Perfectionism is defined as the need to be or appear to be perfect, or even to believe that it’s possible to achieve perfection. Sounds unattainable when you speak it out loud, but too often I found myself falling into the trap of needing to be perfect in order to achieve what I thought was normal or good enough to be around my inner circle or just society in general. For far too long, perfectionism was the driving force to my anxiety healing and I went through unholy hell trying to find some secret formula that was going to serve as the cure to what I thought was the ideal version of normalcy. It wasn’t until I gave the idea up of being perfect that I started to find some of the relief I was doing so desperately looking for. This wasn’t something that happened overnight. It was a series of steps that got me to the path of understanding perfectionism.
1. Setbacks don’t erase your progress.
Anxiety would give me little periods of reprieve especially during a break through in therapy where I discussed something that was bothering me and I thought that I freed myself by speaking about it and learning tools to manage. However, another trigger would happen and I’d get knocked on my head again and think I would have to start from zero. Once I realized that bad days can come and go just as easily, it became easier to climb the ebbs and flows of daily life and not live in the shame that came with not handling everything the way I thought I or people thought I should. Healing was never linear and I am so glad to be able to accept that and live my life with the needed grace that I deserve.
2. Celebrate the positive as much as you evaluate the negative.
With any sort of mental illness or difficulty, it’s easy to get lost in what you could do better. Sometimes I find myself ruminating on the things I can do better or how I can apply the coping skills I’ve learned in a more effective way. While the need to practice these skills are important, they also aren’t the entire journey’s purpose and can be more hurtful than helpful. I have learned over time and sometimes still in real time to celebrate the progress and positive change that comes with the ebbs and flows of the healing journey. I can learn the skills as I go and practice them, but it makes it harder to do that if I’m consistently only noticing the mistakes and not celebrating the wins that come along too.
3. There is no end, there’s just a possibility of a full life to live.
When I began therapy in 2020, I went into it with the same attitude I would go into healing a physical sickness. I do all the things I’m told to do and I’ll feel back to normal again. I spent a lot of time looking for the proverbial dragon to slay and not realizing that there was no actual finish line. There was just the ability to just live life experiencing a full spectrum of emotions and going through them with grace and compassion rather than shame and comparison.
None of the above is an easy feat sometimes. Sometimes, it’s still my knee jerk reaction to “should” myself but I am proud to be a recovering perfectionist and someone who can accept life as it comes with a fuller set of coping skills and acceptance of myself along the way.
All of this to say that there is hope. Too often our own minds can be our worst enemies but if we are kind, compassionate and understanding to ourselves then life can feel that much lighter along the way.
When I first started exploring my mental health, I went into therapy thinking something was wrong with me and I needed to search for the perfect formula to go back to “who I was” before I was “broken” and “wrong”. I use quotation marks because the truth is, I was never broken or wrong to begin with. I was more human than I had ever imagined before. The realization of the never-ending evolution of oneself has been the biggest game changer for me. I am allowed to experience a full spectrum of emotions even the “bad” ones and there’s nothing wrong with that and who I am right now could be completely different from who I am five years from now and that’s okay. I am a recovering perfectionist and people-pleaser and I’m proud to say that out loud because it took a lot of work to get me here and while I still have bad days that suck, I am now armed with the tools and self-reliance to get me through them. It all feels like I’ve leveled up the human Pokémon that is me ready to take on the next set of adventures.
But what do you do when you’ve come to notice the changes in what’s always been there? How do you show up in relationships that never stopped even when you were at your lowest? I’m sitting here with this shiny new penny that is me, but I cannot help but wonder how she fits in in the most precious parts of her world? This is not to say that any of my relationships are suffering but I can’t help but notice the reputation and the precedents set by old behaviors that I’m working hard to leave behind me. It’s a strange place to be because it’s so new and it’s a little bit lonely because I’m forced to learn how to show up for myself and give myself grace and comfort in this unknown world, while also taking on the curiosity (rather than the anxiety, which feels HUGE) of how to show up for others, my most special and important others. It’s a very unexpected part of the journey for me. I thought I’d do therapy and have a few “ah-ha” moments and then be magically healed. Now, I’m forced to take these skills, use them, and figure out to fit into a beautiful life all at the same time. How weird, but how cool all at once.
This ramble was published with the intention to be more unfiltered. I spent a lot of my earliest moments on this page terrified and trying to figure myself out after my parents moved away. I want to revisit some of that rawness in this newer stage of my life in hopes to help someone else along the way. Will I stick to a schedule? Probably not. But, as the thought bubbles pop into the air I’m going to do less running from them and more letting them stay awhile.
The sentence “I don’t know.” is enough to make me break out in hives at times. As a person who suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I find my comfort in the stability of a good plan, precise information, and the guarantee of something happening. It’s a rigid way to live but it’s been my reality my entire life. I’ve never really noticed this behavior until I started therapy and realized how my anxiety worked. It took a lot of learning to realize that all my behavior was learned and wired rather than something I was doing to myself or someone else. I no longer had to punish myself for being “too much” or “annoying” or the “chicken-shit”, I am now able to recognize that my flaws are moldable and things can be done that can further improve my interactions with myself and others. Anxiety was never my fault, but it is now my responsibility. The power is in my hands to change my ways and learn how to approach life not resenting my anxiety but using it as a part of my identity. I’ve been given the tools to take my power back and use it to my advantage instead of becoming stifled by my disorder.
I find myself approaching my mental health with a sense of curiosity. The use of “what and how” instead of the “why” has been coming up more frequently. What can I do differently to make this task manageable for my stress levels? What can I do to relax when my nervous system dysregulated? What are my “happy spots” and how can I use them to my advantage in hard times? What is my absolute mental limit before I need to ask for help from someone? Reframing the process into a learning experience versus how to eradicate my flaws eases the pressure of perfection. I don’t have to do all things perfect; I can continue life’s path of trial and error. What doesn’t work doesn’t have to be dissected, it can be learned from, and new processes can be created that can foster a better relationship with myself and my world around me.
It has been eye opening to lean into the curiosity instead of always being at war with myself. It hasn’t been an easy road but it’s a road I’m growing to appreciate because I am becoming in a way that I never have before.
I’ve spent the last two years solely focused on ‘healing’ myself. I dove head first into the journey of becoming a better me and a more functioning me. How could I do this? What book could I read? What coping mechanism could I utilize? My life has been all encumbered by the act of healing and fixing whatever issue came up in the moment. Some of this ‘healing’ journey been enlightening and changed me in ways for the better. However, a larger portion of this journey has been downright exhausting in trying to fight imaginary battles that never needed to be fought. I’ve spent a lot of time living my life in the context of symptoms surrounding my anxiety rather than being present in the world right in front of me. Anxiety is a real B for that, but I am shifting my focus away from my symptoms and more in the context of my life. The biggest question I’ve been asking myself lately is how do I balance the idea of living in the moment but also managing inevitable anxiety that comes with daily life?
It’s not an easy adjustment to make because often my anxiety screams “DANGER!” when there’s nothing around. The act of doing nothing and living in the context of my life has proven to be the most difficult portion of the work I’ve been doing. I am an intelligent human so I’m able to problem-solve like no other. Asking me to do nothing is like asking me to walk on a path of Legos with bare feet. While it’s the key to slowing myself down, it still feels like an unbearable task. I don’t really know how to just be but it’s something I’ve decided to work on rather than read up on symptoms and cure alls. It’s an internal balancing act to be able to accept my anxiety and all the weird shit it brings and also just be in the moment.
I appreciate the ability to be able to “think out loud”. I’m often hesitant to publish on here because I feel as if a large portion of my blog is my thoughts out loud. I want to deliver content that isn’t always exclusive to me but I hope in my thinking out loud there’s someone who reads it and may feel less alone. Mental health is just as vital as physical health so consider this my 30 minutes of brain cardio for the day.
The height of the pandemic left a lot of stores, restaurants, and recreational places closed. The hustle of New York City had come to a screeching halt leaving its residents scrambling on what to do next. Just like the rest of the world, we were forced to work and live in our houses on a 24/7/365 basis, and we were clueless for how long any of it would last. Making the best of the uncertainty, my wife and I decided to fill our weekends with as much as outdoor time as we could. Living and working in our four walls was more than enough during the week so the weekends needed to be broken up with fresh air and getting out of the house in the safest way we could find. It became a weekend ritual to walk the property of our local cemetery. It was kind of morbid looking back on it, but I was grateful to be in the sun and grass and trees at the time getting my mind off the present moment and developing a deep appreciation for nature that I’ve never had before.
The cemetery itself stands on acres of land that stretches throughout the neighborhood. You could walk through it and be on a completely opposite end of the neighborhood by the time you finished. It was great exercise but also amazing views of Manhattan in certain areas as well. When Covid felt bleak and my life as I once knew it felt as if it wouldn’t return being there and seeing that view provided a lot of comfort. The city skyline felt like something to shoot for, to look forward to and it was a much-needed reminder of sanity when everything felt rightfully insane.
This past September started my return to my so-called “normal life”. I went on vacation for the first time in five years in September. We flew to Disney World for our delayed honeymoon and stayed for a week’s time. Upon our return, I was asked back to work on a hybrid schedule. All this is way more overwhelming than I expected it to be. I dreamt of this day and yet I was so nervous to return to the hustle of the city life. The fear of the unknown was overwhelming to embrace. Who was safe? Who wasn’t? Will I get sick? A million questions flooded my mind. I began to feel guilty about questioning all of it. I was getting what I wanted for so long, what I had prayed for yet I was so paralyzed by the fear of the obvious unknown in front of me. I had this whole vision in my head of my triumphant return to New York City where I would rejoin my beautiful city and relish in everything that I missed so much. When my expectations weren’t met it sucked, and I was devastated and left drowning in a whole new pool of anxiety and all the symptoms that came with it. It was a hard lesson to learn in managing my expectations. We plan and God laughs, or at least my God does. Returning to Manhattan and all the of the life that came with it wasn’t how I imagined it to be yet I’m still doing it even if I feel like a baby deer learning to walk most days.
I’ve hesistated to write a lot about my feelings as of late. I don’t want to appear self-deprecating but I also don’t want people to feel like they’re alone in their struggles. We are all rejoining a world full of uncertainities and question marks. We’re being told that the pandemic is “over” and now we’re meant to go about our business like the world still isn’t sporting a giant band-aid over itself. It’s scary, overwhelming, but it’s something we’re all collectively facing so it feels almost remiss not to speak my mind on how what I’m going through. I want to end this piece with it does get better, it has gotten better. Every day presents a new change and my anxiety is never permanent. It’s a state of flow that I’m now hyperaware of which is both helpful and a little jarring. Life is weird but it’s just a matter of getting through one moment at a time.