The cost of perfection

Trigger warning: mention of burnout

This guest feature has been written by the lovely Cat Masou (@catcalmingcorner). She has very kindly shared her personal story about how her pursuit for perfection in every aspect of her life ended up causing burnout – something that she has been working through ever since. Also featured is some extremely valuable advice for others who are struggling to cope with being a perfectionist, so make sure to check her piece out below!

“I held myself to the highest standard”

From an outside perspective, I display a resume of the perfect daughter, student and wife.

I grew up volunteering, working hard, focusing on my academics and working out 5 days a week.

In 2015, I began my master’s degree and achieved a 3.9 GPA.

In 2019 I graduated, married the love of my life and began the process of registering as a Psychologist.

I was the type of person who put 150% in everything that I did.

On paper, everything looked perfect. And that was exactly how I wanted it to be… perfect. I held myself to the highest standard, that I always had to be perfect in every aspect of my life. But perfection, or rather the idea of perfection, became an obsession of mine.

What happens when you put an unrealistic perspective that you must cook homemade meals every day, have a spotless house, a regular gym schedule while studying, working and making time for friends and family? 

Well, you get burnt out.

I had to learn the hard way that this idea of perfection comes at a cost. And that cost was my own mental and physical health. Ironic isn’t it? The specialist in mental health is struggling with her own mental health. The one who spends hours listening to others and validating their feelings couldn’t accept the fact that she was burnt out.

In denial of all the warning signs, I continued… I kept pushing for perfection until it broke me.

“This is the problem with perfectionism, we can’t say no”

The summer of 2020 was when everything hit.

In the middle of a pandemic, I witnessed the impact that this year had on many individual’s mental health. This led to an increase in my workload. A dramatic increase I would say, but instead of setting boundaries, I kept taking on more and more work. 

This is the problem with perfectionism, we can’t say no. We want to please everyone around us even if the cost is more than we can handle.

My workload got to a point where I would spend 10 hours a day talking to my clients online. No food, no stretch breaks, just meeting after meeting. Looking at it now, of course this is a disaster waiting to happen, but at the time I couldn’t say no. 

By August, I couldn’t handle it anymore. My anxiety had skyrocketed, I began having panic attacks at night. My body was always in physical pain, to the point where I started showing some odd symptoms of an infection. I saw my doctor three times that month and was given three different antibiotics, but my symptoms weren’t getting better. The lab results showed that I was clear every time, and yet I still was in pain.

It is crazy how your mental and physical health are connected. When your mental health is struggling, your body struggles too. Your energy drops, your heart rate increase, your muscles feel tense and everything aches.

My body was telling me I needed to stop, yet I found it so hard to listen. How could this be happening to me? Why can’t I gain control? I’m the mental health expert, so why can’t I get it together? I knew exactly what I would advise a client in my situation, but I was struggling to follow my own advice. I kept pushing until I physically couldn’t and that was when I realized I had to stop.

Photo by guest writer

“I was learning to be okay with not doing everything at once”

I had to take a break from everything and do some self-digging. Why did I need to achieve perfection? Was I scared of disappointment? Did I find myself less valuable if I wasn’t perfect? Is my worth based on the opinions of others? These were some hard questions I had to ask myself.

I began understanding myself better, and through that, I began changing my behaviours. I always say the first step in change is awareness, and I was building that awareness. I was learning to be okay with not doing everything at once. I was learning to forgive myself when I didn’t accomplish my goal. I was learning to listen to my body when it felt tired and to simply stop.

More so, I was fortunate that I had the most amazing support system throughout these hard months. My husband has stuck by my side, he showed me that I am loved on both my good days and my not so good days, and for that I am extremely grateful.

“Taking care of my mental health is a continuous journey”

Fast forward 6 months later, and here I am in January 2021. I’ve slowed down, set boundaries and began advocating for myself. But this is only the beginning of my journey. Some days are amazing, some days are hard and both of those are okay.

Taking care of my mental health is a continuous journey. It means being proud of my accomplishment, showing myself kindness, understanding my triggers and reminding myself that: I am human, and it is okay to make mistakes. Part of my mental health journey has meant making time for things I love, like drawing, which I keep myself accountable for by posting it on Instagram. Honestly, this has made such a change in my life and made me more accountable to practice what I preach.

If you are struggling with the pressure of being perfect all the time, then I understand – you are not alone.

If you feel stuck building healthy coping strategies in your life, then remember this: you have developed 10-70+ years of bad habits, and this takes time to change. Be patient and take every step forward or backwards as a learning opportunity.

Thank you Cat, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram (@catcalmingcorner).

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