It is time for brutal honesty.
I am a perfectionist.
Since this blog was created as a way to challenge my perfectionism, you may be a bit confused. I’ve admitted to striving for perfection in previous posts, and even in my “About” section on this site, so how come I’m coming clean as a perfectionist again? To answer this question, let me back up and provide some context:
A couple of weeks ago I was struggling hard with my various mental illnesses. The pandemic has caused a surge in my anxiety, quarantine has created a flourish in my depression, and a combination of anxiety, depression, and a hiccup in my GI recovery has brought thoughts of disordered eating back to the forefront of my mind. All of these things led me to reach out to the Crisis Text Line a couple of weeks ago, a texting service providing free mental health crisis management to those feeling overwhelmed or hopeless. The counselor I was connected with was incredibly helpful, providing me with links and information relating to depression and anxiety that I could use to get unstuck from the place of willfulness I found myself in. My chief complaint was a lack in motivation– I was stir crazy and bored from being stuck in the same house with the same people for so many months now. In response to this, the counselor gave me a resource that has since changed my life and my depression: an app called “Habitica.”
Habitica is a free role-playing/task management app that allows you to treat your life like a game to stay motivated. You can input habits that you want to strengthen (or that you want to be rid of!), daily tasks you want to accomplish (in therapy we call these “activities of daily life” or “ADLs”), and your To-Do list. You create a customer avatar, and the more habits and tasks you check off, the more your avatar benefits! It’s been a really fun way to combat my depression, because who doesn’t want to collect pets to feed and ride simply by doing things like brushing your teeth or going for a walk?! (I am not endorsed by Habitica, I’m just an avid fan who has found that this app really works for me!)
Now I can circle back to why I am admitting to my perfectionism. Lately, I’ve been in denial, lying to myself about my progress and recovery. It’s been very subtle, but I didn’t want to face the consequences of not checking off my daily tasks and habits within Habitica (when you don’t check off your tasks by the end of the day, your avatar loses health and gold coins). Rather than accept my punishment for not finishing a task here or there, I would fib to myself, or even half-ass the tasks that I struggled to complete. I couldn’t even admit to a game that I am imperfect.
Yesterday, I came across a podcast episode about perfectionism. In the episode, the host says “Perfectionism is a shield that isn’t actually protecting us, but preventing us from taking flight.” As soon as she said this, I flashed back to one of my first sessions with my therapist in ED treatment (the very therapist who encouraged me to start this blog). If you’ve read the post that explains the title of this blog, you may have had a similar light bulb go off in your head. My then-therapist explained that if I’m so busy playing tug-of-war with my depression, anxiety, eating disorder, and/or perfectionism, I have no other hands to hold my hobbies, creativity, or relationships. She encouraged me to put down that rope, and see what my life would look like without it.
It was this session that I decided to commit to creating this blog and posting something every single day, as a way to fight off my perfectionism. If I post every day, I won’t have time to mull over every word, wondering if it’s good enough to publish. The host of that podcast said something very similar. She mentioned that perfectionism is an adaptive skill based on fear and worthiness, and a way to gain control when things feel out of control. The episode ended with this call to action: “Take an imperfect step.”
So I did. I came clean to myself and my therapist in session yesterday: “I hate to admit it, but I’ve been half-assing some of my daily tasks so that I can appear perfect, even in this virtual world I’ve created.” I admitted to not completing every Habitica task in its entirety, to the countless drafts I’ve started but never finished or published on this very blog, to shying away from activities I know I’d enjoy for fear of strangers seeing me. These were all very difficult things to say, and admitting to it all lifted a weight off of my shoulders the moment I said it out loud.
Perfectionism is all about perception. Perfectionists want others to see only what we want you to, and never the flaws that make us, let’s face it, human. I realized that even in Habitica, a virtual world where only I can see my specific successes and failures, I was trying to be perfect. The thing is, nobody is perfect. Not you, not your mom or spouse or neighbor or pastor. Everyone has flaws and faults, which is what makes the human race so beautifully connected. If we all embrace these imperfections (harder in practice than in theory, I know), we may see ourselves reflected in so many others, which breeds connection and authenticity.
Authenticity is my number one value, I’ve never been shy about sharing that. If I want to live true to this value, I must come clean as a perfectionist, and strive to keep taking these imperfect steps.
What is one imperfect step you can take today? Let me know in the comments below!
If you are struggling or in crisis, I encourage you to reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting “HOME” to 741-741 for confidential and anonymous support. You are not alone.