This is Vic's Story
A quick search in the Merriam-Webster dictionary will tell you that perfectionism is “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable”. But this one-liner does a flimsy job at capturing what it is like to have a perfectionist in the driver’s seat of your subconscious, day in and day out. This one-liner also fails to highlight the role society plays in applauding chronic perfectionists, often perpetuating the cycle of toxic perfectionism in those with anxiety disorders.
The p-word stopped me from starting every task in life for years, from the most mundane to the ones requiring mastery. It is now, at the ripe age of 22, that I feel like I have finally found the cure to my perfectionism and have learned to start without all the stopping. Here’s how it happened.
From a young age, I had a fascination with that which I could not control 一 global warming, nuclear wars, natural disasters, dying 一 you know the typical things I am sure six-year-olds think about (kidding, seriously). I am not sure when obsessive thoughts became notifications in my mind but while my friends would play Nintendo DS in the back seat of our carpool to dance lessons, I would stare out the front of the car forming questions with the sky’s clouds. Spewing out streams of consciousness to whoever the driver was that day...
“Who’s at the front of the highway?”
“If it rains too hard, will we drown?”
“Do you think the world will turn counterclockwise one day?”
While the driver would often smile in awe of my “maturity” and “intelligence”, my brain would remain consumed by these questions way past when their smile would fade. For years, my perfectionistic tendencies brought people entertainment and their temporary joy gave me a sense of fulfillment so I did everything I could to continue being perfect. Perfect grades, perfect at dancing, perfect manners, perfect tooth brusher, perfect steak slicer, you get the idea. And it was when I realized I’d never feel inadequate if I pleased everyone else that I became a compliant worrier yet critical perfectionist (spoiler: and I didn’t stop this behaviour for years and years and years).
This is the part of the story where my perfectionism becomes part of my every move and every aspect of my life triggered my Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I would not leave my house without three kisses (no more or no less) from my dog, I would get off the subway cart if the doors were open for longer than 12 seconds, and I’d take pictures of the locks at work to make sure I’d closed them properly.
I had essentially no control over how my thoughts made me feel and because my obsessive patterns of behaviour were seen as cautious, calculated and never questioned by onlookers, I kept doing them. It was not until I had mindlessly almost ended up in a career in the hopes of making everyone else happy that I realized that who I truly was and who I presented myself as were completely incongruent because of my people-pleasing tendencies. This epiphany sent me into a downward spiral that absolutely transformed my life.
To have your mind draw a blank when a psychotherapist asks you “what makes YOU happy” is a terrifying feeling, but what can you expect when your thoughts and feelings have always taken a back seat to others? The adventure inward that I had to go on was a frustrating one to take at 22 years old but I couldn’t be more grateful it happened at the time that it did. With lots of IMPERFECT practice and reflection, I gained the strength to slow down my every thought and used the twisted perfectionistic standards I used to have, to give myself a life that is nothing short of extraordinary. Living for my own personal growth, development, and happiness has made me fall in love with the world again and has allowed me to rekindle the connections with people I lost when all I cared about was their approval.
While I still enjoy three kisses from my dog from time to time, I find so much pleasure in doing things organically, and I’ve learned to adore each part of my journey even when they don’t immediately strike me as seamless. Thanks to my psychotherapist, I live by the words “good enough for jazz” which essentially means we can make extraordinary things happen without them necessarily being perfect. Just might have to get that tattooed on me one day.
This is obviously a simplified version of a story that in reality had several vicious twists, turns, bends, and flips. However, I am sharing this with you for two reasons. The first is to let you know that we often hear people say “I wish I wasn’t like this” or “maybe in another life”. Maybe these are things that you say to yourself when it comes to the way you lead your own life. But the life we currently have is the only one we can be certain of so why not live it entirely for you and the ones you love? Why not make changes that will make you excited to get out of bed every day and live a more fulfilling life?
Now, the second reason I am sharing this story is that I feel like I am finally ready to. I’ve read people’s stories on this forum for so long but have stopped myself from sharing my story because it always felt like a work in progress. Like I mentioned at the beginning of the story, I am tired of stopping, I deserve to start starting so this is why you're seeing this. I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into my life, thank you for hearing my story.
-Vic Duarte, Cam's Kids Ambassador at Guelph-Humber University