My Chronic Illness Made Me Let Go of Perfectionism
Being a perfectionist has served me well for the majority of my life. It’s given me a determination to succeed and has made me the conscientious student I am today. But the pursuit of perfection rapidly became parasitic upon learning I had a chronic illness.
In the past, if I knew I couldn’t be perfect at something, I wouldn’t even try it. The problem is, I didn’t exactly sign up for a lifetime of illness.
When I first got sick, I was determined to heal myself. After finding out I was suffering from mast cell activation syndrome, I immediately started myself on a low-histamine diet. I began drinking mast cell stabilizing teas, making nutritious, vitamin-packed meals, and lifting myself with a positive attitude. I sought out natural healing by scheduling acupuncture appointments and by making it a priority to meditate daily.
After a month of this, my condition kept deteriorating. I was losing more foods every day, my symptoms were becoming unbearable, and I began to feel the first stab at my deeply instilled perfectionism. I used to believe that any challenge could be overcome if I worked hard enough at it. I fought the idea of a “chronic” illness with every fiber of my being.
Eventually, I surrendered my first battle in the war I waged against this illness. I moved on from natural treatments and sought out pharmaceuticals. In my mind, they would be a temporary treatment. Something to get me stabilized in the short-term while I worked on targeting the root of the problem. But the short-term quickly evolved into the long-term, and before I knew it, I developed a dependence on mast cell stabilizers, tri-weekly Xolair injections, H1 and H2 blockers, and a variety of supplements.
With the addition of these treatments, I experienced relief from numerous symptoms that previously caused a great strain on my ability to live life. But with that, I came to understand that maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t be able to fix myself. That I would be stuck in a malfunctioning body, compensating with pills and injections, for the rest of my life. And as a perfectionist, this was a particularly hard realization to come to.
Perfectionism imbued me with false hope. Believing that one day I’d be able to eat my favorite foods again, renew the stamina and cognitive performance I used to have in my studies, go to social events without worrying about chemicals or synthetic fragrances, not worry about the effects of heat or sunlight, etc. was my strongest motivator. I believed I could step out of my protective bubble — that I could experience the world in the same way I used to. But this was a lie, and it was a lie I convincingly sold to myself for months.
For a long time, it felt like until I got fixed, I would be in a period of limbo, or waiting like life was on hold. Days without intellectual or social stimulation and months in bed sucked the life out of me. I know now that I can’t live my life in limbo anymore.
I don’t want to write off the idea of a cure or lose all sense of hope, but I can’t let myself exist in a theoretical world. I need to exist in reality. The truth is, putting so much effort into healing with such high expectations has hurt me more in the end. Every time a new treatment option failed, I felt my spirit get crushed all over again.
I’m learning day by day how to slowly relinquish the fervent need to perfect my health. For the most part, when you have a chronic illness, the drive to want to fix yourself is a dead-end pursuit.
For the past year, the world I lived in was a constant reminder of what I can no longer achieve, of who I can no longer be, and of all the things I have lost out on. But in grieving the loss of so many things I love, I learned to never take for granted the blessings I have in the present moment.
I’ve reconstructed the identity I built for myself and I’ve come to finally accept that there are many things I can no longer do. This is OK.
Getty Image by Marcin Wiklik