I’ve attempted perfection in every aspect of my life since childhood. My quest took me to some dark places, and I ended up becoming a person completely unlike my true self.
Some towns have elementary, middle, and high-school. I think the point of middle school is to give the kids a chance to prep for the shock of high-school. For me it just meant two cold-boots to my comfort zone, rather than just one.
My quest for perfection started in middle school. Once the 6th grade school year began, I started compulsively redoing every homework assignment, sometimes multiple times, so that it was absolutely flawless in my eyes. The handwriting; the drawings; the sketches; the writing; it all had to be immaculate. No eraser marks were allowed, and there had to be a balanced use of white space (I was already a technical writer at 12 apparently).
I was spending so much time on homework that my mom decided to have a meeting with my teacher to ask why I had so much homework. She quickly found out I wasn’t assigned a lot of homework, I was making more work for myself than a normal 6th grader cared to make, because I wanted perfection.
Why would 12-year-old me crave perfection to such an extent?
I know the answers now, but it took over 20 years to find them.
I remembering wanting everyone to like me: teachers, students, bus drivers, bank tellers. Unfortunately, my personality didn’t make for many welcoming exchanges (I was an extremely negative kid.) I wanted to be amazing at everything I did, even if it was my first attempt at whatever I was doing. I remember really enjoying school work, and having issues with the fact that the cool kids didn’t. Like most kids, I wanted to be cool. I wanted the boy I liked to like me back, and not have him use me for intell about my other friend he was crushing on.
I wanted to be validated by everyone in my life, specifically, my family. I wanted them to love me, and admire me, and approve of who I was. I’m sure they loved me, but that love existed within the limits of their own ability to supply it. I think some of them were caught up in behaviors meant to hide their unresolved traumas. I followed suit.
Middle school played out, and despite all my efforts to do everything perfectly, I didn’t feel validated by anyone. I never felt good enough, no matter how many A+’s were on my report cards and how many first place certificates I got in dance. I began to feel that all my efforts to be perfect were a total waste of time. I was so uncomfortable in my skin; I was strung out on rejection and negativity and aggression.
So when high school came, I said screw it.
Screw the school work (even though I enjoyed it)
Screw choir and drama (even though I desperately wanted to be a part of both)
Screw dance (even though it was my savior and one of my great loves)
I left everything behind that I adored in an attempt to fit in.
I filled the vacancies with things that made me forget about them: cigarettes instead of school work; drugs instead of choir and drama; and alcohol instead of dance.
Poof. The very things that were and are the essence of who I am were suffocated with toxic supplements.
I became self-loathing incarnate.
I got lost in these shameful hobbies, which ended up becoming my career for a spell. These things became more important than anyone or anything else in my life. I put these things before my family and my friends. But the worst part was that I put these toxic activities before me. I stopped caring about myself and my well-being. And I didn’t know how to get out from under the soul-crushing weight of that truth.
It started in middle school…but it didn’t stop there.
I still grapple with my need for perfection and order. When the creativity flows, my house get’s messy, but I can’t live like that for long. I know now that external chaos causes internal chaos. I have a hard time with messiness and disorder, and don’t enjoy being around either of those scenes in my house or in other people’s. (I’m not a snob about it, as everyone get’s busy. I simply feel that cleanliness and order is a good for the soul.)
I work hard at choosing positive outlets to blow off steam these days. Turning to poison in hopes of finding a sense of tranquility ALWAYS ends up with me feeling shitty about myself. Plus: I know that my talents are best served without the masquerade that substances bring.
I’m a big proponent of meditation. It is the solution for me as it helped me recover from the traumatic thoughts that invaded my mind for many years. If you don’t meditate, stop what you’re doing and start learning how to. It will change your life!
What people don’t say is far more telling than what they do.
I think we need to pay attention to what’s happening around us more. It scares me when I see people not paying attention, and more concerned with Instagram than what is going on right in front of them. No one is listening to what other people are saying, or to what they aren’t saying. Because what people don’t say is far more telling than what they do. It’s all very unloving, to put a phone before a human being.
I suppose I want to say this: don’t wait until the accident happens. Open the doors of communication early on so that the people around you feel comfortable talking about what pains them. Model the vocabulary and skills to talk about big picture issues like anxiety, depression and aggression. Model behavior that says, “it’s safe to share how you feel.” And pay attention.
Don’t wait for the accident report.
My descent began in middle school. I don’t want anyone else to lose themselves like I did.