Creative, Perfectionist, Anxious: Negotiating those traits and the Enneagram

Recently I’ve discovered the Enneagram, and that’s a huge can of worms I don’t want to open just yet, but it’s got me introspective about my personality. What is hard-wired? What isn’t? Am I throttling my true self by not tuning into my creative side? What is caused by my mental illness and what is just the realities of life?

At this point I’m no where near being an expert, but the number types do give me a helpful way to talk about the identity struggle (I’m hesitant to call it a crisis just yet) I’m currently wrestling with.

Exploring an inner coversation

What I’ve been thinking about really intensely is what feels like the conversation between two types, one and four. Since I first discovered the system, and through all of the tests I’ve found to do, I’ve been a four. And your type does not change throughout your lifetime – it’s something you come to know through self-exploration. For some, it takes very little time, and for others, an eternity. Although most metrics sit me as a four, I also identify very strongly with type one. The most interesting part of this dichotomy is that type one is the type that fours tend to lean toward when they are unhealthy.

Ones and fours: Principled and creative

Essentially, a four (The Individualist) is a creative, and a one (The Reformer) is a perfectionist. Being a creative has been at the core of my identity for as long as I can remember. However, in recent years, it’s also a part of my identity that I’ve felt quite disconnected from. I could attribute this to any number of reasons, and probably will in a later post. But in my journey of discovering whether I am a one or a four, I’ve found myself looking inward. I’m also looking back. I think that for a person with a largely idyllic young childhood, I think it’s easiest to reflect on the essence of who I am as an individual by looking at that time. It was a time before things like rent, living circumstances, work, school, and relationship conflict changed how I tackled life.

The creative as a child

Early in my life, when life was not something to be battled with, I turned to creative endeavours with all of the free time I could grasp. Markers, pencil crayons, paint, paper, pens, pencils, glue, glitter, cardboard, felt… my dream jobs were cartoonist, architect, and interior designer. The biggest fissure between my creative life and the life I live now came in university. This was when I rejected art as a career (another story for another day). Retrospectively, looking at my creative instincts in childhood and adolescence make me believe that at my core, I am a four.

The island of unfinished creative projects

There is one other trait that as I four I am currently identifying with very intensely. It was also a quintessential part of my childhood. Intense, regular formulation of new, exciting ideas, with very little follow-through. The number of creative projects I have begun with gusto and never finished throughout my life is unfathomable. I’m in one of those creative phases right now and it’s impossibly frustrating. I’m working full-time, 7-3. Four days a week, I drive straight to UBC for class, getting home around 8pm. On the weekends I spend all my spare time doing readings, marking, and writing assignments. So all of those creative ideas, at their best, get written down and “saved for later.”

But when is later?

That’s when the anxiety perfectionism comes in. I currently have two new instagram accounts and plenty of ideas. My bullet journal is full of lists on lists on lists. I have ideas by the bushel. But even if I had the time to follow through on any of them, would I?

The perfect time

I get caught up in “waiting for the perfect time.” But I’ve come across some media recently (thanks @selfcaresunday) that’s been focusing on the idea that there’s no perfect time for anything. There’s just time and what we do with it.

I think that my anxiety and perfectionism keep me from really letting myself be my true four self. They push me into the unhealthy side of four. This magnifies the negative tendencies of ones to be too hard on themselves and others.

Whether you subscribe to the Enneagram typing system or not, it’s an interesting concept to think about. And I think the result of it at this point for me is that regardless of my true type (I’ll keep ruminating on that), I want to make an effort to just do the thing. Part of that is typing up this blog post in about an hour, editing very minimally, and just posting it. Normally a blog post is a slow, painstaking process for me. I iterate and edit, iterate and edit, and post and edit and repost. From idea to publish button, this one has taken less than an hour.

Where is the creative going from here?

Part of doing the thing, for me, is going to be exploding the the month-long “creative ideas” list I’ve been carrying around with me in a drawer in my brain. I’ll blast it all out onto some paper. Maybe in coloured marker.

Another part will be choosing one of those ideas and taking concrete steps toward manifesting it into being every day. Even if it’s just five minutes.

There are a thousand reasons why this is “not the perfect time.”

To that I say: there is no perfect time. But this is what my soul needs to do.

Creativity, Anxiety, and Courage

I learned three important things quite early on.

One, that creativity requires courage. Two, that anxiety demands courage. And three, that being creative with anxiety requires even more courage than either of those alone. For a long time, I found it too difficult to muster the courage required to share my creative passions because I was crippled by anxiety about the value of, and possible response to, my work. You may be thinking to yourself, “Just do what you love, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks.” That’s easier said than done when you’re battling with anxiety. It wasn’t until recently that creating became worth the effort again. I want to share that story.

First, creativity requires courage.

For anyone. It’s courageous to create something and put it out into the world. I have always been a creative person, and until anxiety came around, I was able to find that courage regularly.

Second, anxiety requires courage.

It’s a similar kind of courage to that required by creativity. Anxiety causes me to fear and worry about almost everything. But I live my life despite the worry and fear, and that is courageous.

Third, creativity and anxiety together require even more courage, for me at least.

I wrote creatively a lot in high school but I stopped when my anxiety got worse. Why?  I worried endlessly about what people think of me and what I put out into the world.
First, I have an incredibly strong need for people to like me. I also have a terrible fear that people will dislike me. I worry about these constantly.
Second, myself and my creative work are the same. I put so much of myself into what I create. I think that a valuation of my work is a valuation of my person.

The courage required to conquer these two things together – anxiety and creativity – was too much to muster all at once for a very long time.

It is partly that fear that has prevented me from starting this blog for so long. Remember when I said it took me two years to write my first post? I was afraid that people wouldn’t like my writing. That they would think my opinions weren’t well thought-out. I was nervous that I would get attacked for my ideas. It wasn’t the expanse of the Internet I was afraid of, or even the most grizzly, snot-nosed, pockmarked Internet trolls. That’s another aspect of my anxiety – I’m not afraid of people I don’t know. Only people I care about. To some, that might seem backwards, but it makes total sense to me. The people I care about are the people whose opinions about me worry me the most, because I don’t want them to stop liking me or to stop wanting to be in my life.

The more I value a person’s opinion, the more I fear sharing my creative work with them. Case and point: I didn’t tell my husband what I was writing about on my blog (although he did know I was starting it), nor did I directly share my work with him, because I was too nervous about what he would think. I only found out he’d been reading it after last week’s (my second) post. When he told me he enjoyed reading it, I felt like the weight of my patronus fell off my shoulders. (Nerd joke alert, my patronus is an elephant. Quite possibly the subject of another post.) I also told very few of my friends that I was even thinking of starting a blog before I linked my first post to my Facebook page.

If there is one thing that has increased my courage in terms of pursuing and sharing my creative passions, it has to be an Instagram community that I recently joined called Bookstagram. Users create accounts with bookish (“of or relating to books” – Merriam-Webster) names and post exclusively about books and related fandoms. I have no idea how it began, but it now has thousands of members and probably millions of users interacting with it daily. It is undefined, and markedly different from Instagram itself, while working within its boundaries.

I discovered it a while ago and it interested me immediately – I already loved reading, talking about books, collecting, and taking photographs. But I was hesitant to join. I worried that my photos somehow wouldn’t meet imaginary standards and that the community wouldn’t accept me. Looking back now, that sounds ridiculous. I don’t know that there exists a more welcoming or inclusive community on Instagram. Regardless, I watched from afar for a good couple of years. I didn’t see the point because I assumed I would never have any success with it, and I felt shame for wanting to be just like them – what kind of 20-something collects figurines associated with books and TV shows, and spends most of her time reading and photographing her collections? I was ashamed of and anxious about my passion.

In November, I was feeling comfortable in my new job, and had begun reading for pleasure a lot for the first time since high school. I also had the funds to be able to buy more books and start collecting funko pop! vinyl figurines. I started following more Bookstagrammers, took photos of my books and funkos, and even posted a few on my regular Instagram account. I really enjoyed it. Suddenly, something clicked. The worry about what people would think of me and the shame I was feeling began to weigh less than the enjoyment I got out of finally being passionate and creative again. A few months later, I mustered up all the courage that I could find in my body and created a Bookstagram account. It was more successful than I ever could have hoped, and it brings me so much joy.

My whole point here is that sharing one’s creative work always takes courage. Doing it as a person with anxiety inherently requires even more of that daring.

Through my experience with Bookstagram, I realized that doing what I love feels way better than not doing it for fear that it will negatively impact people’s opinions of me. My whole point here is that sharing one’s creative work always takes courage. Doing it as a person with anxiety inherently requires even more of that daring. It’s scary stuff, putting yourself out there. But it’s so worth it.

That feeling is what bolstered my courage and helped me begin writing this blog as well. No one could ever have convinced me that people would enjoy my writing. Just like no one could have convinced me that people would think my enormous book and funko collection and my photographs of it were awesome. The only thing that could and did quiet my fears was putting those things out there and observing the response (which ended up being very positive).

That brings me to my next point. I realized something new about my anxiety when I started to take leaps and share my creative work: even if the response to my Bookstagram account or my blog hadn’t been positive, that wouldn’t have been a problem, because I wouldn’t have had any scary “what if?”s to worry about anymore.

I have to experience firsthand the things that worry me to be free of them.

This is simultaneously the hardest and easiest part of my anxiety to manage: I have to experience firsthand the things that worry me to be free of them. This is difficult because I tend to want to avoid the things that worry me or wish they would go away. It is also magical, because there is a sure-fire way for me to stop worrying – to tackle what I’m worrying about head-on.

I post some photos that are less successful. That’s too bad, but at least I don’t have to worry about the response to them once they’re posted. Whether it’s positive or negative, my brain no longer has to worry about making up scary possibilities. It’s much easier to deal with what is than to worry about the things my brain makes up about what could be. All I have to do is take a leap and share my work. I say “all I have to do” like it’s nothing, but it really does require a big dose of courage. I’m getting better and better at this with time.

There will always be people who love what you love.

Generally, I find that if you create something with passion, people will respond well to it. If they don’t, that’s too bad for them. Friends are there to support you doing what you love, and if they’re unsupportive, they’re not worth your time.

There will always be people who love what you love.  People who are inspired by the joy that you take from what you invest yourself in. People who try to put you down for the things you love really don’t merit your energy.

Having these realizations doesn’t mean that I don’t worry about the quality of my creative work or people’s opinions anymore. Anxiety doesn’t just go away. But now, the joy of creating and sharing things is more important than the worry that tries to prevent me from doing those things. The good outweighs the worry.

Courage is the choice to still be anxious, but to be creative and put my stuff out there anyway. To take the leap any time I share something.

Now I just take a deep breath, pick up my tool of choice, and create.