At 24, Georgie Dent had the world at her feet – but within a year she found herself in the midst of a nervous breakdown, suffering such crippling anxiety that she admitted herself to a psychiatric hospital. In her new book BREAKING BADLY Georgie shares how it all fell apart, and how she rebuilt her life.
If you wanted to make your life better what is the one thing you’d change?
I was sitting up on my bed in hospital, using a meal tray as my desk, staring at those two little words. The question about making my life better had been posed at the end of a group therapy session earlier, and my answer, underlined in my notebook in lead pencil, shocked me.
I was scared all the time.
What was I so afraid of? Failing? Being disliked? Being seen as inadequate or incompetent? Did these things even matter? Why was I holding myself hostage to fear?
My whole life, I had been holding myself to impossible standards. I didn’t know there was a name for that paradigm at the time, but enlightenment came in a workshop on perfectionism run by Victoria, a psychologist who ran group therapy sessions.
‘We are going to explore perfectionism today, and before we begin I want to get a sense from you about how it might be impacting each of you,’ she said. ‘Put your hand up if you have ever felt like nothing you do is good enough.’
I practically snorted, inadvertently, as I shot up my hand. Several other hands went up too.
Victoria looked at me with a smile. ‘Georgie, my question obviously struck something in you. When can you remember feeling that way?’
‘My whole life. I have literally never not felt that way.’
Georgie Dent chats to Mia Freedman about her breakdown. Post continues below.
A man in his forties laughed. ‘Me too,’ he said.
‘That’s not an unusual response in here,’ Victoria said. ‘Perfectionism is a pervasive risk factor for depression and anxiety, so it’s an issue for many patients.’
Clinical perfectionism, she explained, is described as relentlessly striving for high achievements and unfairly judging yourself when those goals can’t be met. ‘For perfectionists,’ she went on, ‘life is an endless report card, and anything less than an A+ is a failure. And the trouble is no one ever gets A+ for everything, and life isn’t a subject at school. Failure in some form or another is inevitable. But for perfectionists, falling short, even in little ways, can feel catastrophic.’