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A week ago we sat on the counselor’s couch. I was perturbed because even after declaring to my husband, “We’re here for you,” somehow the conversation kept coming around to me and my issues with perfectionism.
I say, “I just don’t know why God made me this way.”
I’ve made significant strides in combatting my judgmental, perfectionistic inner “adult” voice. I argue back against her perfectionism with all the ways I’m “good enough” and worthy of love just how I am, and I usually win.
The problem is that I just can’t get her to shut up entirely. She’s the ever-constant companion I must fight and honestly the all-day, every-day battle with her is simply exhausting.
“It doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter. No matter how much I get done or how well I do in one area, I’m always going to feel guilty for failing in another. I tell myself ‘no one can be good at everything all the time,’ but I don’t know how to stop trying.”
Russ became fixated on my guilt-ridden, never-enough approach to housework and began brainstorming solutions.
I rolled my eyes as he rattled off ideas like how if I just did 10% of a job, or “two-second” jobs, then I wouldn’t feel so guilty all the time.
“How much better would you feel about the laundry if you just gathered all the laundry from upstairs and put it at the top of the stairs?” he asks, leading me.
“A lot…” I agree begrudgingly, giving in to his overly obvious point.
Our counselor tries to get him off the housework track and back onto my feelings about perfectionism, but his train barrels further and we run out of time.
I’m frustrated because I know he’s right.
I went home and downloaded the audiobook with money I didn’t have to spend and began listening to it. I listened to the whole book over the course of the last week.
It was kind of a serendipitious set of circumstances because not only have I opted out of taking college courses thus semester, I had also just dropped my laptop into the mail for repairs.
Normally, computer repairs don’t take me out of commission because I have a dinosaur of a 2010-era MacBook Pro to use. It’s annoying and slow and the G key doesn’t work without smacking it 25 times but it does the job, until earlier this fall when it just gave up the ghost after streaming Simone Biles at worlds.
So last week and into this one I have no computer access which means no Google spreadsheets or Pinterest stuff. If I can’t do it from my phone then I can’t do it.
Instead of working myself like crazy on schoolwork or blog / Pinterest / Facebook / affiliate marketing per my norm, I wandered around the house aimlessly while doing 10% of the bigger housework tasks I had put off over the last year and listening to The Gifts of Imperfection.
Make a bed here, unload the dishwasher there, fold a load of laundry, organize a bin of junk…a chapter here, a chapter there.
It was a good book about fighting perfectionism, a helpful book I’m sure. Listening to it was soothing at least. I wouldn’t go far as to say that it was all that life-shattering. Over the first few chapters, I scrawled messy notes with blue marker in a notebook that I wanted to remember, like, “Being true to ourselves is the best gift we can give to the people we love,” or how we need to move from a mindself of scarcity (never enough) to a mindset of sufficiency, “a mindset of knowing that there is enough and we are enough.”
Somewhere along the way I quit taking notes, I guess because I felt like it was all stuff I already knew I needed to do to fight perfectionism, like allowing myself time and space for creativity and rest.
I was really bothered when I got to the chapter about “Play” and “Rest.” She talked about how people who are intentionally devoted to “wholehearted living” make time to play and rest, to goof off and do things that have no end goal in mind. This bothered me not because I couldn’t see the value of play, but because I didn’t know what play really looked like for me, other than binge-watching TV shows. Apparently, she doesn’t count watching TV as play, so I was stumped.
I couldn’t seem to wrap my mind around what it meant, to me, to play. I don’t enjoy playing, like with my kids per se. I’m not a big fan of pretending I guess.
I thought about what I enjoyed playing as a kid. It smacked me in the face hard because the only thing I pretend-played as a kid is now my never-ending daily domestic life: housewife, mommy, teacher, waitress. All I ever wanted to do as a little girl was dress up my baby dolls and pretend to cook, clean, run the vacuum, and serve food – or teach phonics, addition, and subtraction. I’ve since learned it’s not as fun as it seemed when I was a little girl pretending to be a grown up.
Crap. I’m screwed.
Wracking my brain for other ideas, I thought about how much I enjoyed dress up and toy makeup.
Maybe to play I need to go to the mall and try on fancy clothes, or take time to watch YouTube tutorials on cool braids for my hair.
I quickly dismissed the thought – picturing myself trying to squeeze my overweight figure into a formal gown I would no doubt get stuck in, scratches all over my already-over-sensitive arms and chest – and thinking about how my arms get tired enough just putting in my hot rollers on Sunday morning, let alone trying to braid my hair.
It really bothered me.
What’s wrong with me that I can’t think of something playful to do?
As the-week-with-no-computer wore on and I listened to more and more of the book I became more and more exhausted. Like fall-asleep-on-the-couch-in-the-middle-of-the-day exhausted.
When I wasn’t sleeping or doing 10% of the housework, I found myself crawling under my covers in my bed or under a fuzzy blanket on the couch with my phone.
I aimlesslesly scrolled through Facebook and Twitter. I watched YouTube videos like “50 Facts You Didn’t Know About How I Met Your Mother” and Facebook videos of Russian babies ice skating. I scrolled through all of the avaiable audiobooks for checkout on the Libby app and created a list called “To Listen.” I scrolled through Amazon Prime and Netflix and added TV shows and videos to my queue that I will probably never watch.
I realized that the reason I prefer TV shows to movies is that binging a TV show gives me a sense of accomplishment. Episode after episode is to my soul like the check, check, check of checkmarks down a checklist. I started watching Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, I think more because with 17 seasons it’s something to conquer rather than because I actually WANT to watch it.
I ended up watching a movie I loved as a kid. I watched it over and over and over in 6th and 7th grade while sleeping over my friend Cynthia’s house. Cynthia was in 9th grade and super-cool and everything I thought I wanted to be (at the time) and to this day I don’t really know why she was my friend that year or why she was okay with watching The Little Princess over and over.
Miss Minchin: “Don’t tell me you still fancy yourself a princess? Child, look around you! Or better yet, look in the mirror.”
Sara Crewe: “I am a princess. All girls are. Even if they live in tiny old attics. Even if they dress in rags, even if they aren’t pretty, or smart, or young. They’re still princesses. All of us. Didn’t your father ever tell you that? Didn’t he?
It was remarkably satisfying and it made me feel warm and fuzzy and super dumb and silly and I wondered if this is what Brené Brown meant by play. I hoped it was.
I was feeling a lot of things. I couldn’t tell if this was depression, true rest and recovery, or simply boredom.
I’m still not entirely sure.
I thought about calling this post “Whitespace: 5 Years Later.”
For those of you who are not long-time followers of my blog, let me explain:
For a few years there, I jumped on the “ONE WORD 365” bandwagon, the anti-resolution movement where a person picks a single word envelop all their hopes and dreams for the next year.
In 2014 I picked the word “whitespace.” I went on a quest to find rest, healing, margin, restoration, rest, and all the other buzzwords that capture the essence of a little RnR.
I learned a lot that year, don’t get me wrong. I would even say that I was “successful” in my quest for whitespace. That was the year I binged nearly all of the seasons of Grey’s Anatomy and quit all extra-curriculars like MOPS, MOMS groups, and playdates.
It was also the year I held two separate blog series on my blog which meant a lot of time online.
It was also the year my kid got kicked out of preschool and ended up in all-day behavioral therapy due to a diagnosis of ADHD and Adjustment Disorder.
It was a year of some very very very very dark days when I was stuck at home with a child who was throwing plates at the wall and I grieved what I thought motherhood would look like.
It was a year I was seeking for whitespace but whitespace was sometimes no where to be found.
I thought to myself this week, So maybe this year is whitespace: the reboot. Whitespace, 2.0.
I think back to a post I wrote back in 2014. I don’t remember every word I’ve ever written, but this week I haven’t been able to get these words on perfectionism out of my mind:
Personally? I have found the answer to be a resounding yes.
We women have been sold a lie that says we can do it all. We can shop organic and cook from scratch and clean and DIY and craft and plan creative date nights for our husbands and make sure our kids have sensory bins and blog and read blogs and manage 15 social media accounts and write ebooks all while keeping a healthy BMI and having a bikini-ready body.
And we know doing it all is insanely impossible – but we keep trying because we are women and I think that’s sort of how we are wired. It seems like everyone else is doing it so we should give it our darndest too.
And as much progress as I have made over the last five years fighting the inner battle against perfectionism, I realize that I’m still sometimes in the same place.
Which is when I realize that while I may win battles here and there, I may never win the war on perfectionism.
The thought both comforts me and depresses me. Comforts me because I can tell myself that it’s okay that I have to keep fighting perfectionism every day. Depresses me because really? I’m so tired of the fight and the guilt and the feelings of never being enough.
I’m not giving up on this war on perfectionism.
Maybe I’ll never be able to banish that inner judgmental voice. Maybe she will be my constant companion and I just need to be her friend and learn to manage her, rather than wishing that she would just go away and leave me alone.
I’m going to keep trying hard to not try so hard. To fight the inner voice that is telling me that I’m too fat and too dull and too hard on myself and not fun enough or spontaneous enough or organized enough. To watch TV without turning it into a checklist. To figure out what it means to play again. To read books without turning them into one part of a greater perfectionism project. To be okay with failing, or to realize that I’m not actually failing even when I feel like I am. To laugh. To sing. To dance. To be a princess.