I have been a perfectionist for as long as I can remember. When I was in grade school, I had a 504 plan to aid me in my battle with anxiety. They tested me on a variety of skills to see exactly where I was struggling. I was given a puzzle and asked to complete it as quickly as I could. I sat there and moved with relative speed but continually went back and checked my work. As I continued to do this, I ran out the clock. What they saw and later explained to me, there were no issues in my ability to solve the puzzle. My inability to move forward without looking back inhibited my chance of success.
Having anxiety most of my life, I’ve learned to cope in various ways. Some are healthy and some are not. My obsessive nature has resulted in academic success but has given me a lot of stumbling blocks. Combatting my perfectionism comes with a lot of self-doubts. That’s the struggle right, trusting yourself.
As I’ve taken the time to learn more about myself, I see where this perfectionism was born. It was nurtured. I only listened to compliments that fed my need for perfectionism. At some point, my self-image became distorted. I relied on perfectionism to calm my anxiety. Once again, I was feeding the narrative that without perfectionism I would fail or not be good enough.
Throughout this journey, I’ve met a fair amount of people who are like me. They rely on compulsory behaviors to calm their anxieties and control the outcome. Let me say now, it leads to a bigger issue. At some point, your tolerance for anxiety becomes too low. You will have to rely on your compulsions for any relief. I’m happy to say that I’ve come a long way from being at this point but I still struggle with my anxiety on a regular basis.
During this past semester, I worked hard to maintain good grades. I started classes a week late and had surgery close to the start of the semester. I felt like I was automatically behind. I felt the need to reach my high standards despite the external stress of my personal life. The more pressure I put on myself, the more I procrastinated. Confronting perfectionism when it’s systematic is incredibly difficult. It’s like rewiring a computer but it’s not impossible.
I got myself on a schedule. Once I completed my work, I submitted it right away. I took out the time to sit and redo the work that I’ve already done. This system started to bring me a lot of peace. It allowed my weekends to be free of stress. That was a foreign concept to me. Having free time provoked anxiety. Away from the confines of my schedule, I didn’t know what to do. My brain had a lot of time to think.
I haven’t solved this problem. I still struggle with perfectionism and anxiety. Like anything, this is a journey. I may always struggle with this and that’s okay. Finding a balance that works to combat your perfectionism but not feed anxiety is difficult. I’m glad to be working with professionals who specialize in these types of issues. It allows me to move forward while learning about myself.
If you’re struggling with perfectionism or anxiety, I’d like to tell you it’s going to be okay. Sometimes this journey can feel like a treacherous climb but it won’t always feel that way. What I would tell you at this moment is you are enough. You are worthy. Your work ethic or performance does not define who you are as a person. Your relationships are not dependent on your perfectionism. You are enough as you are. I know as you step away from these behaviors, it provokes a lot of anxiety. The more you work at doing less, the less anxiety you will have. It’s okay to trust yourself.