My therapist’s credentials hang crookedly along the wall of her office.
On the day she caught me staring, she told me that she displays them this way because she is a recovering perfectionist. “And,” she said, “it helps me spot other people carrying that burden. Like you.”
Most sessions, it’s like we are sitting opposite each other, cross legged in the very cluttered den of my brain as we sift through the junk, discussing the feelings that made the cut and the thoughts that ought to be tossed. On this particular day, it was more like being invited to a roaring gala. I just couldn’t hear her. When I pointed out that it had taken me months to make this observation, she smirked and leaned forward.
“You’re not bothered by it. Perfection is not something you expect from me, but here’s what I really want to know: Could you live with your walls if they looked like mine?”
DAAAAYYYUUMMM, Mrs. P!
After reflecting for a moment, I decided that no, I could not. This pattern of thinking was indeed familiar to me, and up until then it was a pattern that I tolerated because it didn’t register as a swatch of thought that I could repaint. Driving home that evening, it occurred to me what a wasteful system it had been and how strange it was that the things we are most proud of can become grievances simply by hanging them haphazardly.
Since then, I’ve started to distinguish unpleasant symptoms that exist in my own life as a result of a frenzied desire to be spotless in a mud puddle. It’s been an instrumental tool in maintaining happiness, and my spirit is decidedly less turbulent these days.
I realize that there are a ton of people like me out there; the kind that know there’s a pattern, but can’t determine where it originated, much less change it.
I wanted to write a post based on my own experience for any of you who are reading and thinking “this shit is the realest.” I hope it will help you identify the perfectionist inside and start kicking it in the taint. Here are 7 signs that you’re afflicted:
1)You read this, felt weird about it, and subsequently denied the horrible truth that you are the victim of an aggressive (and impossible) vision that keeps you up most nights.
2) You weigh yourself, poop, then step back on the scale to see if anything remarkable happened, like the loss of 35 pounds. (Spoiler alert: it hasn’t. Get down from there!)
3) You refuse to participate in new endeavours by feigning disinterest, the authentic reason being that you are equal parts terrified and full of shit.
4) Someone has actually told you that you apologize too often and encouraged you to knock it the hell off.
5) You’ve thrown a party and spent the entire soiree obsessing over whether or not people are having a good time. (They are. Parties are fun. You are fun. End of story.)
6) You have been known to rip out the entire page due to a minor error. (This also applies if you get mad and draw a giant dick over said page.)
7) You attach happiness to a schedule and spend your life chasing it, convinced each time that if this one thing should fall into place, inner peace will be yours.
The bad news is that this distorted thinking makes your existence a hell of a lot harder. The good news is that you get to practice disciplining yourself to handle your heart with care, which is a lot more fun than holding up the possibility of failure as fuel. Here are 5 methods I’ve been using to allow myself to be human and therefore fallible:
1) Positive affirmations- I mentioned this in my last post, but I’m so sure of them that if I were Billy Mays and you were an innocent patron watching television, I would try to sell you double. I like to replace any self-loathing thought with something I enjoy about living in my skin. If thinking means becoming, imagine all the stunningly beautiful, positive opportunities that await you. (Spoiler alert: Self worth is going to narrrate your life. Allow it.)
2) Emphasizing the good- I used to think that people who practiced the art of gratitude were pretentious. There was just no way to be thankful for everything, and maybe that’s still true. What I’ve noticed is that I am less bothered by things beyond my realm of control or understanding. When I observe my progress, I try to highlight the great decisions, take apart the low moments and look closely at what makes them different before making my next attempt. When you’re tempted to criticize yourself or the current situation, interrupt that thought with gratitude. For example, instead of telling yourself that your hair looks like a hobo’s butthole or wishing your friends would rise your standards, try saying something like “My hair is doin’ a boss ass job of keeping my head warm!” Remind yourself that having a friend is a very lovely thing, even if they act dumb sometimes.
3) Allowing Myself to Be a Beginner- If you’re worried about trying something new in case you are terrible at it, the stone cold truth is that you are probably right. You are probably terrible at it because you’ve never done it before. Luckily, this is an inevitable fact faced by any being who dares to begin. I took up playing the guitar over Christmas and it still pisses me off that i’m no Jimi Hendrix. However, I allowed myself to play so badly that I was pretty sure ears across the land were bleeding, and guess what?! Now I only suck this badly SOMETIMES! I have even gone as far playing for and alongside other people. Who am I?! Oh, right. I’m a woman with shit to do.
4) Knowing that it’s all relative- Something that runs deep in people like us is the desperation that comes with wanting our efforts and achievements to be recognized and validated by other people. We lock ourselves tightly in silver cages, waiting patiently for the words to free us. What I’m getting at is that if we don’t try to find our own way out, the only option is “stuck.” When passion develops, so do answers, but in order to find it, you have to be willing to search. When you stumble upon something that makes your heart vibrate, you’ll know it immediately, and you won’t need an echo to tell you that being so unbound has always been the key.
5) Being mindful- A moment becomes pretty goddamn exhausting when you’re spending it in anticipation of the moment to follow or in nostalgia for moments that have passed, never to return. This will make your memoir look more like a checklist, and who wants to read that? When I feel invisible in the midst of all who are coming and going, I try to listen for the smallest sound that I can hear. As a result,I begin to notice colours and sounds being far more vibrant, more razor sharp than ever before. This ignites the feeling that there is always something to discover, like I can peel back layers of my mind to find that nothing is at all what it seems; it’s more.
Of all journeys I have taken, loving myself has been the most strenuous, because I am constantly arriving. There are always folds in time that wrap me up and tempt me to stay, but the difference is that I’m no longer smothered in fear. Rather, I’m pulled away by the notion of all that I have yet to behold and make sense of. I’m not afraid of the the root that flees the forest floor, because I am no longer looking at it as if it were placed there to trip me.
People will float up to feast upon my joy while others drift away in search of a dream of their very own, each one etching themselves upon my heart.
And this time, all pages of my story will remain as I am; messy with adventure, littered in love letters, and most importantly, still intact.