You know when you’re in a job interview and the employer asks, “What’s your biggest weakness?” and the cliched answer is, “I’m a perfectionist,” We respond this way because people equate perfectionism with attention to detail, care, hard work, and dedication. It’s an asset rather than a weakness. Well, I’m here to tell you that it is absolutely a weakness and it impedes both my life and recovery.
My perfectionism isn’t the reason for my mental illness, but it does exacerbate my bipolar disorder. I put so much pressure on myself to perform to an invisible standard that even the smallest mistake is worth crucifixion. Even as I write this, it’s almost impossible to write past the voice in my head that’s saying:
“Your writing is shit.”
“Nobody is going to want to read this.”
“This isn’t going to measure up to half the things that other people are writing.”
“Why do you even bother?”
My perfectionism is impeding my recovery because I expected that by the end of the eight-week day-hospital program that I’ve been participating in, I would be better. I would be fixed. I have tried so damn hard in the program, but I keep wondering: could I have done more? I showed up everyday, did the work, yet I’m still not myself. I’m still broken.
I put all my hope into this program fixing me and it hasn’t, despite my best efforts. I expressed this feeling during my group therapy and I was met with a chorus of compliments on what I have overcome in the past two months: I’ve become more social, I finished reading 2 books, I started driving again, I took the metro, I went to Costco, and began writing. The fact that I showed up to the program everyday, weather permitting, by bicycle, despite side effects from medication and the heaviness of depression, represents the sheer will that I have to get better.
Except I keep thinking that these successes are small, ordinary, and regular. This belittles the Herculean effort it took to complete these tasks and the time and energy I have put into my recovery. Without these champions of my success I would have exited the program thinking I had achieved nothing.
My inability to see my achievements, not only in this program, but in life in general has prompted me to start a positivity journal. This sounds corny, but I figure that if I can pick out one or two things that I did successfully everyday, I may realize that I am making progress. I’m really talking about the smallest of positive moments: grocery shopping with minimal anxiety, socializing, writing a blog post, etc.
I have had to remind myself that there is no magic pill, no cure-all, no quick fix for mental illness. I won’t suddenly be cured of bipolar disorder or of my perfectionism. All of my achievements will build upon one another brick-by-brick until I build myself back up to be strong. But until then, I’m still just a girl in progress.