My perfectionism, like other aspects of my personality, seems to be deeply layered. I peel off one unnecessary sheet and there’s another underneath it I didn’t see before. Another such layer was recently revealed and the shedding has begun.
This is the layer that claims that balance means being and doing everything that’s important to me on some level all of the time. Let me give you a glimpse of what this looks like on a daily basis
I think journaling is worthwhile so I better make time for it everyday.
An hour of focused reading helps me feel productive since books are a major source of light in my life.
Hiking is the soul of my existence so I should also do that everyday.
But I’m also an artist so I should definitely paint every single day.
My health is a priority too so I should make most of my meals at home using high quality, organic, mostly locally sourced ingredients; on that note I better fit in at least 30 minutes of vigorous exercise.
I hope to work on deepening my friendships so maybe I should reply to some texts and like some posts, and make some plans for early next week. I’ll worry about whether or not I can keep them when the time comes.
I’m moving in three months so I should do something off my big checklist.
Oh and my car registration is due and I need a shower and to put away the dishes.
Oh and my boyfriend and I wanted to see that movie and making time for him is important.
Oops and how could I forget? I also need to work my shift at my job today.
But I’ve been thinking. Or rather I’ve been noticing: this is impossible. You can see how the “never enough time in the day” disorder, one championed by perfectionists, can quickly turn into a disease.
Maybe balance comes not from keeping each day perfectly stabilized and cut into neat little sections of life priorities, which is the equivalent of trying to keep the thesis identifiable in every sentence of an essay, but in allowing entire chapters to pertain to different stories, and confidently and curiously watching those weave together to form the novel that is my life.
This month’s chapter was a story of illness for me.
This isn’t a chapter I’d write into my own book if I had the option. Likely most of us wouldn’t, because most of us aren’t good writers. Illness and suffering are parts of life, and a novel without any suffering wouldn’t be any good.
But I fought being ill. I fought the concept of having a condition that I have to manage right now, and possibly for life (don’t worry, I’m fine.) The fighting almost made me sicker than the illness.
Surrendering to Reality
My sister has a rather extensive and trying history of illness, so I called her for advice about how to deal with the anxiety that comes from your body failing, for someone who’s not used to being sick. Her primary advice was to stop resisting being sick, and to go lay down.
When the hell do I have time to lay down between making sure I’m making dents in my life goals on a daily basis? If I made the spotlight of my life illness, then illness has won. If I put too much focus on health, then the rest of my life is out of balance, and a balanced life is needed for health, right?
But the truth is I didn’t have much time for painting and none for writing (see the date on my last post), because an inordinate amount of my time went into self care, doctors appointments, laying in bed, reconfiguring the only diet I’ve ever known, researching, and doing some crying.
At first I was trying to be sick and still be everything else I try to be everyday. Finally though, I surrendered and said, “for the time being, what I am is sick. My job is to be sick and to do what sick people do, which is try to get better.”
I had to let go of my attempt to control the uncontrollable and trust that my life would come back together, that we’d get back to the meat of the story after this unavoidable deviation.
Trust. That word keeps popping up. One head of the perfectionism dragon is lack of trust. We perfectionists try to control things by making them perfect.
As soon as I let go of that control and accepted that all I can do is live today from the position I am in, things improved greatly. I still had breakdowns, got anxious, hurt myself by googling symptoms, etc., but much of my day ran smoother and overall my experience improved.
A notable side effect of this surrender is that I found myself reaching out to others more. Since a leg of my support system, i.e. my body, had temporarily given out, I allowed myself to lean on friends a bit more than usual. This was healthy and beautiful.
Are you trying to skip a chapter right now? Are you busy asserting that this obstacle has nothing to do with the story of your life, and are you frustrated by this unnecessary detour? Can you maybe remember any other times when you saw something as an obstacle to be avoided or a detour to rush through, only to find that it changed the course of your life forever and you couldn’t imagine life if that hadn’t happened? Can you learn from that? Can you learn to trust?