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How My Perfectionism and My Illnesses Are Constantly at Odds

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I’ve always been a perfectionist. I was identified as gifted at 7, and I’ve always had many of the quirks that go along with that. Many of these quirks then overlap with chronic illness tendencies, so they tend to take over if I’m not constantly keeping them in check. Anxiety, depression, OCD tendencies, but most of all, perfectionism.

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I always had to get a perfect score, always had to say the right thing, always had to have a plan, or the world would explode. Or so my brain convinced me.


I’ve also always had chronic illness. I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), which I of course was born with. I then developed postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) around the age of 11. My illness and perfectionism are constantly at odds – they can’t coexist together – so it seems like they are each constantly trying to obliterate the other. And I’m just along for the ride.

For instance, over the past year I had eight months where I was completely bed/couch-bound. I felt like a leech on my family, like I was just a constant burden. It is terrible being an overachiever but unable to achieve the simplest of tasks. If it wasn’t for my best friend who just came and kept me company over those months, I would have sunk so far into depression that my illness would have succeeded in its mission to snuff out every other part of me. She truly was my lifesaver.

But even now that I’m starting to get back to my “normal,” my illness still tries to dictate my life. I’m about to enter my senior year of high school, and I don’t know what I’m going to do about college. I found a college I would love to attend; it would be the perfect fit for the one side of me. I never thought a school such as this one existed. But my illness will keep me from it, since I can’t move across the country to where I have no support system. Even if I was at the point health-wise where it would be a feasible option, I would live in constant anxiety. What if my health suddenly declines overnight again? So the college of my dreams is not attainable.

Another way my perfectionism and illness are at odds is when I commit to helping someone, and then my illness makes me incapable or the work I do inadequate. Like I am editing a book for my friend, but my brain fog keeps getting in the way. I’ll go over it three times, and still find things I missed just because my brain isn’t working. She is amazing, and immediately reminds me it’s not my fault, but it is. I may not be trying to be undependable, but there must be some way I could push past it. My mind betraying me in the form of brain fog is one of the hardest symptoms for me to cope with. My brain was the one thing I could always depend on, and then it just, wasn’t.

I just try to hold on to all the wonderful things my illness has brought me when I’m too focused on the negative. Like my best friend – we wouldn’t be such good friends if we both didn’t have chronic illnesses. These illnesses are a huge part of who I am – I wouldn’t be the same person without it – and I like to think I’m a better, stronger person because of it.

So I’m slowly letting go of perfection, realizing it is never really attainable. My best is good enough, even if my best in the moment is just sitting on a couch, trying not to lose hope. Perfection will never happen; the world is imperfect. But if what I go through helps one other person dealing with pain like this, it is worth it, and so much better than perfection can hope to be. Because I helped someone with my imperfections.

Thinkstock photo via amoklv.

Originally published: August 9, 2017
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