my perfect breakdown

Having big dreams, high standards and striving for excellence can be a good thing- right? But where do we stop,what price are we willing to pay for success? Or the look of success?

It’s taken me years of lessons, breakdowns, and breakthroughs and now I know that “Perfect is the enemy of good.” ~Voltaire

Perfect is the enemy of good

In my twenties and thirties, I was always striving to be perfect.The culture surrounding me looked like, “Everyone is perfect. You should be, too.” Yes– keeping up with the Jones’. My husband was a perfectionist and it looked like a great standard to reach for, but what I didn’t realize is perfection is impossible. So striving for this, I was setting myself up for failure. No, maybe a really good life lesson.

In the year 2000, I just had my fifth baby. Trying to live up to our “perfect” was not easy! We had quite a few high standards which kept us very busy. Meet superwoman, she lives here:

~Clean home- We lived in a lovely home where I spent hours cleaning, scrubbing, and teaching my kids how to live spotlessly. Each morning when the older kids were getting ready for school I made sure they left their rooms tidy and their closets looking like “Nordstrom”.”The cleaning monster”, or vacuum was my best friend and we bonded daily. I told the kids if there was anything on the floor, the vacuum monster would eat it up. I remember my sister-in-law coming over and asking how my walls didn’t have fingerprints? Simple- I wash the walls, often. As you can imagine, many hours were also spent in the laundry room and have the kids look well-dressed and well-behaved.

~ I also worked for many hours each day from home and my garage. My business is making slime, so ask me how easy it is to keep this clean?! It’s NOT. I kept up on manufacturing orders, accounting and all of those things that come along with having your own small business, sometimes into the wee hours of the night. Or is that morning?

~ The car. Yes, the vacuum monster helped me here as well. As most families do in the world today, we spent a ton of time in the car. It was one of our main living spaces. So minivan clean-up was put on my “high priority list” while living in Marcie’s perfect world.

~ Eating healthy was top on my priority list. Well, a lot of things were top on my list, but this one was important. My husband was diabetic so healthy meals were a must. I like to cook, so this one wasn’t the hardest for me to accomplish. The hours of planning meals, buying them, then cleaning up the meal with 5 kids in tow was the hard part.

~ Church -looking all put together like everyone else made Sunday NOT a day of rest. The righteous list of doing everything exactly up to par went on and on…

But there was a problem. Besides not being real, I had a health issue I could not figure out, but didn’t spend much time trying. I was too busy. The pain in my hips and back would come and go as it pleased. When it was in full force, I had a hard time walking for weeks. How could I explain this to a health professional? I tried a few times at annual exams, but many days I felt great, so what’s the big deal? I mean it would only last a couple of weeks, then leave for some time. I figured out how to crawl around my house wiping fingerprints from my knees… whatever…

Does this sound like healthy living? No. It was a life filled with anxiety and stress. I was just trying to fulfill our goals and lessen the irritability of my husband. Living in a place of order- was that so tough?! Being superwoman was not all it was cracked up to be! It was backfiring!

So whether I wanted to or not, I learned my body couldn’t do this forever. My body finally said, “No way. I am not doing this another day!” The stress was wayyy over the top. I had a PERFECT breakdown!

I got the flu. I never get sick. I don’t have time for it. It wasn’t the 24-hour flu, it was the 4-5 day flu! People had to come over and help my kids- I’m glad it was clean, well at least a few days ago it was? I reached a point where I had to go to Instacare. I had lost more than 10 pounds. They filled me up with fluids and I went home. I didn’t get better. The next day I was back to get more fluids. I now could keep things down and I could get out of bed. Yeah! It’s over. No, not so fast. I had no energy for weeks. My memory had changed- before I could recall every person’s phone number and birthdate. I was a number girl, but not anymore. I couldn’t put a face to a name, my stomach hurt, my ribs hurt, and parts of my body were numb.

I went to my doctor for a check-up. I had the most interesting problems going on and the team of doctors couldn’t figure me out. For weeks they drew blood, listened to my heart, and so on. We did figure out what I didn’t have, luckily- not MS, not Lupus, not bone cancer, etc. Yes on the ulcer but we got that one taken care of. They told me to schedule an appointment with a Rheumatologist. I called and they were 3 months out. Laughing, I told the nurse I could die by then and she promptly told me if I feel that way to please call 911. Oh wow.

I had some time on my hands and I’m glad I did because a miracle happened. My cousin suggested I try yoga. 15 minutes a day, 3 times a week and I could feel a difference. I learned I had to put some time into me. Hmmm- that didn’t feel right- I wasn’t used to that. Most of the aches faded over time. I also learned a great life lesson from yoga; I wasn’t supposed to worry about what anyone else was doing- it isn’t a competition. All I had to worry about was myself and getting stronger within.

3 months later I went to a new doctor. He was older and wiser. He knew after talking to me for 3 minutes what I had. Ankylosing Spondylitis- arthritis in the hips and back. Mostly in men. Hard to diagnose. Keeping movement in my body was key- so this is why yoga helped. But maybe this wasn’t all I had?

I rarely opened up to anyone, I mean who needs to know I’m not feeling perfect? But a few months later I was talking to a neighbor and she is the one who REALLY diagnosed what had happened to me. She just had triplets and her doctor asked her some questions and now she asked me, How often do you cry? Hardly ever. How often do you do something for yourself? Hardly ever. More questions and she said, “You had a breakdown. Your body could not handle the stress.”

Was this success? I ran my body so hard it had a breakdown? Was being perfect all it was cracked up to be. Definitely not.

It’s really hard, though, to change your ways and let some things go when your standards had been sky high. But my body physically couldn’t do this anymore. I added good things like yoga and the gym. I had to learn to back off with some things- like I can leave the dishes in the sink when I go to bed- they really will be there in the morning, dang it, just like I left them!

messy kitchenMy messy kitchen right now!

My messy kitchen as I write!

15 years after my first breakdown (now over 20!) and many lessons later, I think PERFECT is a swear word. It made me feel I was never good enough. Now I say I am NOT perfect. I make mistakes. I am a recovering perfectionist. I have learned to let a LOT of things go. I am back to the real me. I am happy just being GOOD or BETTER. I am at peace and am grateful I had my PERFECT breakdown.

I highly recommend reading Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection.

Brene Brown says, Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.

Healthy striving is self-focused: “How can I improve?” Perfectionism is other-focused: “What will they think?


first published 4/17/17