AnotherFace of Mental Illness: I Am Not a Perfectionist
I used to always define myself as a flake.It was easier. I didn’t understand sarcasm, I NEVER had witty comebacks(although, there was this one time… oh no, wait, never mind, I just dreamt thatI was witty once) and I generally didn’t ‘get’ the punch line to the joke. I kept my mouth shut, laughed whenothers did, and if I laughed hysterically at something no one was laughing at,I boiled it down to being ditzy.
And I was really, really good at ‘playing’the ditzy card. It made mecarefree, and supposedly unaware of other’s opinions. It became one the bestcoping mechanisms, even if it was also just a way to numb myself from beingmyself, in the fears that others wouldn’t like me, or the way I thought. Yeah,yeah, why would I diminish myself so, you ask? I didn’t realize that it I wassubconsciously doing it ALL the time. Yes, I sometimes made a decision to bethat way, but it wasn’t an act. It became who I was because I practised myselfinto habit because I believed that was all I was worth.
There were times, when I was little, that I felt so bad, that at culturalfamily-friendly gatherings, I would lock myself into the bathroom and sing loudenough so I could be heard outside the bathroom door, because I desperatelywanted to be heard… and saved. I wanted someone to notice that I was hurtingand to care for me, unconditionally and rescue me from the void, which Irealized in my early adult years, was depression.
When I came to terms with my mental health challenges, it was when I becameinvolved in a home-based, network marketing business. This company cared (andstill cares) just as much about growing the individual as it does growing thebusiness. Not surface level stuff either. Growing the person in such a way thatsomeone could transform one’s own life and affect the lives of others.
Initially, I didn’t believe that thepractice of self-help was a legit thing. Of course we need to help ourselves,who doesn’t know that??? But, all the same, I threw myself into a world of“voodoo” personal growth “crap”, and I started to practise the “witchcraft”that would supposedly make me believe that I was more than I gave myself creditfor… “hocus pocus” that would make me believe that I had the ability to helpothers find their way, and it all came from the perspective of mental healthchallenges. (Can you tell I didn’t believe in this stuff?) But, through this, Ifinally actually realized that theonly person who could save me, was me.
And, then poof! Well, not quite poof,exactly, but one day I noticed something…
I started to grow into the person I alwayswanted to be. I worked intentionally to be all the qualities that I was lookingfor in others that I wanted to partner up with. From a sincere place, I felt my energy was cool, confident,and magnetic, so that people would want to join my business so that they couldhelp others too, with anything from money challenges to mental healthchallenges. “Your vibe attracts your tribe,” is a quote that resonated with mea lot.
And I projected professionalism—which ultimately became my downfall.
A year after my second son was born, I had gotten pregnant, and subsequentlylost the baby girl in a late miscarriage. It wasn’t the first time I had a lateloss, in fact the first late loss was extremely traumatic, but this time itstuck with me differently because I felt like it was my last chance to have ababy. Financially, there were concerns about having another baby, but thennature took care of that concern for us anyways. I hated the lack of control Ifelt from the loss, and the anger stemmed from that sentiment. I started totell myself a story to justify how bad I felt, and I felt destroyed, so thatwas the story, the truth I told myself. That miscarriage destroyed me and Ibegan to pick up the pieces of my soul and mourn… I wasn’t just mourning of thelife lost, I was mourning what my life was supposedto be. No one would ever fault me for feeling or thinking this way, it wastotally understandable and justifiable, right?
Since I was very private about the pregnancy and loss, no one knew the mentalstate I was in. I became super good at hiding the mourning, the depression andthe anger, and I dove into my network marketing business, with the intentionsto take back control of the things I could control… such as finances. Ipractised positivity and working on myself, soaking up every quote, everymotivational video, pouring belief into myself. I created the world ofunstoppable Sarah. Confident Sarah. Ambitious Sarah. I’m smarter than youthink, Sarah. No, seriously, I have not been brainwashed, Sarah. I’m going tochange the world, Sarah.
I came to terms with the fact that I hadmental health challenges and that those challenges did not have to define the personI wanted to be, but they would always be a part of me. Acceptance can be a hugestep for someone with mental illness, maybe not for everyone, but it was forme.
I became a presence that was big and ambitious. People around me figured that Iwas ‘killing it’ at my business (even though I wasn’t), and commented how itseemed that my personality had shifted a bit and I seemed more positive andhappy! It was like I had it all figured out, I was completely put together andthat I was a force to reckon with. I knew where I was going with this business,come with me and let’s have some fun, was something I commonly said.
I wanted this to be how people saw me,because I did and still do believe these things about me and that achieving thegoals I set out for myself are obtainable. But this vibe? The one that I workedso hard on projecting? The professional who was going to transform the world?
It made me completely, utterly,unrelatable.
I commonly heard, “You’re going to doawesome!” “I could never do what you do.” “I’m glad this is working for you,but it’s not for me.” And other comments, which I thought were just excuses tocover up the fear they had for not wanting to take control of their lives,which is absolutely true for many, if I can be so frank. But maybe thesecomments were in fact the stories that people told themselves about themselves,just like how my truth was that my miscarriage destroyed me. But all I keptthinking was if you know that about me, why wouldn’t you want to do this with me?
It was because they could never be anything like ‘the me’ they perceived me tobe.
And, neither could I. I worked so hard for others to take me seriously, but Iwasn’t that person. It was justanother face of my mental illness.
So, this is what I realized about myself (partly because someone whom Irespected a lot, but didn’t know very well at the time, called me out on it).
1. I wanted people to think I had it all together, and was striving forperfection and greatness. Why? Because, in reality, I was a hot mess. I wasn’ttrying to be insincere about who I was, but I couldn’t imagine anyone wouldever want to associate with me knowing how messed up I really was.
2. I wanted people to perceive more of mysurroundings than actually existed. If I was having a meeting with someoneonline, I made sure my backdrop was the perfect backdrop. Why? Because Ithought that their perspective of what was behind me, would be what they wouldsee in front of them as they moved forward… if that makes sense. If not, thenlook in a mirror in the bathroom and see what is behind you, say the toilet.Now imagine what the image would see? The toilet. Do you want to ‘show off’ thetoilet, or would you rather the image perceive your bathroom as a spa? Thiswasn’t about being deceptive per se, but because I was scared and didn’t wantto show people how much chaos I actually lived in.
3. My ‘truth’ was holding me back and itwas terrifying to let go of that truth. It became so much a part of me,defining the person that I had become, that I was blind to the fact that thestory could be anything other than it was. When I did an exercise to rewritethis particular story in a positive way, I was paralyzed. I shook and crieduncontrollable tears (in a room full of people, I might add) because I didn’trealize until that moment that the pain was hard to let go of… this is not tosay that I shouldn’t feel bad or sad about something that hurt me. But, Ineeded to be grateful for something positive that came out of something reallynegative and focus on that in combination with my healing. And in one of themost gruelling AHA moments in mylife, I realized that I had been lying to myself since the day I lost that baby(and this applied to many other past events/moments in my life, when I did theexercise again on my own). But there is always another truth to the same story.
4. I thought that people would like me moreknowing I was aiming for something bigger. I kept telling myself that it didn’tmatter what people thought of me, but actually I was feeding them snapshots ofmy life to mould what they thought of me. I know this sounds manipulative and Iwish I could say it any other way. But I wanted so badly to be liked, to bestrong, to be powerful, that I ended up trading in my true power by lettingothers’ opinions of me mean more than mine. Everyone has problems in their lives. I don’t know what’sgoing on in their lives, anymore than they know of mine. But, if I spoke about how hard it wasto get out of bed that particular morning, how would that affect what theythought of me. I didn’t realize that wallowing and complaining are not the samethings as being open to discussion about the difficulties, so I kept quietabout them, even to myself. But really, how would anyone ever believe I wasthere for them without be truthful about what was happening with me?
5. Regardless of labelling myself as aflake and ditz, or a professional and perfectionist, that I was using them ascoping mechanisms to numb myself from yet another fear, whatever that fear mayhave been and may be moving forward. The labels made it easier. But they werenever true.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t actually trulypossess some those characteristics. There are times that I am so oblivious to asituation, that I joke about being flaky, not to make fun of myself, butbecause I find it funny that I can be thatoblivious sometimes. And I like getting ready and doing my makeup or whatevernow, because I realized that self-care made me feel good about myself formyself. Taking a few extra minutes for myself before the demands of the day iscalming, and I like to feel that I made an effort for me. And so yes, if I ammeeting someone, I may have taken a couple of extra minutes to get ready tomake my makeup a little more perfect, because it made me feel confident.Everyday I struggle to work on myself, sometimessomething as simple as brushing my teeth or not going through the drive thru orbinge watching Netflix. Every single day, I am torn in so many directionsbetween a son with special needs or a mother with dementia, or a father with aterminal illness, or… I have to be so many things to so many people that Isometimes get lost: Mom? Wife? Daughter? Leader? Homemaker? Entrepreneur?Friend? Cheerleader? These are thoughts that constantly run through my head.And it is exhausting even if others can’t see it on my face, and I bet peoplefrequently feel like this with or without the mental health challenges.
So no, I am not a perfectionist. I’m just the best me I know how to be, howevermessed up that is. And I don’t have to be afraid of feeling vulnerable—I’mlearning that now. It’s my true messy, chaotic self. But I’m still trying everyday to make this one better than the last. Because this, THIS is my true faceand I want me to know it.