People seemed to like my painting last month so here’s April’s effort – the Packhorse Bridge and Wavy steps in my home tome Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire. I thought I’d use this painting as a jumping off point on some thoughts around mental health.
I was showing it to my mum the other day, and she pointed out something she thought could be improved. Which is ok. I’m never completely happy with anything I do. I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Which is a shame because perfection is almost impossible. And in truth sometimes it is life’s imperfections which are the most beautiful. But yeah – she picked on the spot I was least happy with. And truth be told I might go back and work on it a bit more, because I’m always learning. But even if I manage to improve on that – there’ll still be something my eye will be drawn to, that I think is not good enough. I know I have a problem with this.
We all have a tendency to lean towards the negative. To focus on the problems. It’s natural, and important, and it keeps us safe. Because it’s not the sturdy, healthy planks on the rickety bridge we need to worry about, but the ones that are half rotten and might have us plunging to our deaths. But sometimes we can become so fixated on those problem planks that we don’t see that actually we can cross quite safely regardless.
Sometimes that natural negative mental filter goes into overdrive, and it blows small negatives out of all proportion, makes us think something is ruined if it isn’t perfect. Makes us disregard anything positive that is going on. Me fixating on that one bit I don’t like on the painting, ignoring other bits I quite like, like the stonework on the bridge, or the water under the arches, or the overall impression, which is at the very least OK.
Just as I might be chuffed to receive some fantastic feedback on a course, but I won’t remember it, or dwell on it as long as that time someone said something quite unkind – that frankly reflects more on them than it does my performance, but still makes me feel like i’m a failure.
It’s all down to acceptance. If I’m not perfect, don’t do a good enough job, don’t paint as well as Leonardo da Vinci – then maybe people won’t accept me, maybe I will be rejected, maybe I will be turned out of my house, community, and be alone and cold and wet and friendless and in danger.
Daft, I know. But somewhere in my ancient lizard brain that’s what I’m thinking. And I can recognise it, and know it’s silly, but it takes a lot of work to get to a place where i’m ok with not being perfect. Not being liked even. To listen more to the good things – to process and learn from the bad, but also realise I can disagree. Learning to accept our selves, recognise and celebrate our strengths. Let go of perfection.
Hebden Bridge has helped me on that journey – a supportive community where I find it easier to be myself. Lots of opportunities for creative expression. Wild, beautiful nature to get outside and gain a sense of perspective on life. Come visit sometime, when it’s safe – cafes, pubs, wonderful shops and galleries, walking and woods, canals and mills. Lots of paddling opportunities.
Come and learn more about mental health with me on one of my online courses – Mental Health First Aid, Mental Health Awareness and more.