Crooked Frames: The Robbery of Perfectionism (And How to Kick It.)

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, intact.

The Accidental Addict (Revisited)

I haven’t said it here yet, because I didn’t want to start something I didn’t intend to follow through with.

I stopped taking my medication. I know what you’re going to ask next, and that’s “Are you sure?” The answer is a definite yes. See, I’ve been fighting this battle for 2 and a half years now, and I’ve tried what must be dozens of antipsychotics, anti-anxieties, antidepressants and sleeping meds. Though they came with their fair share of side effects, I have not been fortunate enough to find a combination that came close to eliminating the voices that ring through my ears 24/7.

Haloperidol. Seroquel. Effexor. Olanzapine. Lamotrigine. Latuda. Ativan. Risperdal. Abilify. Wellbutrin. Zopiclone. Clomipramine. Clonazepam. Temazepam. Doxepin. Trazodone. Mirtzapine. Paxil. These are some of the bottles than can still be found in my cupboards, my purse, my car. These are just some of the medications that went from hand to mouth before my brain ever entertained how much might be too much.

It started innocently enough. My skin would feel as if it might shake right off of my bones, and I’d shake the bottle into my palm to produce a chemical acceptance that my brain could not manage on its own. 1, 2, 3 ,4. These pills don’t help me anymore. 5, 6, 7, 8. Something calming when it’s late. 9, 10, 11, 12. Further inward I will delve. I took the tabs, the capsules, the pills because they were prescribed to me, and I took this to mean they were not dangerous.

Before I knew it, I’d gained 30 lbs and absolutely no peace of mind. I didn’t feel sadness, but I didn’t feel happiness, either. I felt absolutely nothing, and anything heavier than nothing was enough weight to make me crumble. I lost weeks to the cracks in the ceiling and months to the sound of that beautiful rattle.

It didn’t occur to me that I might have a problem, not once. All I knew was that I felt terrible, I hated my reflection, and these goddamn circular demons sliding down my throat and coursing through my veins were the only thing that brought me any relief. 25. 50 mg. When the medication would stop working, I was given another pill and for a while life would be tolerable. I knew they wanted me to live, and at the time this was the only way that I felt that I could do it.

Up until a month ago, I was taking a grand total of at least 19 pills daily, (at least 9) of these belonging to the benzodiazepine family. You have your math right. I was taking at least 9 pills to sleep for (maybe) 3-6 hours per night. In retrospect, I should have been alarmed the first time the number registered in my mind. I should have been alarmed that this number had increased by 14 in the last year, but I wasn’t. More. More. More.

A little late, I found myself at a crossroads. Find another route or die here. All 19 of these failed to give me the relief I needed, the acceptance that was vital to my recovery and the self-esteem required to keep slugging it out. Somehow I had become even more miserable than I was when I’d started, and this was an overwhelming truth considering that I had spent the last 2 and a half years trying to combat this misery. A little late, I realized that I was the only one who could truly save me. No amount of scribbled prescriptions was going to write my story, and I could not count on anyone, even someone with a medical to degree to tell me the truth about myself.

So, here I am. I stopped the last 9 pills 9 days ago, and I have experienced severe withdrawal. All 9 of these pills were benzos, and I quit them abruptly. As a result, I am going on day 9 of physical pain and sickness like I have never before experienced. It’s hard for me to write this, because I like to think that I know my limits. I try to operate within the boundaries of safety and I make an effort every day to live the truth I speak here. I would like to think that I am reasonable and rational, that I am above this type of dependence. That just wouldn’t be the truth. There are a lot of people I would like to blame, but I know that this is, and has really always been up to me.

For now, my mind is even. With each day that brings pain, I am glad for it, because I haven’t felt anything so real since the winter of 2011. I am researching all of my options and feeling good about the future, though it is uncertain. I am in therapy and making all of the reparations I can for the sake of my mental health. I’m learning all that I can about my body, nourishing and exercising it so that my mind has the best chance at being clear. There are no guarantees that I will be able to live free of medication, I know that. I also know that there are other methods, there are other choices and they are all worth a shot. I have scared the hell out of myself enough to know that living this lifestyle is completely reckless and will ultimately lead me to my grave. I feel confident in my newly attained knowledge and I sit with it knowing that I will never stumble blindly down this path again.

Here’s what I want all of you to understand: This cycle was a drastic one, and I absolutely don’t recommend it to anyone, especially without being under the watchful eye of a trusted psychiatrist. Please know that stopping your medication can bring just as many consequences and can be just as dangerous. Don’t blindly follow me, because that’s exactly what I’m getting at here; you should not be led blindly into ANYTHING regarding your well-being. Research the fuck out of your diagnosis, then research others that are similar. Read up on your medication and understand the benefits as well as the side effects. Know your body and enough about your family history to aid in finding the one that may be right for you. Seek a psychiatrist that you feel safe enough to be honest with, because they can only help that which they are aware of. Trust yourself enough to walk away from anything that brings you pain of any kind.

1, 2, 3, 4. I’m anxious so I’ll count some more.

5, 6, 7, 8. It feels so good to concentrate.

To learn more about prescription drug abuse, visit www.ccsa.ca.

**Update: A few days ago, I went on a bit of a manic deleting spree. This post was actually written on some unremarkable day in June. In the months between that day and the 29th of October, I experienced a great deal of clarity. I did so much. I felt so much. The summer was dry, but life was in bloom inside of me. The withdrawal was hell, but my grasp on life had never been stronger. I am extremely proud of that run. However, as you probably guessed, it did not (and perhaps could not) last. It came on like that one phrase in a very popular John Green novel that levitated off of the page and made a home in the folds of my mind. “Slowly, and then all at once.” I noticed that the descent was less traumatic this time, but in some ways it was also more difficult. I had so many good days in a row, and it felt like if I could only be brave enough, I could defy gravity. Coming down from a high like that, a high so natural…Let’s just say it’s a real fucking bummer. It became apparent that I would need help again, and though logically I understand that there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with this, I was pissed the hell off. For about a week, medication and I have been rekindling a familiar romance, but we are wiser this time. When I have episodes, I like to do something I should never, ever do. I read my blog. And because I believe that I am more sophisticated in that moment than any other moment that’s happened evereverever, I am left in disgust at how terrible my past work seems. This post in particular was an awful trigger. Explaining the feeling I had when I read it would be a lengthy process, but in short it felt like standing in front of a filing cabinet full of knowledge and anger while the drawers flew open and hit me in the mouth repeatedly as punishment for speaking. I swore I could taste blood. When Sean came home to help me adjust, I told him what I had done. The conversation went like this:

Sean: NO! Which ones?!

Karlee: I can’t really remember, But I know ‘The Accidental Addict’ is gone.

Sean: NO! Oh my GOD! 

His hands flew up to his face. He was in a complete panic. It alarmed me a great deal, but in a twisted way I was very flattered. I had gotten this idea that he kinda had to read what I wrote as spousal obligation, but in that moment I noticed that he was legitimately freaked out that these thoughts had disappeared. When he came up for air, he said both the most encouraging and heartbreaking words he has uttered to date: “I’m sorry. These posts are my photo albums.” He explained that they were so good and so me that he could not stand their sudden removal, and that when he needs to he travels back to those times, even if those times don’t feel all that relevant in the grand scheme of things. I felt loss lodge itself in my throat as I remembered that I probably couldn’t recover it while also realizing that I was not in any kind of position to write it again. Luckily,  Sean is the kind of guy who is so serious about my happiness that he dissects and uses everything I write as an opportunity to make things more stable for me. Which means he had it saved along with every single fucking one I’ve ever written. What a guy, right?! I’m about to click ‘publish’ and resurrect the post from the digital trash. It may not have been the crystal ball that I had planned it to be, but it happened, it was important, and it was so very lovely to catch a glittering glimpse of what would visit, but could not stay.

It’s All Gravy

My whole life I have dreamed of creating something beautiful.

I was always told that I had potential. I heard it from my teachers when my grades were lower than limbo. I heard it from my peers when I didn’t run for the ball and stood still instead. I heard it from my parents as they watched me climb out of the lows from the highs that I constantly created for myself.

At the time, those words seemed like torture, for the problem wasn’t that I didn’t realize that I was unique. The problem became amplified by the fact I was acutely aware of it. I felt so different, so foreign to almost any activity that I tried, and because of that I chose always to back out of the spotlight and fail quietly in the shadows by never beginning, never investing, and certainly never winning.

A year ago today I typed my first words onto a blank screen and sent them out into the abyss of the worldwide web. Though it would be some time before I would choose to advertise my new hobby, something about it felt alright. When I created this blog, it was mostly as a means of speaking up over the voices that I could not seem to overpower in real life. It was a way for me to feel light and funny when in reality I had been rotting from the inside out. I was sick and I was desperate. I kept thinking, in case this doesn’t get better, in case I go, I want the truth to be known. I want someone to know the girl I’ve kept locked beneath my skin, and even if nobody reads it, I want to know that I had the guts to say it.

I didn’t expect any of you to find me, and I definitely didn’t expect the overwhelming support, praise and unwavering love from both the blogging community and my own community. I didn’t expect anybody to read paragraph after paragraph of what I had thought was merely rambling. I didn’t expect you to laugh, to cry, to cheer me on or push me forward. I didn’t expect all of you to launch me into reaching my full potential. But you have.

I expected to bleed, to cry, to scream. (Which is a damn good thing since there was plenty of that shit involved.) I did NOT expect to adapt, to heal. But I did. A year ago I was losing entire days to the white ceiling above my bed and entire nights to the insanity that beckoned to me to join it every moment. A year ago I was unhappy with my life, my body, and my lack of contribution to the world. A year ago, I didn’t expect to see today. But it’s here.

Not only has keeping this blog created friendships and rekindled old connections, given me perspective and strength, it also allowed me to see the changes in myself firsthand. It is a permanent reminder of my progress and the pain it took to arrive there. It showed me that for everything I missed out on, for every time I thought I had nothing to give, there was a time when I was present, there’d been a time when I’d had a victory, no matter how small it seemed.

I’m still unemployed and still occasionally feel like a useless drain to those around me, but here’s what accomplished while I was busy convincing myself that I was a useless drain:

– I quit smoking.

– I joined a kickboxing class, something I had never attempted before, in a room full of noise. I look forward to that class 2 days a week.

– I exposed my true, naked self, the one I feared and kept hidden. I love her.

– I shed 25 lbs and the vicious, self-loathing thoughts with it.

– I apologized, and I forgave.

– I committed to, and have been training my ass off for a Tough Mudder event.

I know there will still be dark days, and darker posts. I know that I will battle this condition for the rest of my life. I know these things, and yet I am fine with them. I am glad for them. The truth is, I wouldn’t be able to write what I do without the burden and the blessing of my experiences. I have grown to see beauty and wisdom beneath the cloak of pain, and I’m grateful for every moment I spend on this planet, even if those moments beat me black and blue. I’m grateful for every one of you who believed in me enough to follow, to share your own heartache, to comfort me in my own. You have all had a hand in giving me something to work for, to live for, to fight for.

Oh, and here’s the best thing about this year! I’ve finally done it. I’ve created something. And I think it’s pretty damn beautiful.