So, I’m a perfectionist. I’m also a procrastinator and kind of a slob. My mom always wondered when I was a kid how I could be so organized yet so messy. My teachers throughout my life have always been baffled by the fact that I do my work and turn everything in at the last possible second. I find myself doing it even now– I just sent in a form for grad school past the deadline.
How does this line up with perfectionism?
The answer isn’t complicated– if it can’t be flawless, spotless, spectacular, perfect, it can’t be at all. The mess comes from the fact that it’s too exhausting to keep a room spotless at all times, and even a little mess ruins the perfection– a lot of mess doesn’t ruin it any further, and actually produces less anxiety than a perfectly tidy room with only a couple things out of place. A messy room can be easily categorized as messy and left alone. An almost-perfectly-clean room is categorized as “clean but wrong” and “work to do,” and if the perfectionist doesn’t have the time or energy to get it perfect immediately, it becomes a producer of heavy and constant background anxiety. Mess is simpler. Less painful. Less noise in my head.
The same proves true for paperwork, whether it’s an essay, fiction, or just a form to be submitted. There’s a terror for me that I’ll do it wrong somehow– that the essay will be subpar, that the fiction will be inadequate, that the form will be incorrectly filled out or sent in. Doing it at the last second means that if any of those things turn out to be true, and my head can just chalk it up to having done it under a severe time constraint and that weird anxiety-producing goblin in the back of my brain can’t berate me endlessly for being imperfect.
These are the parts of anxiety that medication and therapy haven’t fixed. I’ve been in therapy on and off since I was thirteen– nearly twelve years– and on anxiety meds for about five or six now. The combination of these things has really worked for me overall– I’ve gone from not attempting my work at all out of terror of failure to attempting it at the last minute, which is progress, I guess. I keep my living spaces a baseline of cluttered but not disgusting and am usually able to convince myself that it’s good enough without panicking and throwing clothes all over the room to “even out the mess.” But it never really goes away 100% for me, no matter how aware of it I am. The anxiety and perfectionism becomes, at times, completely paralyzing. With grad school approaching, that’s kind of terrifying. I feel my little brain-goblin or whatever digging its heels in when it comes to submitting my work and my forms, and I get scared that I don’t have the ability to actually function as an adult in an academic setting.
There’s no punchline or, I don’t know, wrapping-things-up closing statement here. I’m a mess and a perfectionist at the same time and I procrastinate like nobody’s business and I’m scared that that’s going to screw up the things I want to do. Comments like, “if you know about it, just stop doing it,” come my way a lot, and anybody with depression or anxiety on a clinical scale knows that that doesn’t help. Tricks with rewards like “you get a cookie if you do it!” don’t help for me; I just eat the cookie anyway, or decide no cookie is worth the panic.
If anyone who has a similar issue feels like giving a suggestion that’s less about beating anxiety via intense mega willpower, I would…really love to hear it, because being an adult with real deadlines is scary as hell in the face of a brain that isn’t always super helpful.