Sunday, April 13, 2008

Just Like Me

There is a woman in my ward who is convinced that I am sick because I am a perfectionist. (She says, “Because I was sick for years and finally found out through therapy that I had been making myself ill through unrealistic expectations of myself. And you’re just like I was.”) She is so wrong that it is laughable, but I didn’t feel that I could protest, because any protest makes me look more perfectionistic, doesn’t it? (Makes me look as if I cared so much about appearances that I would deny even this.) So I’ve been trying to think of just how a person would go about proving that she is not a perfectionist. Let’s see. There are all the outward things. There’s my dirty house. There’s my ridiculous yard and pitiful attempts at gardening. There’s my kids running around at church in hand-me-downs that are never ironed. And home-grown haircuts. There’s our dirty car. There’s me, sitting on the couch reading while there are dirty dishes on the counter. Sitting there with no makeup on and my gray roots showing, as well. (And we won't get into scrapbooking. Or homeschooling. Or COOKING!) And, of course, with all of this, there is me, managing to have a dang enjoyable life despite being aware of all these things.

Then there are the inward things—or, rather, THE inward thing—which is that, regardless of all the things I wonder about, one thing I am absolutely sure of is the atonement, and the fact that it makes it so that I can have joy and hope even while being aware of the ways that I fall short. I have not always been so sure about this, or about how it translates into my life. I spent some time as a teenager dealing with my misunderstanding of God (who seemed, at the time, a grim-faced, demanding judge continually rapping on a desk decreeing that I was not good enough). But I worked through that, became converted, revised my image of God and what he thinks of me and wants for me.

There are still some things that I am rather perfectionistic about, such as being unscrupulously honest and hating to be late. But I don’t think those things make me a perfectionist, do you?

How do you go about proving that you’re not a perfectionist?

And why does it bug me so much that she thinks I am one?

It’s not as if she’s the only one in my life who is convinced that I suffer from something familiar. My friend with Lyme disease is sure I have it; my friend with celiac is sure I have it; my friend with chronic fatigue is sure I have it; my friend with allergies is sure I have it; my friend with imbalanced hormones is sure that that’s my problem, my friend with under-corrected hypothyroidism is sure that’s my problem—there’s even a woman in my ward with MS who is convinced that I am pre-symptomatic MS. But this one woman, the “post-perfectionist” one, is the only one that bugs me. Maybe because perfectionism is more of a fault of will or character (or has seemed to be so, in my own judgmentalism), and the other illnesses are things people can’t help.

Which brings me to something else. What is it that makes people prone to believing that others have their same problem? I think I know. A big part is, of course, sincere and selfless desire to prevent or curtail suffering in others. Also, part of it is a not wanting to be alone. And some of it is a desire to make sense of your own affliction. Because if I have an affliction (say, chronic fatigue) that has made me miserable for years but for which I have managed to find something that helps, if I can manage to help someone else out who is suffering from it, I can take comfort in believing that maybe part of the reason I suffered was so that I could help others who suffer in the same way (by suggesting a certain herbal remedy or doctor, for example). It’s deeply satisfying to find what might be a reason for your past suffering.

All of those motivations are worthy. I feel only love from people who want to show me that my illness is just like theirs. So why am I irked more by the woman who wants to help me recover from perfectionism? I should see through her misunderstandings down to the depths of her soul, where there is a sense of loss about her years of struggle, and also there is a true desire to help me to avoid pain. I should decide to see only her love, and not her judgmentalism of me. I will try to do that.


Zina said...

Well, *I* am convinced you have Grave's disease and low iron and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. (Or I would be, if I even knew what your symptoms were.)

I asked to be released from Cub Scouts before I had the doctor's appointment that ended up diagnosing my current health issues, and before I met with the bishop the primary counselor called me about something else, so I felt it fair to warn her that I would be asking to be released. At least initially, her response was to try to dissuade me; or, at least, she was more worried about who would fill my shoes, or how she could change things to make the calling easier for me, rather than really listening to my concerns. In fact, in multiple previous conversations where I'd mentioned health problems, she'd never once asked about my symptoms or expressed sympathy. So, then I did meet with the (very sympathetic) bishop, was released, finally got to the doctor, got a diagnosis that showed there actually were things wrong (all I'd known was that I was finding it impossible to both do Cub Scouts and care for my family's needs,) and not once since then have I had the opportunity to have a conversation with that primary counselor (even though I still have a Primary calling, in Nursery now) to tell her that my answers to prayers turned out to be very provident. And it bugs me. I just want her to know the rest of the story. I'm not quite avid enough to actually corner her to tell her, but I fantasize that I'll get a chance eventually. (I should also say that she's a very good person with many strengths I lack . . . yet it did seem that in this instance, she was focusing more on the Cub program than on the individual (me.)

All of this is just to say that I can relate to wanting to correct people who seem to misunderstand us. I do think their minds are rarely changed, anyway -- I've even had experiences where I did get to correct someone and then they forgot that conversation and went right back to their previous incorrect impression. So your strategy of just trying to have charity is probably the best one.

But while I'm here, and not knowing any of your symptoms except for your having mentioned some sort of heart issue, might I say that it's my understanding that one doesn't have to be a perfectionist nor have a less-than-ideal life to be susceptible to anxiety attacks? Which could be one of very many possible causes for the one and only one symptom of yours that I've heard you mention. I have a dear brother who had to come home from a mission early because of bad anxiety attacks, even though he had a wonderful mission and loved his mission -- yet even so, missionary work triggered anxiety for him. And he's not a perfectionist, although he might be susceptible to overly high standards in certain specific areas (but definitely not in all areas -- certainly not in, for example, keeping his room clean.) Anyway, his anxiety was/is as much a physical ailment as a psychological one (which doesn't mean that psychological aids don't help, but so do medications.) Anyway, it's one thought that's based on very very little information, so please disregard at will. And anyway I hope my very long shot is far from the correct diagnosis for your mysterious ills, since you can go home from a mission to recover, but I'm not aware of any way to do that if ordinary life is what triggers the anxiety.

P.S. You've never struck me as a perfectionist. (In fact, I don't think you've ever struck me at all -- which is good because I wouldn't have wanted to strike you back.)

Reluctant Nomad said...

I'm sorry that you've been put through this public diagnosis, D. That really sucks. I think (I hope, I believe) that a diagnosis (a 'real' one) is possible.

Before we found out what was wrong with my son, everyone had a different story to explain his symptoms too. And even with a diagnosis, his symptoms are not all 'explained.' BUT, I have learned to stop explaining myself and the reasons why I do the things I do. The reasons why I think he won't eat. The reasons why he's so small. the reasons why I sit him in front of the TV or computer to eat, the reasons why....I could go on and on and on. Because it just IS. I'm doing what I can and the rest I just give up on. Maybe it's a defeatist attitude. But, most days it feels like sanity to me.

Mark Brown said...

Here's a very male, very un-Christ-like diagnosis for Sister Post-Perfection: she needs to shut the hell up and mind her own business.

L@pterces said...

I just love how some people are able to instantly ascertain complex information about others based on feeling, appearance, or perception, and are just as quick to offer glib, fortune-cookie solutions to difficult problems! Excluding situations where inspiration is at play in those with authority to receive revelations about us, I'm guessing these well-meaning people are wrong about 90% of the time, and unwelcome just as often. Not only that, but it's funny how they choose the least-opportune times to share their insights into our lives: ward parties, in the hall after sacrament meeting, etc.

L@pterces said...

(somehow my comment posted before I was finished typing!)

In my experience, sacred revelation regarding personal problems is rarely shared in noisy hallways.

Reminds me of a woman in my ward who thought she could easily solve my singleness by suggesting to me at the ward Christmas party that I should immediately marry a certain other single sister in the ward and get busy making babies. Not only was the comment offensive, but unbeknownst to both of us, the "single" sister in question was already married and had chosen to keep that information very private.

Darlene, I've known you for 17 years (can't believe it's been that long!) and I don't think I've ever associated the word 'perfectionist' with you in the negative, compulsive, or unhealthy sense, or ever at all, for that matter.

At least not after the garlic bread, anyway...

Laura said...

Darlene-I'm glad you've chosen the charitable route. I feel for that woman who misdiagnosed you. Ever since I had PPD after my first baby I watch every pregnant woman for symptoms. It's awful but I find myself hoping that someone I know will have it too. Like you said in your post, it would just be nice to know I wasn't the only one! Anyway, I hope you get some real answers soon. I can only imagine your frustration!

Darlene said...

Zina, I think you touch on something important--that we never really know all of the story about others. Even about ourselves. (I'm thinking now of Aslan telling people in Narnia that they need only worry about their own story.) I've always been an open person. It bugs me to be not fully understood, to have only part of my story known. (Hmmm. A reason for blogging?)

Mara, . . . and I guess you need to be happy to have a chance to show yourself some charity and non-judgmentalism in the same way you would show that charity to someone else.

Mark, And you would come and tell her that for me, right? That makes me feel good in a weird way. I've got Mark out fighting for me.

Dave, I'm glad you are continuing our very long acquaintance despite the garlic bread. And, by the way, I bought new flowered pajamas last month.

Lara, I had PPD as well and I do exactly the same thing (scaring young mothers to death with my warnings). Just because the thing that made it hardest was the not knowing what it was. (How can I possibly wish my baby hadn't come? What kind of MONSTER AM I????) It would have been so reassuring to have been told what was really going on!