The Other Kind Of Perfectionist
by Erin Honor
I have spent the vast majority of my life trying to deny my humanity.
I have fought day in and day out to keep up this guise (that nobody’s buying) that I am something *more than.* Something above an beyond. I wanted the world to believe that I was the kindest, most well-mannered. I wanted the world to believe that I never got angry, never had an “off-day,” never cursed, never failed, never lied, never put myself before others. No. Not me. I loved each and every being unconditionally and would destroy myself day in and day out to make sure that everyone around me was okay.
Never in my life have I identified as a perfectionist. I couldn’t be one, it was impossible. I had friends who identified as Type-1 personalities; perfectionist. They were impeccably neat and tidy with color-coordinated closets and perfectly symmetrical handwriting. They played instruments and sports and practiced each hobby for hours every single day without fail. They stayed studying up until 3 in the morning the night before exams and any grade below a 95 was unacceptable.
I was not one of these people… I wanted to be, but I wasn’t. My closet had more items on the floor than on actual hangers, the bottom of my backpack was filled with important papers and if those papers did happen to make it into a folder, it would be an unorganized one. I played sports and music but I didn’t practice as often as I should have. I valued sleep over studying and was perfectly okay with getting a B on an exam. I was always scattered – dabbling in anything and everything. I was decent at it all, I could kind-of draw a picture, I placed at swim meets and got to do more challenging routines in dance class. Still, I was never truly talented at everything.
And I couldn’t handle it.
One of the main reasons that I was never highly skilled at any one thing was due to the fear of failure. When I would draw, I couldn’t draw hands, feet, or legs. I tried and tried. I read every how-to-draw book, looked up every online tutorial and still couldn’t do it.
So I quit.
I tried to learn guitar a few years ago, something that I have always dreamed of doing. I practiced every single day; strumming the same chord over and over again until I could get it perfect. When I finally got two chords down pat, I attempted to seamlessly transition from one chord to the next. I tried over and over again until my fingers were too raw from pressing down the string to continue.
I couldn’t do it.
Instead of doing what a rational human would do (keep trying every day until I eventually could do it), I stopped trying. I sucked at it. I was the worst. I had no talents. Every person is supposed to have at least one thing that they are gifted at. I had nothing. I was good at nothing. I had always identified as an artistic person – but that was moronic because I was in no way, shape, or form creative. I was a failure.
If I couldn’t do something successfully, I couldn’t do it at all. I could not handle being a failure.
Again, never in my life have I identified as a perfectionist. I liken perfectionists to successful and driven people who work multiple job, have set paths in life, and, more-likely-than-not, don’t have panic attacks where they sit in the middle of the home cleaners aisle at Duane Reade and sob like a 4 year old. Yeah. I’m not perfectionist.
It is strange though. I was, for the first time, explaining all of this to my therapist the other day and she looked at me and laughed,
“You realize that you’re a perfectionist, right?”
I had never realized that there are different types of perfectionists – there are those who have the ability to embrace and utilize it in finding personal success, and there are those (like me) who are torn apart by it, who liken not being perfect to not being worthy of even existing.
One of the biggest questions that is constantly on my mind is that of how and why I developed an eating disorder. I had the ideal home life growing up, I did well in school, I played sports… But I was depressed and disgusted by myself.
Because I wasn’t perfect.
Because I never identified as a perfectionist, I never made the connection between my eating disorder and my need to be more than human. I needed to be pristine in every way, shape, and form. I could never speak or laugh too loudly, I could never say something that could come off as unintelligent, I could never put my own well being before that of someone else, I could never say curse words, I could never feel anger towards anyone (unless it was myself). Ever.
I think that I may have begun to associate thin with pristine. I don’t even mean this in an aesthetic way. I wanted to be a perfect being – not a human. I wanted this body to disappear. My body was a clear sign of my being human – imperfect – impure. I wanted to do away from it.
As I write this, I am completely aware of the fact that I sound like a crazy person. Honestly, I kind of am. I know that in the recovery community, calling yourself crazy is frowned-upon, and I really do get that. I don’t really shy away from calling myself crazy because, honestly, I really can be crazy sometimes. The definition of crazy is literally “a mentally deranged person,” and often that is me… or the mentally ill part of me. My mind is sick, and I accept and own up to that. I think that denying the crazy parts of us can actually impair the road to recovery. Recovery isn’t all about meditating and manifesting and self-love talk. Sometimes recovery is screaming and tearing your hair out, sometimes recovery is wandering the streets at 1am in your pajamas because you’re manic and can’t control your own actions.
You may be thinking – how are those things recovery? Because I acknowledge them and am actively trying to lessen their occurrences. I don’t see enough people talking about the really ugly parts of mental illness. I’m sure that a portion of that is due to the fear of triggering others (I seriously need to write a post on my issues with ‘trigger warnings’), and I get that 100%. Still, I can’t be the only person that actual finds reading about the ugliest parts of the recoveries of other as the most healing.
By accepting the ‘crazy’ parts of myself, I am forcing myself to accept the fact that I am actually a human being. I am not perfect. I have feelings and I am trying to, after all these years, allow myself to actually feel them.
It’s terrifying and overwhelming…
But I really do think that it’s worth it.