I am good and bad.

Perfectionism is something I have struggled with from a young age. Although I have worked long and hard to overcome the notion that I need to meet this unattainable version of myself, I still find my perfectionist nature difficult to shake.

My thinking tends to be very black and white – only one extreme, or another. This makes it difficult to find a middle ground when thinking about myself, others, and the world around me.

I’ve always strived to be a good person, and when I make a mistake, or do something construed as bad, it bothers me immensely because it challenges my self-perception.

Yesterday in therapy, my counsellor did an interesting exercise with me. She drew two circles on a piece of paper. In the left circle we wrote all the things that correspond with my idea of “good”, such as eating healthy, exercising, getting good grades, and being kind to other people. The circle on the right, we filled with the opposites, or “bad” things, like eating junk food, lying in bed all day, procrastinating, and snapping at my loved ones.

I don’t like to think of myself in relation to the bad things I wrote down, because then I feel like I am not a good person. I usually deny that the items in the right circle even exist because in my mind, acknowledging them means that I am a terrible person. When I do acknowledge them, it feels like they negate all my positive qualities, even though I exhibit my positive behaviours more often then these negative ones.

Next, my therapist drew a third circle on the paper, a large oval enclosing both the left and right circles. She wrote my name at the top, and said, this is you. Sometimes you are good, and sometimes you are bad, but it’s okay because you are a human, and we are all like this.

I had never really thought of myself as the big circle. In my mind, I was either the left circle, or the right – they were mutually exclusive. Learning to accept that I am a myriad of things that are constantly contradicting one another is a tough concept to grasp for me, but I am working on challenging my thoughts and coming to terms with these contradictions.

The next time I engage in a “bad” behaviour, I will remind myself that all humans, including myself, are not just good or bad, but both – and that is okay. I am not perfect, but I can learn to embrace all the things that make me who I am – the good and the bad.

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Adjusting and trusting

Lately, I’ve had to adjust to some new unpleasant symptoms in addition to my usual ones. Whenever something novel comes along, my anxious mind is overwhelmed with thoughts of what these new sensations mean. Do these signs point to an additional disorder? Am I going to die from this? Will I be stuck at home forever?

When I am ill, I tend to go into protective mode, trying not to do anything that could potentially make the symptoms worse. Since I don’t push myself, I’m afraid that I am holding myself back from getting better. I feel like I should get up and get out of the house instead of resting because if I stay in bed too long I could get weaker and sink deeper into the “sick role”.

However, I realized that as soon my body started adjusting to these new symptoms and attempting to heal itself, that I naturally sought out new challenges. It all comes back to being able to trust the healing capabilities of my body, and know that when I am able to handle more, my body will seek that challenge. I am focusing on allowing the natural healing progression, rather than pushing my body to do things just because my mind thinks I should be doing them.

When I first experienced the symptoms of my balance disorder, I didn’t think I would be able to ever leave the again. My mind was telling me to force myself to walk so I wouldn’t lose the muscle tone in my legs, but I knew I wasn’t ready. Feeling dizzy 24/7 was overwhelming and terrifying, but in my own time I adjusted, and now, when I keep myself in check, I’m able to work, go to school, practice yoga, even dance sometimes.

It’s always scary when something new comes along in life. I use illness as an example because that is the challenge I predominantly experience in my life, but it could be anything – a new job, the death of a loved one, moving to a new city. No matter how frightening these new changes may be, trusting that your body and mind will naturally adjust (as it has several times before) helps to get through that initial fear and uncertainty and gives us the strength to persevere.

Inner conflict about reliability

Since my health often fluctuates, I find it difficult to hold down a stable job, or be part of an educational program that requires attendance. At some times, I feel so capable, ready to take on the world, energetic and happy. However, these amazing times only last for so long before my body fatigues and gives up on me. When I reach this crashing state, I usually am so ill I can barely leave the house, thus making it impossible to maintain any work or school commitments.

I have always seen myself as a reliable person, but my fluctuations in health have made me an unreliable student and employee. I find myself jumping from job to job, and missing many days at school. This is something I struggle with because I have always felt that reliability was a part of my identity. I feel that all the ups and downs have resulted in me becoming an unreliable person, and it makes me feel conflicted and upset that I am not living up to my responsibilities.

For example, today I had to quit my retail job – a job I loved going to. I really enjoyed putting together outfits for customers, or helping them find a particular item in the store. My perfectionistic love for organization and order made folding and hanging clothes genuinely enjoyable. Plus, my coworkers were all friendly and amazing people who were fun to work with. There were times of stress, and things like the occasional difficult customer, but overall, the job was great.

I was kind of heartbroken when I called the managers and told them I had to quit because of health reasons. I felt so upset that I was letting all my coworkers down in the prime of holiday season – the busiest time of the retail year. I hated that I had to be unreliable, not giving two-weeks notice, but quitting when I was supposed to be at a shift later that day. Thankfully they were really understanding, but that feeling of conflict still lingered within me.

This is when I realized, I need to shift my definition of what it means to be reliable by focusing on how I can be reliable within my unreliability. A good example is communicating my needs with employers, and teachers at school. I have always shied away from revealing my disorders to people in a position of authority because there is always the fear of getting fired or kicked out of a program. There is still a lot of stigma about mental illness, and when people hear balance disorder, they come to their own conclusions about what that entails. However, we all face difficulties in life, health-related or not, and by honing the way I communicate my disorders to these higher ups, perhaps I can tap into that commonality of imperfection within all human beings, thus eliciting greater understanding.

Finally, I must not forget the importance of being reliable towards myself. Sticking to my routine, healthy diet, yoga, exercise, and meditation is of utmost importance, and is usually neglected when I am attempting to be reliable for work or school. Although I may not be the most reliable student or employee, I need to learn to commit to myself and my health before committing to these external roles.

Success vs. Failure

What exactly determines if someone succeeds or fails? I was thinking about this a lot when I dropped out of my program at school. The perfectionist within me was trying to fight its way into my thoughts: “You couldn’t finish the semester. You failed.”

But then I thought about how the semester had actually panned out. I realized that even though I had not completed the arbitrary amount of assignments and testing, within the pre-ordained time frame constructed by the educational institution, that I had still gained valuable knowledge.

I learned how to carry out range of motion exercises, and with that skill, I am healing and strengthening my previously injured shoulder. Even though I have not “achieved” the title of a physiotherapy assistant, no one can take this learned skill away from me – and that, I think, is a success in itself.

I think that we let society colour our views of what is successful or not. The criteria for what constitutes success is externally determined.

You got fired? Failure.

Got lower than 50% on a test? Failure.

Your partner dumped you? Failure.

The whole way it’s set up negates any actual benefit that was gained by these so called “failures” and doesn’t really look at how these “failures” could actually be a form of letting something go to make room for something better.

What I have been striving to do is really examine what success and failure mean to me, thus switching it to an internal and personal focus, rather than what society labels as successful. For example, today I got out of bed, showered, made a healthy breakfast, and then felt so tired after all of that so returned back to bed. I had planned to go for a walk, practice yoga, and do laundry as well, but I don’t see not completing those tasks as a failure. Instead, I see that I listened to my body and was intuitive enough to realize that my body needs more rest – and that my friends, is my definition of success.

My current situation

Another reason this blog is happening because I feel kind of lost right now. I’m going through one of those transitional periods in my life where I don’t really know what I am doing. Just floating in the abyss waiting for a sign; something to guide me to my supposed purpose in this world.

I’m not sure if this blog is what is meant to happen, but the events leading up to it seemed somewhat fateful. My mom randomly stumbled across a Black Friday deal for the laptop I’m typing on, I just dropped out of school, and my part-time retail job doesn’t demand much of me. So with abundant free time and an eagerness to write, here I am.

Recently, I came crashing down from the high of finally knowing (or so I thought) what I wanted to do in life. I was so consumed with reaching this goal that I neglected my true needs. I felt that I had invested too much into this career path to stop.

Well, I finally gained the courage to listen to my gut and dropped out of my program three days ago. Once I was free from this burden, this feeling of obligation, my mind had space to think about the meaning of life. This is a topic I think of often, but having the time to explore, self-reflect, and re-evaluate life when you are not clouded by the demands of school or work is a blessing.

I’m hoping this blog will act as an outlet to hash out my thoughts and feelings, allowing myself to be okay with this uncertainty and accept the imperfections and vulnerabilities that come along with existing as a human being.