, was the most extreme form of anxiety I have ever experienced. ( I hope none of you have to go through anything like it. It led me to investigate anxiety in depth, starting with a book called, The Anxiety Disease, by David Sheehan. It’s not high on the bestsellers list at Amazon, but it helped me come to terms with something that didn’t make any sense.

Last night, when I lay awake at midnight worrying about all the things I had to do, I realized my perfectionism was part of my problem. I had decided to have a party on Labor Day to dispel the loneliness that holidays usually bring me. I invited some neighbors and friends but realized I might not have planned my week so well. I have been sick for a week, so not much cleaning has occurred, but I have time. I also postponed a trip to see a friend until next week because of said sickness. This puts me out of town the weekend before the party. Third, I had decided to replace some carpeting in two bedrooms. The guy was going to come and measure it, which meant facing my propensity to accumulate and emptying out three closets. In addition, I wanted to enter poems into the Poets and Patrons Contest, and they are due Sunday. Finally, I wish to learn Spanish at our local community college and I can take it as a senior if I sign up within 3 days of the start of class, which was Monday. Yikes!

I worked myself into a “tizzy” as my mom used to say and had no idea when I would be able to calm down. Fortunately for me, I had paper and pencil handy. I decided to make a list of everything I had to do. While I was doing that, I also chose to write down my feelings when they cropped up, even if they had nothing to do with my list. There is was – my desire to do everything beautifully. I have a picture in my head of what I want things to look like: award-winning poems in the mail, closets free of clutter, perfectly clean house, including windows and deck, carpeting in place, relaxed visit with a dear friend, delicious food cooked on the grill on a sunny day, and me speaking Spanish to Pablo, who is Cuban.

My need to accumulate everything I have ever been interested in perturbs me, though. Really. I have more books than I can ever read and have taken to hiding them in the closets so I don’t look so crazy! Combined with my love of quilting, all of my bedrooms are almost full and I live alone. I have made progress in the last 2 years in finishing what we call UFOs (unfinished objects) and not buying more patterns or fabric, and I have changed from buying hard copy books to digital ones. What is hardest for me to understand, though, is why I can’t let go of these things. I’ve gotten good at throwing out old magazines because they are seldom pertinent to current times. But books and fabric… It is especially rewarding to go online, see the item someone else has recommended, pay for it, and then get a package in the mail!

So I spent some time trying to examine why I have this compulsive behavior. People have been giving me advice for decades (and no, I don’t need another suggestion for migraine cures either), and I have tried them all.

  1. “If they’re more than a year old and I have not used them, give them away.” I can do that with clothes.
  2. “If you’ve already read them, give them away.” I do that already, except for Pioneer Women and poetry and genealogy books.
  3. “If you aren’t using cookbooks, give them away.” Looking through the recipes I find a good one and must keep that book. And I’m a techie! I know I can find it online!

For a while, I thought it was a form of security from being raised in a home that could be unpredictable. Well, it’s not unpredictable now. I even read Overcoming Compulsive Hoarding when I found I had bought enough tea on sale for over a year.

A lot of my anxiety stems from being single at 70. I dread the coming of times when I won’t be able to get out of my house and may be bored. Right now I’m too busy to be bored, so why do I think I will get all these books read? (I read two a week, plus or minus) I could lose my eyesight tomorrow. Who will read them then?

But, of course, it’s also in the family. Which means I may have received a genetic predisposition and then observed the anxiety in my relatives. I distinctly remember the Cuban Missile Crisis because my mom was glued to the TV. The cure? There is none. Having a strong faith helps because I do believe God has got my back, but sparrows still fly into windows and selfish people like power. Meanwhile, I ask for help letting go of all the things my children won’t want to haul out of here, including some treasures like my dad’s war souvenirs.

This has been part of a bloghop given by Hoagies Gifted Education. you will find the other posts here:


If Only You Knew

how sensitive my children are. If you dislike them, they know. If you think they are bad kids, they know. If they lose a competition, they berate themselves. If they forget homework, they have already beaten themselves up for being stupid. If they see an eye-roll, they know what it is for. They may not be able to say what they feel because their feelings are intense and revealing them is scary. They may be so focused on getting to school that they lose their house key on the sidewalk outside the house. They may take machines apart to see how they work, yes, even a fertilizer spreader. They may know all 109 items on the Messier list, but not be able to write an essay for English class. They may write beautifully but not be able to write about the topics given in English class. They may be incredibly creative and refuse to complete boring assignments. They may have to leave the middle school to go to the high school for a class. According to a professor of mine, they may already know 60% of what you are teaching. They are beautiful, creative, perfectionistic, curious human beings with flaws like all humans. They want to learn new things, they learn quickly, and they will remember you.

This post is part of the Hoagies Blog Hop. To see others discuss this topic, click here.

If you only knew...

Things I wish my children’s teachers knew.

Healthy Role Models

I was in my early thirties and had two children before I realized the extent of alcoholism in both extended families. Although I had considered home schooling, I did not feel comfortable doing it precisely because I knew my boys would need healthy role models in their lives. Of course, no one can predict which of the teachers are healthy vs. unhealthy, but I thought it would help my kids to have choices about who they want to be.

I also got into counseling and began attending a program designed to overcome the dysfunctional family background both parents had. I wish I could say that no one will judge me for having this problem, but I even have family members that thought I was crazy and some still do. It is a gift we get at birth, but it doesn’t feel like a gift until positive disintegration occurs. I hit bottom because of my kids and have continued to seek health because of my kids.

They have had other role models – neighbors, coaches, choir and orchestra directors, ministers, counselors, janitors, bosses, great teachers and not-so-great teachers. One person who had an impact on my third child, a daughter, was someone who was not very smart. My daughter hadn’t realized how important it was to have stimulating conversations.

Our public schools had a program for gifted children, with clustering and self-contained classes. Their gifted teachers were well-qualified and very caring. I am certain these people had a profound effect on their thinking and social skills. Having friends who were easy to relate to must have been a validating influence. I was nurtured by a gifted professor, Joan Franklin Smutny, to whom I will always be indebted. She guided me and gave me the opportunity to work with gifted children. It continues to be an area of mission for me.

So I am someone who values our public school system. My children have become amazing, healthy adults who know about the heritable tendency of this compulsion. Statistically, I should lose 2 of the 3 kids to the disease, either as alcoholic/addicts or as co-dependents. In their 30s and 40s, they have achieved far beyond anything I imagined. I hope that their awareness of the symptoms of this family “value” will lead them to seek help should they ever need it.  



Perfect Is The Enemy of Finished

One of the most common characteristics of individuals in gifted families is perfectionism. The ability to imagine wonderful things can be a strength. When a two-year old begins to walk, he can see how it’s done, but may be frustrated and angry that he can’t do it well. Nevertheless, she will keep trying until she masters the skill. Imagining a perfect world has been a challenge for every generation ever, fairly recently by John Lenin. When you go to the dentist or ophthalmologist, you want a perfectionist providing the services.

Unfortunately, perfectionism can be a problem, as well. In writing, it can cause hesitation or procrastination. In relationships, it can cause nagging or criticism. My own mother in her 90s wondered why none of her three children had become tech millionaires. I told her to look at what her children were doing – my younger brother was building low-income housing for the poor, I was teaching special education in public schools and technology in education at a nearby university, and my older brother was a database manager for a large corporation. We weren’t slackers! What my mother couldn’t see was the meaning our jobs gave our lives.

Artists and poets learn that the most perfect work of art is one that flows through their voice and addresses an issue everyone is concerned about. Trying to make a work perfect by other people’s standards is a recipe for failure.

In children, perfectionism can be crippling. I once tried to teach a class in crochet in a gifted summer class. One student was so upset when the first stitches were messy, she yelled and cried. Thankfully, I had the special ed background and could use the problem as a teachable moment. I validated her frustration and let the class know that it was okay to be frustrated. She was able to struggle through for a week, and was making regular stitches by the end of the week.

Psychology Today says there has been an increase in perfectionism in the last thirty years.(1)  Possible causes are competition and social media. I would add the invasion of visual media, such as television and movies. Especially in urban areas, standards are high. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to work in a job where everyone takes pride in their work and works above and beyond the actual requirements. Waitstaff gets complaints if their orders aren’t taken promptly, drinks delivered, orders correct, delivered to the right person, and there is no waiting ever. Teachers get complaints if students are not learning as fast as the other kids, regardless of ability or motivation.

In my retirement, I love to quilt andI learned a saying when I joined a guild. The ladies and gentleman have taught me that “perfect is the enemy of finished.” Boy, did that help! My first two quilts were technically pretty bad, but I gave one to a friend who loves the colors and designs. The other keeps the cats from scratching my sofa. I called the first one, “The Medallion Quilt From Hell,” and it probably wasn’t a good idea to work on it before and after my mom’s death. The second is called “Crappy Scrappy; a.k.a. ‘Do You Even Think About Color?’”  which is what my daughter said when she first saw the quilt. Now I can laugh when I see these quilts instead of noticing the flaws. I also ask my kids any time I want to give a quilt away and they have yet to refuse one of them. They, too, have learned to accept the imperfections. I hope I have taught them to accept their own imperfections as well.

This blog post is part of the Hoagies Blog Hop.    


1. Psychology Today. Accessed 27 Oct 2018.

Other Achievement

If you had asked me to write this post in 1989, I would have been much more prepared. I had a folder on “underachievement” about an inch thick because one of my children sometimes performed about four grade levels below his ability. Our family situation was dire. I was getting divorced, my children’s beloved farm was four hours away, we were living below poverty level, and I was searching for a job.

This child had been less than eager to perform the same as an older sibling, for one thing, and I knew that. It was his way of saying, “I am NOT him.” Still, I knew how his behavior would affect him in closing off options he might want later.

He was left in charge of his younger sibling far too often and had a good friend who disliked school. There was a stubbornness towards anyone he thought was a bad teacher. He was depressed because of the circumstances in his life and couldn’t concentrate even when I sat and helped him with his homework. I am guessing his self-esteem was low, because he seemed to feel he deserved to get average grades and that he was not that smart.

I consulted often with school social workers. They basically said, “He’s a kid. Let him be.” That was hard for me, but I did see that I needed to work on my relationship with him. We needed to have pleasant memories to look back on, not my harping on him to work harder. Not my being stressed because I was worried about him. So, I’m sorry, son, to write about you this way. It’s not from a lack of respect for you that I write. I just want people to know that you are one of the finest people I know, you have made a beautiful life for yourself and your family, and you know that achievement does not indicate a person is better than someone else.

All of the “other” that you were learning has led you to be compassionate, courageous, fun, hard-working, and still brilliant.

Under Achievers

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Utopian Fantasies

In a perfect world…

gifted people are able to earn money for working on their passions. They are treated as equals with other groups and respected for their abilities and/or disabilities.

population would be spread out over the land, so that everyone could be in touch with nature on a daily basis.

humans would be educated in all of the areas of growth, develop to their highest potential, and live in harmony.

people could transport without pollution. Leaders would calculate the cost of pollution as part of the price of material goods.  They would solve all problems diplomatically, without the military.

farmers would have farms big enough to support their families and generations that followed that wanted to farm.

teachers and social workers would receive recognition for the priceless work they do, and would not be subject to politicians’ ideas of what education means.

mental illness would be a treatable illness, and not be shamed.

people would recognize the spiritual nature of all living creatures and treat them with respect.

age would be considered when calculating the needs of individuals, but not in calculating their worth.

human growth would not destroy habitat, population would spread most in areas that could support it, and refugees would be given food, shelter, clothing, and water.

humanity would work together as a whole to solve global problems.

This blog post is a part of Hoagies’ Blog Hop. Click on the image below to see other posts.



The Need to Learn

For me, one area of difficulty in getting along with other adults is just plain conversation. I find that most people make small talk about what they did that day or how bad/good the weather is. Not me. I like to jump in on a deep conversation, philosophy, psychology, politics, science, technology or art (music, art and literature). I love to pick other people’s brains when they know more than I do. Not that I don’t like small talk. I have learned over time that it is small talk that binds our relationships daily. Where you got your haircut or that nice dress, how the family is doing, what has happened since the last time I saw you. These are all things that are important in maintaining a friendship. However, the friends I really enjoy are the ones who know the latest in news or their field of study.

One year, my daughter went on vacation with a friend’s family. She returned, saying, “I’m so glad you’re my mom. I missed our intelligent conversations.” Those who do not have a continual need for cognitive stimulation can’t understand that it is a need. I remember being told not to push my children when they were pulling me.

I became fascinated by quilting as a child because my grandmother was a quilter. Once my nest was becoming empty, I gave it much of my time. Sewing and quilting are relaxing to me, and I love going to quilting retreats where we talk about everything sewing for days. I have friends that love sewing, friends that love music, friends that love current events, friends that knit, friends that are knowledgeable about spiritual matters, and friends that write poetry. Each one is dear to me because of their talents, and I am grateful for them.

It’s important to seek out new friends and relationships throughout our lives. As I approach old age, I appreciate making younger friends. My mother outlived most of her friends. She loved the other nurses and talking about medicine. Growing up, I was expected to know what she was talking about, her nursing books were available to us if there was something we didn’t understand, and we learned to name body parts without embarrassment. Both parents loved music and made sure we got a good education in that area. We all read often and I would sometimes sneak my brother’s science fiction books. I still love Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke. In short, there were few topics we weren’t interested in. My love of learning continues into old age and I am not content to sit and sip tea without a book in my hand. Finding others like myself is always a joy.

hoagies relationships love and laughterThis blog is part of the Hoagies Blog Hop.