Perfection Holds Us Back

Ivan Obolensky
Ivan Obolensky

I feel like so much has happened although, around me, I look and find less and less appears to have changed. Just over a week ago, I began feeling an extreme shift. Unfortunately, less a celebratory shift in spirit, and more a shift off the ledge. A ledge that I had come to inhabit, a ledge I had been idling at, where I had gone on to spend a degrading amount of time so exclusively preoccupied with myself, preoccupied with how to maintain my balance.

What I had completely forgotten to account for was that, as with anything you are invested in maintaining, what we maintain we must first have achieved. And I had not achieved balance or anything balance-like.

Ten days ago, what I was experiencing, was pressure. The pressure to perform, to be, to become, to materialize. And while my general tendency is to feel pressured, the pressure I was experiencing then was pressure at its most extreme. It was a pressure that was, officially, debilitating.

I woke straining to breathe, almost choking on pain. My pain. A pain that exists within the body, that breaks down into you from your heart. But then something happened. I went for coffee and instead of keeping my book open, I turned to the stranger sitting to my left and I spoke. I turned toward her and began a long conversation. This small, though bold, act helped me tremendously. I think I’ve always underestimated or perhaps just shied away from its potential. The potential of others, of talking, that conversations can heal, can minimize, can temper the pain. But that is what happened. I spoke and I listened and I was heard and my mind suddenly broke into rest.

The next day, I did it again. I turned and spoke. I expressed to another stranger, a woman seated next to me on a long subway ride, my impression that we have led ourselves to believe in this “platform of perfection.” This superior level that we hurry towards, that we strain ourselves to arrive at. This platform of perfection becoming, at once, a point we desperately get ourselves to and then expect to extend out from us into our forever.

A place that steadies us and calms. A place of perfect ease, where we are finally at a restful heart rate, where we live unaffected, as if our perfection were our armor, our armor from everything, from anything, from the beautiful and anguished, from all the grace in this world.

I told this woman that that wasn’t what I should be going for. We aren’t meant for this, I said. Our existence demands expansion. It urges us to cross into other environments. But perfection holds us back. It holds us down, both the want for it and the having it. That can’t be right. That can’t be the greater way to live, to show up, to be here.

We are meant for this shifting, turning flux.

We are meant to be affected and then we are meant to be affected again, to be affected differently.

Maybe New York has been my place of disallowance. The place where I have wound myself up with pressure, with performance anxiety, with restraint. The place where I have wounded myself, where I have kept myself from behaving freely, honestly, without impeccableness, without the want to become some phony, perfect version of myself.

Instead of perfect, I am here struggling in New York to keep alive that part of myself which I’ve always been best known for—myself before I was taken away, before I was let go and let loose, myself before college, before New York, myself in my childhood home, with my first friends, my forever friends, myself in Miami.

But I refuse to believe in this. I refuse to accept that there are parts of ourselves which are exclusive to certain cities. I refuse to believe that the best part of myself did not fly here with me, did not move here to New York, did not follow along to guide me. I need that self back. If only because the missing part of myself is the only part that I have ever enjoyed, that I have ever loved, that I may ever love.

A few days after this woman and I’s chat, I broke down. I cried because I had not. And I was crying, I think, because I, for so long, have been ruminating myself raw. Raw from the irrational amount of pressure I have always so easily forced upon myself. The pressure to perform perfectly, to look perfectly, to live perfectly. And then, too, the pressure I am also under to eat again.

I’ll tell you, I’m not rising out of my eating disorder for my family or even to end the painful attention I am given on these New York streets though for the last months I have said that I will recover for them, that I will recover for that. But I will no longer do it just because I need the teenagers in Chelsea to stop hustling me down the avenues, scaring me back into my smallness, shouting at me to go eat a hotdog. No, I will not break free for them. I will not break free just so I am free of that.

I can handle their laughter, their belligerent carelessness that sends me home, down into pillows howling with tears.

I promise you mom, dad, sister this time it is not for them, it is not for you, it is not so the judgment will stop though, of course, I would like it to. Today, I can tell you that my effort to rise out of this eating disorder, to keep myself from free falling off the ledge, from waking in the morning choking on pain, is all because I see it now. I understand that I need my health because my health is my livelihood. I need my health so people will let me talk to them, so they will open up rather than shout. Mom, dad, sister I want to glow again.

I want to have love for what is real and actual, not for the perfect me, but love for the natural me, for the whole me.
Whoever she is, I want to find her again. I want to go to Miami and steal her back. I want to ride the subway and talk her into life. I don’t want to run away from New York. I want to stay here. I want to grow to love her here. I want to grow into loving me, this beautifully anguished me. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

A Breakup Coach, Advice Columnist, and the Podcast Host of Thank You Heartbreak.

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