I’ve known that I’m a perfectionist for years. I actually wore my perfectionism like a badge for a long time. Taking great pride in the assignments I turned in or the cookies that were just right. A few years ago I found out that perfectionism isn’t healthy. That there is a gaping difference between appearing perfect and striving to become better. Thank you Brené Brown!
So I started on a journey to “become better.” I started a bullet journal, I made goals, I tracked habits. I needed to drink enough water every day, I needed to exercise, I needed to pray, study, write, eat enough fruits and vegetables, serve others, document gratitude, take more pictures, on and on. They were all simple things. Needful things. Healthy things. I was doing pretty good so I added some extras. I needed to paint everyday, run the dishwasher every day, vacuum, read a book, volunteer in my child’s class, help them study extra, master bread baking, cheese making, organize like Marie Kondo. On and on.
They were all simple, needful, healthy things. And then the drowning came. It was as much of a shock to me as it was to my husband. He felt so utterly betrayed when he ripped that knife from my hands. And I sunk to the floor sobbing. I was trying so damn hard. So DAMN hard. I was doing so good. I was keeping the house clean. I was praying. I was being grateful. I was drinking water and eating fruits and vegetables. I was taking vitamins. I was exercising. I was praying and studying and reading and being creative. I was checking all the boxes. But why? All of that was supposed to make my life simple and healthy. I was supposed to be okay. But there I was, on the floor with a stinging wrist and a defeated heart. I had given life my very best and it still wasn’t enough. By the literal grace of God, I was able to go to therapy where I learned how harmful those little boxes I was checking are. I realized I was climbing up on top of each box I checked, thinking I was getting somewhere, but all I got was a more painful fall.
I stopped making boxes to check for a long time. My goals changed drastically. I now just needed to make it through each daunting day, breath by sad little breath. Starting to heal was insanely harder than trying so damn hard to be perfect. It hurt more and I was sorely tempted to go back to being a perfectionist. At least I was functioning then. At least my family wasn’t eating cereal for dinner. At least the house was clean. At least I was useful. I didn’t like this part of me. This scared, raw, vulnerable version. Only weeks before I was planning trips and voicing my opinion in important meetings. I was teaching and constantly serving others. I was strong and capable.
When the time came, it felt like saying a final goodbye to a loved one you want so desperately in your life, but you know they’re toxic. You know you can’t heal until they’ve left. So I said goodbye to perfectionist Amy. And I mourned for a while. Sometimes she still calls, begging to come back and I have to be firm. I have to remember why I sent her away.
And now, I am still scared, raw, and vulnerable but I’m finding new strength and capability. One that doesn’t come from checking boxes but from pushing them aside. My mom and sister came to visit this weekend and I didn’t mop the floor, or scrub the bathroom or spray the letters off the window my daughter wrote in a piece of cheddar cheese (apparently it works like a crayon!) a few days ago. Perfectionist Amy would have.
I didn’t decorate for Halloween this year. Instead, I told my girls they got to do it all on their own, and boy did they. When I found myself beginning to criticize I shut my mouth and walked away. Perfectionist Amy would have placed all that decor she made herself on perfect display. I promised to bring breadsticks to a Halloween party earlier this week. I intended to bake them myself, I love to bake, but it didn’t happen, so I bought them instead. Perfectionist Amy would have baked them from scratch and at the last minute so they were hot. But I’m not perfectionist Amy anymore. These are my new triumphs. I am practicing imperfection. I am letting myself breathe deeper and live a more meaningful life. And every time I let go of some stupid box I feel I must check, every time I push it aside instead of climbing on top of it. I grow stronger and more capable. I could have mopped the floor and cleaned the window. I could have decorated and baked those breadsticks but instead, I chose to be calm. I chose to take the time to write. To play with my kids. To talk to my husband. My family and I still celebrate when I make dinner or bake bread, I feel immensely proud of myself when the house is clean. But I also celebrate when we eat cereal and when I choose to hold my babies instead of folding the laundry. Because the right choice looks different each day. The right choice is accepting your imperfections, not toxic perfection.
Note from the editors: If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States and is free, confidential, and available to everyone. Please call: 1-800-273-8255