The following was from an assignment I gave myself during one of my writing classes. Write about “perfection”. I started out writing a letter to myself in 2nd-person and then dropped that to the more intimate 1st-person. I like this piece because it revolves around a little slice-of-life moment(story-tellingish) but still reads like a journal entry.
You’ve been struggling over the last three months with a frenzied, panicked, obsessive voice in your head. A voice that has taken you to a place where fear controls and motivates you. I think I know the name of that voice: Perfection.
Perfection is a very rigid, humorless, moody bitch who is tightly wound and forever nagging, nit-picking, and chanting the mantra “not good enough”. She actually is not a voice but an evil spirit that took over your soul¬¬– she entered your body and took hold of you.
Weeks went by before you realized that she had taken hold of you. You realized it almost a month ago while lying with Mike in your in-laws guest bedroom, a room with no heat, a bed that wasn’t big enough with pillows that were flat and unsupportive. A room that used to be your mother in law’s art studio, so it had canvases of almost-finished paintings. An old nude woman with folds and wrinkles resembling one of those pug dogs. A narrow alley way with cobblestone and a bright blotch of flowers at the far end. It was very late and you felt disconnected from your body as if you were floating above it. You lay on your back and Mike whispered, “Lay on my chest.” And suddenly you began to weep, falling too hard back into your body so hard that you felt a sharp pain in the center of your chest. You realized then that something had been wrong for a long time. Mike asked you why you were weeping and brushed the tears off your cheeks. An image floated to your mind. It was from just a few hours before. The family was gathered around the dinning room table eating Chinese food and Sushi, and you were in between Mike and your mother in law and to Mike’s left and all at the end of the table were Mike’s brothers and father. They were laughing and reminiscing about childhood days. You felt a pain in your chest that you mistook for a piece of stuck rice. But it stayed throughout dinner and only dissolved later while you took a hot shower after putting your daughter to bed. Now, sitting in the bed next to Mike, you realized that that pain was your heart. You turn to Mike and you say something that both surprises and relieves you: I miss you. I miss Chelsea. I feel like I’ve been on a treadmill with the speed cranked up and just now, after hours and hours of running on it, I realize I’m tired.
Life is weird and human beings minds work in mysterious ways. Somehow, that moment in bed with Mike was a turning point in a long block of time of feeling shitty and weepy and tired and fearful.
After we got home, I started to struggle with falling asleep and had nights and nights of tossing and turning and a few days passed and I realized I was feeling so fearful all the time and anxious and tired and this feeling of never being good enough clouded every moment I had with Mike and Chelsea, and I began to have obsessive thoughts at night about not being around enough, not doing enough around the house, not being a good enough mother and wife. I lay awake at night, staring at the white ceiling fan in my room, the hum of the humidifier and the thin streak of light that leaked out from the long heavy curtain on the window behind my bed. My thoughts raced, like a train going downhill, out of control, the brakes broken. Suddenly one lucid thought came: I counted up the hours I’d been home over the last few weeks and realized I was feeling sad because I wanted to be home more. I wanted to slow down. Simply put, I wanted a day off. Something I hadn’t done in almost a year.
This is the thing that I really want to say or rather explain. Once we got home from his parents an dI found myself knee-deep in insomnia and obsessive thinking, I started to journal like crazy. I realized through my writing and also talking with Mike from the time we got home until now that I went from being a person who flowed with the moment to a person frightened of the good moments going away. Frightened by the successes I was having with my work. Frightened by the happiness of my daughter. The easy adjustment Mike and I made to parenthood. Simply put, I was frightened by all the happiness in my life, happiness that seemed to come as a delightful surprise and a delightful relief. As things got better and better the evil spirit of perfection came in and she whispered, her foul rank, dank, puke-smelling breath in my face, “If you don’t try to control all this, it might go away. After all, nothing comes easy and nothing stays good for long.” So I obsessed over projects an increased my working-hours, fearful it all might go away. Within two and half months of this, I crashed. Right there in my in-laws guest bedroom/artist studio.
Perfection’s voice began in a smelly whisper and over time and as my successes continued she got louder and louder and eventually I lost my voice. I only spoke to myself in her voice. After all she only came out to Mike and me. She hid from everyone else. She wanted to work a silent torture on me.
Actually, come to think of it, perfection really is not a spirit or something separate from me…nope. She’s a part of me that came from a way of coping with chaotic episodes in my childhood and teenage years. She came to me at age fifteen when I felt like dying from the chaos, and she helped to “raise me”. But the problem is I am raised and don’t need her any more. She needs to retire. Perfection helped me overcome compulsive eating and lazy behavior. She helped me to achieve. But I don’t need her any more because she ‘s trying to help someone who doesn’t need to be pushed into things any more.
I don’t need perfectionism any more because it doesn’t work; it makes me anxious. At one time perfection was the antidote to my depressed child-self. But I am not a child anymore.
Simple: it doesn’t work and that’s why this time around with her she hasn’t done what she intended to do which was help me through a challenging time.
The challenging time was an influx of work and balancing that with my daughter and working through figuring out how I am going to be both a working-woman and a mother to a toddler who I want to be around.
So…..perfection walked in and said, “Okay, let me take over. I’ll help you manage this….her managing was a disaster because her way is to use guilt and expectations and over-planning. None of those things work.
I have to end soon because of time and the just a week ago I would have freaked out at this¬– not having it finished for my reading night. But the epiphany I came to was this: When I first had Chelsea, I took everything one moment at time. I used to set small small goals. Like, today I want to open the curtains and bring Chelsea outside. Over the first year and a half, I allowed each of these goals to grow but always kept it to a daily basis. I stopped doing that, and that’s what really did me in.
I am an adult now, and I can trust myself to get done things that need to get done, and it all doesn’t have to be done in one day. I can set boundaries, but they don’t have to be rigid. I am in a different place now as a parent and as a business owner. I really only answer to myself now, as a parent and in my work. This is new for me…. I’ve been someone’s little sister, daughter, employee for 28 years, and now….now it’s me running the ship. At first it scared me, and I lost trust– so I turned to my old friend perfection. Then I realized perfection was no longer the right friend to turn to….I need to turn to me. I have had the answer the whole time. Trust. Stay in the moment. Let go. Let. Allow. BE!
So that moment that I came to in Mike’s parents’ house…the moment was the first in a series of episodes I had that led to the “perfection epiphany”. It’s funny how what it took for me to come back to earth was his family and then being with his family made me realize I miss my own and how missing my own made me realize I need to slow down and look at what I am doing. After that first night of sleeplessness once we were home, I redid my schedule to have a day off during the week and boiled nighttime work to only two nights a week. I decided to set better time boundaries and rededicated myself to the “no business before 1 pm” rule. Even though I am–even with the craziness of those two months–home with my daughter more than most working parents (I never work before 1 pm in the afternoon and am home most nights by 5 or 6) the amount and intensity of the work and the way I obsessed over it and woke up extra early and stayed up late and extended hours during the day and never took a day off–all added up over time.