When you feel like you can’t catch a break…
…it’s probably because you’re not letting go.
It has been a bit since I posted and I apologize for that. I don’t know about you all but I haven’t felt like I could catch a break in, well, a really long time. And that’s what I want to chat about today.
Today’s post is a little bit different than my usual: no makeup talk, no fashion trends, and no smiley faces. It’s time to get real for a minute.
A girl sat next to me at a school concert once and leaned over to her friend and said,
“I always feel like such a mess when I sit next to Maria. She’s just always got it all figured out.”
Flattering, right? When it got back to me what she said, I smiled and internally thought: If only she knew.
I remember what I was wearing that day: a black velvet skirt, a white lace-up blouse (one of my favorites), maroon tights, and my some black suede booties – the kind with the heels that clack loudly when I walk and pair nicely with pretty much everything.
My hair was curled and locked in with hairspray; my eyes were winged; my lips were a maroon hue. I looked like I had it all figured out.
Little did they know I had spent that day in crisis: I woke up that morning, stepped on a scale, and didn’t like the number I saw. I knocked over my cup of coffee and spilled it all over the (undone) homework piling up on my desk. I chose to eat a granola bar for breakfast instead of oatmeal to save some calories, making me binge on pizza at lunch. Angry at myself, I took a nap instead of going to class, making me even farther behind than I was before. My brother calls and I answer, feigning a happy tone: “Oh yeah, everything’s going great!” as I frantically try to change the subject away from my mediocre grades, lack of tuition money, etc etc. I cancelled my babysitting job (again) because I was too anxious to go. Oh and all the stress caused a massive meteor to land on the middle of my forehead. Awesome.
Need I go on?
Hi, my name is Maria, and I’m a perfectionist.
Days like the one mentioned above happen to me all the time.
One thing happens that doesn’t meet my expectations, which affects another thing, which offsets my mood, and starts another thing, and the cycle continues on, and on, and on.
My English professor assigned us a paper about 3 weeks before it was due. Great, I thought — I’ll have three weeks to do it: one draft per week, I’ll take it into office hours and the writing center, it’ll be a great paper and my grade will be great and I will be great.
What actually happened is I stressed myself out about the paper, didn’t think I could do it well, couldn’t find the motivation to do it, put it off for 3 weeks, and wrote the majority of it the day it was due. It was a bad paper. I got it done! But it was not great. It was not what I expected.
I’m a perfectionist. This means I like having control over my surroundings. I like being the leader and doing things my way. I like driving the car. I like making decisions. I like making lists and checking them off. I like looking a certain way.
And when I can’t do those things, I panic. When I feel like I’ve lost control over my circumstances, I lose control over myself. I can’t think straight. I can’t function. Sometimes, I can’t even pull myself out of bed to get something from across the room, because I have let those extraordinarily high self-expectations consume me. And I certainly don’t have it “all figured out” like that sweet, misguided girl thought.
And guess what? Not having everything together all the time is okay.
Actually, it’s better than okay — it means that I’m human. It means that I have bones that exert too much pressure and a brain that goes a million miles a minute and a heart that gets too invested and affected when things don’t go my way.
And those bones? They need to rest.
And that brain? It’s got to relax.
And that heart? It deserves to feel at peace.
Now, I am not saying one should not have expectations of oneself, or to stop working hard, or even to stop liking to be in control. All of those things can be good, to an extent.
But when you let your circumstances affect you so much you can’t even function, there is a serious problem. You have to let go of the thing that’s consuming you or you will crumble.
Have you ever felt like a failure? Like you tried so hard to get something right and you just couldn’t get it? Maybe that feeling looked like:
- a low grade on an exam/paper
- a scolding from your boss
- reaching for a tub of ice cream and a sleeve of Oreos again and again to relieve stress and –
- – a couple (or 10) pounds heavier than expected on the scale
- an acne-ridden face
- a rejection – maybe even from someone you thought would never hurt you
- a glance on social media at all the perfect lives and yours just felt less
- a to-do list still a mile long and no motivation to do it
- a lack of drive to simply do life well
- letting anxiety get the best of you
I could go on. When times like that come, I need you to remember:
- You’re not alone. Everyone is dealing with something.
- She doesn’t have it together, either. Stop comparing yourself to her. You don’t know what she’s going through.
- You’re okay the way you are.
- You can try again.
- You will do better next time.
- Life isn’t easy, but you will get through the tough stuff.
I have to remind myself of these things every day. I have a million and one things I need to let go of.
It all starts with one thing. Start small. For me, I’m starting by letting go of that terrible paper I turned in. It’s over. I can do better next time.
Don’t dwell on the past, my friends, for it will completely destroy the present.
I guess that’s all I have to say for now, but I hope this gave you a bit of encouragement. And to the girl that thought I had it all together: I don’t. But I’m okay with that now.
Until next time —
P.S. I don’t believe I have ever put these thoughts into words nor have ever thought of sharing them. But that’s what the Real Talk series on my blog is about: tearing down all of the barriers we set up around ourselves that protect us yet limit us from talking about real feelings. Because life isn’t perfect. I’m not perfect. And you don’t have to be, either.
Photography source: Tim Marshall