Mental health

Little Ms. Perfect

What is perfect? There are two separate definitions. Using it as an adjective means this, “having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be“. When used as a verb, perfect means “make (something) completely free from faults or defects, or as close to such a condition as possible”. Either way it’s used I have suffered from perfectionism my entire life. In psychology, perfectionism is described as a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.

My Mom has told me that when I was younger she used to find me obsessively organizing my room. I loved to neatly arrange my books, toys and knick knacks. Cleaning and straightening a room, tidying up things brings me a peacefulness and calm that’s hard to match by other activities. It’s also something that has made me feel strange and weird.

There was a period in my life when I literally couldn’t sit still or overlook a piece of lint on the carpet without having to immediately stop whatever I was doing to pick it up. After the birth of my first son, I found myself in a perpetual state of motion, always wiping a countertop or vacuuming a room that was already spic and span to everybody else’s eyes. I got caught up in routines that kept my in a “loop” for hours. So many routines and rituals had to be achieved compulsively and repetitively. Some days I got so stuck I didn’t even leave my house. Looking back those were dark days.

I’m a shift supervisor at a Starbucks and at 41 this is the first time I accepted a management position. In the past, I had been offered/recommended this role but I always turned it down due to my overwhelming fear of failure. Truth be told my perfectionist ways have plagued me throughout my life. Recently at work my manager challenged me to stop working like a superwoman. She asked me to examine my leadership skills by holding others on my team accountable for certain tasks. At first it felt awkward delegating the things I have been doing alone without help. Lately however I can feel an important shift taking place.

A favorite quote of mine by Maya Angelou is,”Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better. Boy does this sentiment ring true in this regard!

I’ve always been an analytical thinker, wondering why things are the way they are and trying desperately to make sense of the world around me. I had this book as a kid called, “The book of why” and I loved it. I’ve especially been intrigued by my own emotions and the emotions of others. That intense curiosity has sometimes kept me up at night.

A former therapist once told me to disengage myself from the outcome of a certain problem I was having a difficult time finding a reasonable solution for. My perfectionist ways and drive to control a situation can leave me breathlessly spinning my wheels. Despite my efforts I end up feeling exhausted mentally with no end in sight.

When I start to feel my old ways creeping back into my daily choices, I try and recall his words. Letting go of the outcome and maintaining an open mind sounds logical enough but my heart stands stubbornly doubtful.

Establishing a connection within myself has been key to easing off my perfectionist attitude. Grounding myself really quiets my mind and eases my fears. Whether these fears are real or hypercritically blown out of proportion, I can often find myself overwhelmed and grasping for my idea of perfection. I’ve learned I’m only hurting myself when I put this kind of pressure on myself.

For there is no such thing as perfect my dear reader but perfect imperfections throughout life. Try shifting your perspective taking a closer look at yourself. Deepening your own connection within your soul. Becoming your own best friend, saving yourself from yourself. Like Shakespeare said, “to thine own self be true”.

Mental health, Spirituality

That monkey on my back

Every once in awhile, here it goes again. Wide awake in the wee hours of the morning knowing that I have a big day ahead of me. Not sure if it’s hormonal or subconscious anxiety but I’m not a fan my friends of this latest development.

I have been working a lot at the coffee shop and feeling pulled in all directions as a supervisor. In fact I had to have a few difficult conversations this week with my partners. I’m not one for confrontation and I’m definitely in flight mode rather than fight. Yet they say change and growth can be painful. I guess that’s what’s up right now. Just those growing pains of evolvement.

I am a classically trained dancer in ballet, tap, jazz, modern and contemporary dance styles. I started when I was just two years old. My biggest dream was to dance on Broadway. My sister and I were on a competitive dance team that traveled and took classes in New York City. I pursued this up until I was sixteen years old. That was when some harsh realities became too much to bear and I quit dance all together. I did rediscover my passion for it after my oldest son was born and I started attending adult classes. What’s the point of me writing about this you may ask? Here’s some truth to that question.

Since growing up and striving to be some part of the very competitive dance world, I definitely developed this perfectionist side to my personality. Everything had to be just right. My parents tell me they would catch me organizing my room by stacking up my books just so. Arranging my Smurfs figurines in a particular order. Everything had to be straight and neat. I even carried this over into people pleasing and being quite passive in my intimate relationships.

Fast forward to present day and I can feel when this shift tries to take the wheel again. This time in a more destructive way. I start becoming very strict with myself. I get overly angry with myself when I make even a small mistake. I start reverting back to old habits that I know aren’t healthy for my positive outlook. The tiny voices in my head that whisper, you’re not good enough start to get louder as if someone turned up the volume on that old tape. I thought I threw that one out years ago in the midst of my healing from the traumas. Here it is again playing louder than ever, boombox style.

One of my downfalls is that I have always been my own worst enemy. More than most other people are I think. The original diagnosis from my psychiatrist on my first visit was that I have OCD with PAD (panic anxiety disorder). I had decided I’d had enough of the unexplained anger and anxiety surrounding the way my environment appeared to me after my oldest was born. I was constantly cleaning and was absolutely consumed by this drive to have everything look perfect. I found myself stuck in these crazy routines of cleaning things over and over again to the point where I wasn’t leaving my house. I developed these phobias surrounding having to clean incessantly or else. What you may ask…….even today I’m unsure. I had a dark burgundy formica countertop in the kitchen at my first house. I used to wipe it so much that it changed colors in some spots. Definitely a bit too obsessive.

So, when I feel that itch coming back again this is what I do. I restart the positive self talk in my bathroom mirror. I allow myself to feel the uncomfortable feeling of understanding that I am imperfect. I give myself permission to feel uneasy. That sounds like a simple enough statement. Boy, is that a hard pill to swallow during these spells. That’s what I like to refer to it as, a spell. Like some greater force has taken over my mind, body and spirit.

Quieting that harsh inner negative dialogue can be tricky once mixed with a heavy dose of anxiety. The “not good enough” imaginary police are breathing down my neck. You are nothing, you will never be anything, you are a loser…. their sirens wail loudly in my head. I steady myself as I ride this wave of uncomforbility. Assess what I actually can control, what to attempt to let go of and what next behavior will serve me the most. Some days are of course better than others. Add in our recent moon cycle and there you have it…….that nagging need to be perfect.

At the end of the day, I accept it will always be that invisible monkey on my back. It’s always there, lying right beneath the surface. Some days it’s quieter than others. Like everything in life I know it’s temporary. This too shall pass.