4 Reasons Coping Is Difficult for the Perfectionist With Crohn's Disease
It occurred to me recently that a lot of the issues I have coping with this disease may stem from the fact that I am a perfectionist. It feels as if my Crohn’s disease and my inner perfectionist are constantly butting heads each and every single day.
I want to cover the different aspects of being a perfectionist and how that has created coping problems for me personally. Identifying the problem is a huge step in solving it. So I’m hoping by sharing my struggle, that someone else might have an, “Aha!” moment like I did and begin coping a little easier. So let’s get into it.
Expectations can be a major buzzkill for almost anyone, but for the perfectionist it’s usually more intensified. You want things to go a certain way and they often don’t.
I thought life was going to be pretty straight forward. I figured that by age 32, I’d not only have my path figured out but I’d be set. You know – set it and forget it! Smooth sailing. And it was for about the first 30 years of my life, until inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) happened. Having Crohn’s disease completely upset my expectations for how I thought my life was supposed to go. I couldn’t work my dream job anymore, no matter how I rearranged my work schedule. I had to cancel a lot of social events I said I would attend. I spent most of my time in the bathroom, visiting the doctor, getting labs done and sorting out all the logistics of disease management.
I started beating myself up for not living up to my own expectations. I didn’t know what to do to get my life back on track, get back to work, get off the toilet and so forth. I was constantly shooting for perfect – but I didn’t realize I was inadvertently shooting for perfect health.
Perfection includes being in perfect health in order to achieve that higher standard.
In my opinion, it’s impossible to achieve perfection. It always has been and always will be. When you live in a weakened state all the time, like with a chronic illness, how much more impossible does perfection become? Talk about placing an unreasonable expectation on yourself!
Logical Jana wants to shake the inner-perfectionist Jana and yell, “Wake up! You have a chronic illness! We don’t have a cure yet, and until we do, you cannot expect perfection and you cannot expect perfect health!”
My unreasonable expectations cause inner turmoil and that can and will manifest itself physically. You’ve heard people say, “You’ll worry yourself sick.” Well, it absolutely does happen. My worst flares that put me into the hospital were products of too much mental stress. I have to adjust my expectations before it gets to that point.
So, logical Jana set some expectations that are actually realistic, given all the challenges set before me with my IBD. Reasonable expectations and a concerted effort to stick to them!
When things are going as planned, you tend to feel like you are in control. Keyword – feel. I got the job I went to college for and I was happy as a clam doing my thing for about eight years. Like I said before, smooth sailing. Then a tornado came through by the name of IBD and messed it all up. It felt like everything I’d worked so hard for was just tossed aside like trash. It’s almost as if someone, somewhere decided, “Hmmm…she seems pretty content with where she is. Psh, we can’t have that! Give her a real challenge!” My very literal life’s work was taken from me and I had to start over and re-think what I wanted to do. I essentially had to start from scratch.
All the other trials I have faced during my 32 years of living were just mere child’s play compared to the storm that is IBD.
Now, such a situation can be hard for any person to digest. No pun intended. And I mean that all inclusively. So many people think they have the mental fortitude of a superhero and then boom, they get a reality check. It’s normal to find it difficult to cope! It’s no fun when you have the rug pulled out from underneath you and you’re laying there on the floor wondering what the hell just happened! I know, I’ve been there. But…we do find a way to cope. It just takes some adjusting.
The problem here for me was thinking that I was in control from the start. I was not and I’m still not. I strongly believe that no one is in control of their lives, they just think they are. Something could happen at any given moment that could completely change everything – a car wreck, a diagnosis, a death, a new family member, a cross-country move, a job change. That’s exactly what happened to me, and likely it’s happened to you or someone you love since you are reading this.
So, for me, life dictates that we are not as “in control” as we all think we are. We can make plans and have great intentions, but at any given time, something could come up. Managing my disease has taught me this fact over and over again. My body decides when it needs to go to the bathroom and I need honor that. Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain – all those things are something the body does that I don’t have control over. There is no arguing with the body. If it needs to get things out of the system, it is going to make it happen when and where it needs to.
Naturally, I’ve always been really hard on myself, comes with the perfectionist territory. I have high expectations and standards because, you guessed it…it needs to be perfect! Or at least as close as humanly possible. I expect things to go smoothly, and when they don’t, it’s my fault. I always blame myself for not seeing the possibility of that disruption. I should have known or I should have thought of that! See if this sounds familiar to you:
“This could have been avoided. If only I had done ___ ahead of time, I would have been prepared and this never would have happened!”
“I’m such an idiot for not seeing this coming. I should have known!”
Overly focusing on the past doesn’t help. It’s true that we can learn from our mistakes, but we shouldn’t dwell on them to the point where it causes us severe anxiety. That stress, which you are essentially putting on yourself, can have physical consequences as I mentioned before. I say this specifically because I know for a fact that stress triggers flares for me. Not everyone has the same triggers, but I have a feeling if you are a perfectionist it definitely plays into your disease. Naturally, avoiding stress (to the best of my ability) helps me manage my disease best. Life is already stressful enough so why make it worse, right?
If the stress and anxiety weighs you down, and actually interrupts your day or ability to get things done (like it does for me)…that is a serious issue. This is when I go to a professional and get help. By myself, I have never found a way to just quit blaming myself. I can say I’m gonna stop blaming and beating myself up, but then my brain doesn’t listen. It’s like the brain just gets stuck on repeat. Old habits die hard. So I seek professional help when this becomes a problem. I find that it helps me to talk it out with someone and get to the root of the issue at hand, which may be different for each person. I tend to blame myself for things out of my control, which goes back to my previous point on “control.” I helps to know why your brain works the way it does.
I know, I know…it sounds like psychological stuff you likely don’t want to explore, but believe me it really does help! Once you figure out the cause of the problem you are closer to fixing it. Which is a great segue….
4. Problem Solving
Being a perfectionist, I’ve found it’s harder for me to get past the cause of my uprooting. I find it real easy to focus on what isn’t going according to plan because of my disease.
“Why me? If it weren’t for this dang disease…everything would be fine!”
The disease is the poopin’ problem! Literally! And when I know the problem, I want to get rid of it, solve it and move on. Don’t we all? But with IBD, I can’t chuck the problem, because it’s here to stay for the rest of my life. And I can’t solve the problem because there is no cure. So I have to change, I have to adapt. Instead of cussing at my Crohn’s, I could be using my energy to find ways to adapt to my new situation and make the most of it. So that’s what I started doing as soon as I accepted that the problem wasn’t going to go away. I’m still in that process, it doesn’t happen overnight, but I think I’m doing pretty good considering it’s only been three years since my diagnosis.
Here is how I look at it now: OK, so I can’t work my old job, what else can I do? I turned my focus onto other ways I could be supporting my family. I really enjoy spending time with dogs, so I started dog sitting when I had the time and felt well enough.
Another common problem? OK, so I’m stuck on the toilet again for an hour, what can I do about that? Well, I could be reading a book to learn some new things, since I’m essentially sitting for an hour! Make the most of it right? And it kinda takes your mind off just sitting there on the pot.
Adopt a, “What can we do,” mentality, instead of, “what can’t we do.”
And that’s where I’m at now. I try my best to put my limited energy into positive things going forward. I don’t want to waste my energy on negativity, judging myself too harshly or any of that. And I constantly have logical Jana remind me of these new expectations that I set for myself.
Getting down to real basics here – as humans we are, by nature, imperfect. Expecting perfection out of something that we know to be imperfect is just ridiculous. It ain’t gonna happen! You are gonna get nowhere fast with that approach. I know from experience!
I’ve accepted that perfection will always be unattainable. My life experiences have taught me this, time and time again. Knowing perfection is out of reach, allows me to be kinder to myself because I’m not setting unreasonable goals as often. My standards are high, but they aren’t unattainable. Everything I expect of myself needs to be something I can expect of a human…not superwoman!
So, ladies let’s be honest with ourselves. In case no one else has told you, I’m gonna do it right now. You aren’t an idiot or stupid because you can’t predict the future. You aren’t to blame for every little thing that goes wrong in life. You are human! Moms are you listening?!? You don’t have to be superwoman!
You will probably never hear anyone else say this, but consider lowering the bar a little. Put your goals and standards at a reachable level if you tend to classify yourself as a perfectionist. Adjust, tweak, change, but above all just be realistic with yourself.
There may be days where your only goal is to put on pants! Hey, that is attainable! And you are allowed to get excited over it too! I promise you the world won’t come to an end if the dishes don’t get done today and the laundry sits in the dryer because you spent the day running back and forth to the bathroom. It’s much more important that we care for our body and mind, so that all those other things can eventually get done.
Do you consider yourself a perfectionist? If so, comment below. Let me know if you think it is a gift or a curse.