Sunday, September 29, 2013

My Journey #2: Always Something Short of Perfect

My OCD comes with a side of perfectionism. 

noun: perfectionism
  1. 1.
    refusal to accept any standard short of perfection

I always held myself to this ridiculous standard. Everything had to be perfect. My house was never "clean enough." My clothes never looked "just right." I worried that when I did clean, things weren't "clean enough." I worried when I did put something on, it didn't look "right." Maybe it accentuated the wrong part of my body. Maybe I spilled something like coffee on my shirt during the day (the worst!) and then I would obsess that I didn't look "up to par" the rest of the day. 

The worst was, since I am a teacher, getting ink pen on myself because as we all know, it is difficult to get ink pen out of your clothes unless, of course you have some stain remover or something like that on hand at ALL TIMES. Which of course, you would think me, having perfectionism, would tell me to do! But--I never had a Tide Pen to GO when I needed it, which made me even more CRAZY!!

I also had a problem finishing projects, decorating my house (even though I LOVE doing this!) because I knew that I would finish a project and then feel like something was "off." I wasn't doing the things I love--drawing, finishing projects at my house, crafting, wearing outfits I loved, and even painting my nails. I was so worried that everything I did wouldn't turn out "the right way." 

For example, this happened this week. Things like this USED to DRIVE MY PERFECTIONISM CRAZY!!! Because my toes were no longer "perfect," in my eyes of course!

But who says that there has to be a right way? I would give up on so many things, not do the things that I love and keep telling myself that I needed to do better. I was driving myself CRAZY!!

This is how perfectionism works:

From Bitesize Bio: Brainfood for Biologists.
I was always in this cycle: setting unrealistic expectations for myself, blaming myself for not meeting the expectations, losing my confidence, procrastinating on completing or doing my "fun tasks" (sometimes not doing them at all), and then expecting myself to do EVEN BETTER the next time to make-up for my lack of success. Of course, I could never meet the original standard I set. So I basically just kept re-setting myself up for failure. Every. Single. Time.

The thing that I have realized as I look back at my issues with perfectionism is that I was the one holding myself to some ridiculous, unattainable standards. I could never meet the standards I set for myself. I don't even know if I ever knew what my unrealistic expectations or standards were. I just knew everything I did didn't feel "good enough."

My therapist always explained this feeling of "something not being right" or "never good enough" as going back to our cavemen ancestors. When you think about it, it makes sense. Back then people were always on the lookout for enemies, for their next meal, for protection from the weather, etc. Their brains were always on "high alert." I guess you could say my OCD and perfectionism kind of work in this way--my brain always has this "high alert" feeling. It's always checking out what is out of place, what is "wrong," in every situation. My alert system is always ON. It never turns off, and it always find something "out of place," something "not quite right"--even when nothing is. My brain plays tricks on me. 

I've learned to quiet this part of my brain; it hasn't been easy. But I've been able to do it. I'm just starting to get back into crafting and art and other things that I enjoy. I don't feel "off" when I walk out the door after I get dressed. I spilled coffee all over my lap last week and just dabbed it up and didn't worry about cleaning it out of my pants until I got home. At first I told myself, "You need to clean that. You look messy." But I realized, I'm the only one holding myself to this standard of what is "clean" and "presentable." Who cares that I spilled coffee on my pants? That's life, eh? (Btw--I'm trying out being a Canadian today!)

From now on, I will no longer allow my perfectionism to bother me! I have been doing really great at this the past year! I've had some serious exposure therapies** that were very challenging for me, and I am SO happy I did them because I am where I am now. I am currently telling my perfectionism to kiss it. 

**Exposure therapy works by creating opportunities for the patient to unlearn feared, dangerous, or threatening associations. Specifically, in exposure therapy, patients are exposed to feared objects or thoughts again and again until their anxiety has decreased. (from, search: OCD-->treatment-->coping)

I've realized, even though I've known this my whole life (I just had to start believing it), that nobody's perfect. I am not perfect. No one expects me to be perfect. I need to give myself a break and allow myself time to relax and breathe. Life should be fun, not exhausting. I am happy to say that this hurdle I seriously have worked very hard on and have really come a long way. Much of this aspect of my OCD/perfectionism doesn't even loop in my head anymore. I have become good at killing it in it's tracks (as just opposed to stopping it--I prefer thinking of it as killing my loop. Much more powerful!). 

And So is das Leben. C'lest la vie. That's life.

Love and happiness <3 Holly

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