When people think of perfectionists, they think of straight A students terrified at the thought of an A-, control freak CEOs who have it all under control, and PTA moms with perfect teeth and even more perfect children. I am not that kind of perfectionist.
I have a learning disability in addition to my depression. I started receiving special education services early in elementary school. Resources were limited as I was at a small rural school (five kids in my grade!) I presented an extra challenge because I was a twice-exceptional student, meaning I was both gifted and learning disabled, which made accommodating me in my small class extremely difficult. Exciting ideas like pushing my desk up against the teacher's desk, having me be in my own independent "group" of one for many subjects, and building giant foam-board blinders for me were some of the ways in which the school attempted to improve my educational experience. My self-esteem didn't exactly thrive under these conditions. By middle school I simply didn't attempt work that was at all difficult for me, out of fear that my efforts would fall grossly short and I would be embarrassingly and publicly lumped in with the "special ed kids" again. My only hope I thought, at a time when our brains are wired to prioritize socializing above all else, was to be seen as rebellious rather than remedial. Better a defiant zero than an earned 70%. Fast forward to my junior year of high school, and I had a 1.68 GPA, and an exceptional score on my SATs. I was seriously ashamed of my challenges, and even my high school boyfriend didn't know about my bad grades. All of this is to say, I come to my immobilizing perfectionism honestly.
In a recent conversation with my therapist, she noted that I was making a lot of great progress, and really building positive momentum in my life. Then she asked "So, what are you going to do when you hit your next setback?" I have historically had two options when met with any kind of challenge:
1. Do a super awesome job in a manic and semi-obsessive way.
2. Don't even try, there's no point, I suck at this.
Even the manic awesome job can often get gobbled up by option two if I meet any kind of resistance or roadblock once I get started. I can't tell you how many obligations I have ghosted on when things got tough. None of them are proud moments for me.
So my therapist's question was a tough one for me. How would I keep showing up, even when I inevitably messed up or came up against a new challenge that seemed out of my realm of talents? I sat. I thought. And after a long pause I said "I guess, my third option is, stop and be real?" To me, stop and be real means, don't keep whatever bad noise is going on inside your head to yourself. Instead, face whoever is listening, and be honest with them about what is going on with you. It has only come to my attention since I became a mother, that often people actually really like it when you are straightforward and honest about the ways in which you are not perfect. Kristina Kuzmic has created video after viral video of her dropping her "Truth Bombs" most of which are at their core overtures to, you guessed it, stop and be real.
So when I had writer's block because all I could think about was my depression, these were my options:
1. Ghost: Give up on the blog, never post again, and allow it to quietly die a year later when my hosting expired.
2. Tell myself I would start writing again when I had the new site up, and obsess over the details of the new site long enough that we revert to option 1. This option almost won.
3. Stop and Be Real: Write about it so I could move on and write about other things.
I chose option three, and not only did I clear my writer's block, I had the best readership of any article I had ever written, and I had people I had never met reaching out to me to thank me for writing about my depression and reducing the stigma of mental health diagnoses. I was totally overwhelmed and moved to tears by how much people appreciated my being real with them. I was also motivated to keep moving and keep writing.
I hope I can keep choosing to stop and be real. I have a long history of deeply ingrained habits and fears to push aside every time the choice presents itself. I am hoping as readers you can help me stay present and open on this wild ride. So stop and be real. When you're out for a drink with your friends and something is nagging at you, or you feel less than, stop and be real with them. When an anxiety is weighing you down in your relationship with a loved one, stop and be real with them about it, even if you think you're being silly. When someone asks you how you are, and you are really hurting, or frustrated, or exhausted, stop and be real with them. You might be surprised how well people respond.