Far From Perfect

An article I once read discouraged individuals from citing being a perfectionist from their list of flaws in an interview setting because it was essentially a humble brag. I have to say I disagree with this, personally. When I say perfectionism is a weakness of mine, I actually mean it because perfection is an unattainable ideal that differs from person to person and striving for it is, more often than not, a maddening and self-destructive practice. Have I shaken it? Nope. But I’m working on it. And this website is part of my journey to do so.

I first came to the realization of my struggle with perfection in my early twenties. While I cannot remember if I was twenty or twenty-one at the time, I can clearly see myself standing in front of my bathroom mirror putting on my makeup one morning – a routine activity – and my mind wandering. Suddenly it occurred to me that it was a result of an event that happened when I was much younger. Because isn’t that always the case?

When I was seven my mom had sat me down in the living room with my older sister and younger brother because she needed to tell us something. A little red flag should have gone up for me when her own older sister and her brother-in-law were in the room with us, standing off to the side. She and my dad were getting a divorce. I didn’t know then the reasons for their decision to split and being seven years old, I skipped the first two steps in the stages of grief and went straight to bargaining. I promised my mom that if she and my dad stayed together that I would be a “good girl”; I would get good grades in school, I’d keep my room clean, I wouldn’t get into any trouble. At the time, I couldn’t comprehend that the collapse of their relationship had absolutely nothing to do with me. But then they didn’t get divorced – and my seven-year-old brain processed that as an acceptance of the deal we had made. Now I had to keep up my end of it.

For the bulk of my childhood, I was on the honor roll. I got one “D” before high school on a project in the fifth grade and that was devastating to me. We were well-off enough to hire help on a weekly basis from the time I was in middle school but I insisted on being the one to clean up my own room and do my own laundry. The only time I got in trouble in school was a one-day stint in detention for numerous tardies. Check, check, and check.

So what’s the problem? I'm sure that there are parents out there that would love to have a "less troublesome" child. One that doesn't throw excessive tantrums, get called into the principal's office, or one that you don't have to worry about their grades. 

The problem was that because I started trying to achieve perfection at such a young age, I started to fear what would happen if I weren't perfect. I essentially believed that the love and acceptance of those around me was entirely conditional, dependent on whether or not I was a "good girl". Add to that, my inability to deal with stress or change that I felt was out of my control. If aspects of my life were not entirely in line with what I had clearly planned and structured, I felt like the world would come crumbling down around me. Imagine being a military kid who had to move every few years and struggling with change each and every time we had to pick up and start again somewhere new. It was not a fun time. And getting older did not make it anymore so. The increase of responsibility with each passing year only made my situation worse.

My struggle came to a head when I was twenty-five. I had recently purchased a house with my husband at the time, I had interviews lined up to start a new job, and we were even trying to start a family after being married for five years. Then one day he came home from work, sat me down, and said we needed to talk. I think you know where this is going. In a matter of minutes, I went from having everything laid out for me to having the rug pulled out from under me. Hadn’t I been a good wife? Hadn’t I been supportive? Hadn’t I been loyal and honest? Where did I go wrong? What mistakes did I make? I blamed myself for everything even though the fault was with the person on the opposite side of the table as I later learned.

Again, what’s the problem if I realized it wasn’t my fault? The problem is: I couldn’t cope. The unpredictability of my life from that moment on and the stress involved caused me to suffer sleep deprivation, my appetite disappeared, and my already naturally small frame saw pounds fall off in a matter of weeks. Through my depression and anxiety, I still tried my absolute best to be perfect and it wasn’t enough, leaving me with no clue on what to do next. Which may very well have been the best thing to happen to me.

There is no such thing as perfect. Not really. Outside of mathematics, we all have different ideas of what is or is not perfect in practically every area of our lives. Making mistakes doesn’t make you a horrible human being, it simply makes you human. I still struggle with perfectionism and anxiety as I have mentioned in previous blog posts like “The Stories Behind My Tattoos” but it has been a long road and I have a lot of ground to cover. I in no way blame my parents for "making me a perfectionist". They did not impose that on me so much as my seven-year-old brain rationalized their decision not to divorce as acceptance of my bargain. I am, however, glad to be more aware of it and that is half the battle.  I wanted to share my “weakness” with you all in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month in case there is anyone reading who is currently suffering from perfectionism themselves. Turn to a friend you can trust, to a family member who will not judge you, or seek out the help of a professional. I want you to know you are not alone and that you can get better.

Click HERE to visit the American Psychological Association’s Help Center page or click HERE to visit the Suicide Prevention Hotline page.