Challenging perfectionism in the wellbeing space

What does it mean to show up fully, as humanly as possible, in the wellbeing arena? This is a question I have been grappling with over the last few months, as I bring gentle attention and care to my own health problems.

It can feel so difficult to publicly engage with discussions on mental health on social media when we are being confronted every day by glossy images of so-called wellness experts and enthusiasts (mainly white women) who present themselves as living their best life, publicly, every single day.

And when we are being fed a narrative about self-care that suggests it is solely up to us individually to make ourselves feel better – thereby suggesting that if we fail, then it is our fault.

This leads to feelings of shame, further depleting us and making us feel more unwell.

I am perhaps seen by many as one of those ‘wellness experts’; someone who may have been through burnout, trauma, depression and recovered. This may all indeed be true, but the mistake we often make is to assume that life from thereon in is simple, easy and always successful – because that is indeed what the glossy images within the wellness industry have us believe. Life is, in fact, a lot more complicated than that.

In the last few months, I have struggled with intense physical, mental and emotional exhaustion that I’m not sure I have ever experienced before. I have had to stop most of my work routines and commitments and just rest.

Within that, I have also been exploring joy and playfulness too; remembering that laughter with friends, and doing the things I love, like singing and dancing, are just as important for my health as quiet solitude. I have needed to take my health seriously, spend time with what is causing me pain and gently work with it and through it, supported by therapists who make me feel safe and heard.  

I am conscious that to take time off and invest in my health like this is a privilege. Indeed, my continuous reflections on my own privilege have at times stopped me from giving myself the care I need.

I now realise that this is not helping anyone.

Whilst I cannot deny or undo my privilege, what I can do is show up differently – for myself, and in the public wellness space. What this means for me is:

  • I do not need to always present myself as flawless, perfect, unhindered by any sorrows or self-doubts.
  • I can be honest about the fact that even as a wellness expert I haven’t got all the answers or solutions for even my own health, let alone someone else’s.
  • I can challenge the imagery, language and projections of other white women in the wellness space who suggest we can cure our burnout through 5 clever techniques or lifestyle changes.

And one last word on burnout – let us not forget that this is a systemic problem, requiring a systemic solution. And so I am reminded that the exhaustion I have suffered the last few months, whilst carrying some personal responsibilities – is also a result of a society that continues to push us too hard, valuing continuous signs of perfectionism and productivity.

Even wellness experts can fall victim to this! But we can help to challenge this paradigm by always remembering our right to rest and play. And showing up – when indeed we choose to show up – with full humanness and awareness that we all still remain a work in progress.  

Would you like to explore perfectionism and how to overcome it as a change-maker? Then join my book circle where we will read The Vulnerable Humanitarian: Ending Burnout Culture in the Aid Sector and discuss some of the main ideas on inner, collective and systemic change. Starting 13th and 14th October. Get in touch to find out more.

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