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.
The title sounds like a fluffy crock of shit. I know, I get it. There are so many people in the world who have seen more crap in the last year and a half than they have in their entire lives. However, my therapist said something that got me thinking. “Without the pandemic, you would have never stopped to see what wasn’t working.” Honestly, they were right. Pre-pandemic I spent a lot of time bathed in distraction desperate not to feel any physical sensations or mental stress. I wanted to capture this version of myself that I wanted to be for everyone else. The reality was, it wasn’t working for me but I was too scared to say it out loud. This pandemic gave me the pause that I needed to start from the ground up. What felt like a “mental breakdown” was actually a necessary breaking point that I needed to rebuild a version of myself that was finally for just me. It’s the reframed thought that I’ve used to pull myself out of the idea that I had to be ashamed of having struggles. Nothing was wrong with me, I just needed a break to find out who the hell I was without anyone else’s approval, opinions or ideas. The distractions faded and I was bathed in the scary silence to hear my own needs, thoughts, and ideas.
Outside of the realm of me, I found the gift of connection. I’ve spent a lot of time on here sharing my mental health story and updates as time passes but I haven’t shared the other important parts of me. Truthfully, I have the best friends on the planet. From the first week of the pandemic until to this day, we’ve found a way to become closer than we ever have before. Pre-pandemic we were all wrapped up in our own lives. We’d text when we remembered, we’d make the effort to see each other a few times a year but it stayed there. Now, we talk daily and stay up to date with each other’s lives and do our best to be there for each other and share our respective lives when we can. What started as drunk zooms to make the best of a crappy situation turned into a daily updates, which I am beyond grateful for. Thanks to the Marco Polo app, we have a place to chat on our own time without the schedule coordination that Zoom took. It’s been the missing link to our friendship and I’m so glad that we’re now able to keep up with each other more than we ever have. I think being pushed to band together when it hurt the most was valuable. It was the reinforcement that we weren’t alone and one I know I’ll cherish forever.
These were the two biggest silver linings for me. It’s easy to get lost in all of the damage that this time has done. I still have to ground myself in the sadness sometimes because it can be very consuming. However, I remain grateful that I am able to find the little things that can bring light to my world. They mean everything.
“The only way out is through.” That’s one of the many positive affirmations given to the reader
in this book and it’s the one that stuck with me the most. Last year was
probably one of the worst of my life professionally. I was in constant conflict
with my managers, always having to look over my shoulder in professional
settings and my anxiety was at all-time high. I saw a therapist for a little
over six months but my insurance was no longer accepted at the facility. I was
out of options and too anxious to try and get to know another therapist. That’s
when I found DARE by Barry McDonagh. Social Media keeps me in touch with people
from all parts of my life and a friend from high school was posting excerpts of
the chapters of this book and I knew I had to read it. Everything on his
Instagram stories felt like it was talking directly to me. After doing more
research, I found out that author and founder of the program DARE, Barry
McDonagh also suffered from debilitating anxiety. Knowing this made me feel
less alone and less suspicious about opening my mind to his new suggestions. He
had applied his program to his own anxiety and it had worked so I took a chance
and hoped it would work for my own.
The book introduces something called the Dare Response, which is
a new way to view your relationship with your anxiety. The key points of the
response are defuse, allow, run toward, and engage.
Defuse shows the mind that you are not in any real danger when you take on a
blasé approach to anxiety, “Who cares”, “So what” are phrases that the author
uses to allow anxiety to take on a smaller form rather than feel unstoppable.
By using the act of diffusion, it replaces worry with power of the situation
when anxiety makes you feel powerless. Allow is the means of letting the
anxiety come as it wants to. Resistance can make anxiety seem bigger than it
is. By allowing anxiety to just come and flow naturally through you, it takes
away the fear of what could happen or what is happening to you. You have the
control of the outcome. A funny line from this step’s section for me was when McDonagh
says to sit down your anxiety and invite it in for tea. The visual created in
my brain was exactly what I needed to see that I was in control of my anxiety
and my anxiety didn’t control me. I was the one calling the shots and deciding
what, when and where anxiety can appear. Run towards is the next step. McDonagh
suggests that by running toward your anxiety you can change the perspective of
it. He explains that fear and excitement are often the same and when the mind
readjusts the feeling toward anxiety, it can reduce its power and change the
way the brain views anxiety. A negative can quickly become a positive and instead
of looking for the “boogeyman” over your shoulder, you can embrace the present
world around you. The final step is to engage. Engage in something that takes
up your full attention so the anxious feelings can no longer reel you back in. This
felt like the most important step because it encouraged me to focus on my life
and stay in the present versus stay in my head with the fearful anxiety. Furthermore,
the book details ways to apply the response to several different aspects of
anxiety such as panic attacks, health anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and fear of
being abnormal. Each section details how to apply the response to the situation
but also provides thoughtful insight on his experience with the situation or
the experiences of others that he helped. I found several different scenarios relatable
and have returned back to these chapters for guidance and help.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Self-help books aren’t
for everyone but this method got me through a time in my life where I feared
there would be no way out. Applying the DARE response to my life allowed me the
confidence I needed to take back control of my anxious mind. While I still have
issues with health anxiety from time to time, I have since gotten a new job and
thanks to the DARE response I am able to contribute my experience with an open
mind and heart to my position and have had a very successful three months at my
firm because of that. I think any kind of positive outlet can help mental health
issues and I would suggest this book to anyone who wants to reach with themselves
and learn to navigate ways to better themselves.