When Depression Masks Itself In The Form Of Perfectionism

Perfectionist
God & Man

“What do you like most about yourself?”

It seemed like a simple enough question that should have been answered quickly and easily. But I sat there frozen.

“Okay. What do you dislike about yourself?”

That question I seemed to answer a lot easier.

I never really saw the connection between striving to be perfect and how it linked to my battle with depression.

If anyone looked at me or knew me without following me on social media or read the things I wrote, depression would be the last word anyone would use to describe me. On the outside, I’ve always appeared upbeat and positive and goal oriented.

Yes, I had my moments of wanting to be alone and seclude myself. Despite being as social as I was I would identify myself as a loner. Someone who thought too much. Someone who was in my world sometimes.

In the years of college, I strived to obtain perfection or appear like I had it all together, I was falling apart on the inside. But no one ever saw that.

No one saw the nights I wake up in a dead sleep to study and prep for class. No one saw me completely breakdown in the hallway crying because I didn’t get an A and it would totally mess up my GPA. No one saw me running thin as I was because being an athlete in college, mixed with overloaded classes I had to get approved of, along with being in a sorority, maintaining a job, an internship, volunteering, all while trying to be a good friend, family member and keep my sanity wasn’t easy.

No one thought much of running ten miles a day but in my mind, all I thought about were the calories I needed to burn or what my caloric intake was that day. I had a mental calculator in my mind of what every food consisted of.

“You’re going to have a mental breakdown if you keep living your life at this speed,” a professor said to me. But in the mind of someone who is a perfectionist, I didn’t hear that as a warning sign, what I heard was someone doubting me and someone I had to prove wrong.

While I’ve graduated and maintain a job this wasn’t something that went away after high school and college. It’s still something I battle with.

When I look in the mirror I don’t see myself the way others do. While someone on the outside might look at me and say she’s killing it. The cost of trying to maintain that reputation comes with sleepless nights as I worry about things I’ve committed to. It comes with biting off more than I can chew but swear I can maintain it. It comes with appearing like I am floating on the surface and calm but no one sees the struggle.

It’s wanting to be the best at everything because the thought of being number 2 makes me cringe.

But also fearing failure that procrastinate things and put them off.

It’s wanting to outwork everyone in a room because in my mind if I’m not doing that or giving 110% all the time someone’s going to beat me. Someone is going to make me lose everything I’ve worked for.

In the mind of a perfectionist, our greatest fear is both failures and letting people down. So instead we strive to be successful even if it kills us. We say yes to everything and everyone. We somehow make things happen and are leaders. But the cost is our mental health, which is something we silently battle.

The cost is looking at our reflection and not being proud of accomplishments but seeing everything we lack looking back at us. It’s striving to want to do more and be better but struggling with ourselves and our own demons.

We think happiness is in the form of what we can achieve but with every achievement, we find ourselves still feeling empty and sad when the task is over. Then we focus on chasing the next thing like that will be what brings us ultimate happiness.

But it never does.

I remember crossing the finish line of the NY Full Marathon. 5:15min. And all I kept thinking of what, how mad I was at myself for not breaking 5 hours. I looked at my medal and I didn’t see success. I saw a goal in my mind I didn’t achieve.

We think if our shortcoming and flaws weren’t relevant we’d be happy. We think if we achieve more or do better we’ll be happy. So we push ourselves more and more just to see how much we can take.

A perfectionist who deals with depression comes very close to breakdowns because it isn’t the pressure someone else puts on us but the pressure we put on ourselves to achieve success. And we’ll anything for it.

It’s having unrealistic goals but somehow trying to achieve them.

It’s never being able to relax because we are always thinking about the next thing.

It’s failing to live in the moment or in reality.

A perfectionist has a tainted view of both themselves and the world we live in.

And it’s hard to look at someone you think has it all and has it all together and know they don’t see themselves the way everyone else does.

Then you compliment them and they shrug it off like something great wasn’t that big of a deal and it isn’t that they are being modest or downplaying their success to them it’s never good enough.

I remember laying there next to someone who really did care about me, he brushed a piece of my hair behind my ear, kissed my forehead and uttered the words, “you’re perfect.” And without even being able to control it I started crying.

I hate the word perfect. Perfect reminds me of everything I’m not. Perfect reminds me of every time I fell short of my own expectations. Perfect reminds me of every rejection or failure I’ve ever had I can’t seem to let go of.

Perfect reminds me of the waitlist letter from my number one college even though I got into 14/15 schools I applied to.

Perfect reminds me of the person I loved with all my heart, someone I gave my best to and I watched it fall short. If I was perfect I would be good enough for him.

Perfectionism comes with a deep rooted insecurity that if I’m not achieving greatness I’m a failure.

I don’t know if depression triggers striving to be perfect or trying so hard to be perfect and falling short is what makes me depressed sometimes. It’s a cycle I struggle to beat.

But very few people see it. Because the greatest trait of a perfectionist is the ability to deceive everyone. The ability to achieve things and make it seem effortless.

But the truth is it’s exhausting being good enough for just about everyone else except the person looking back at you in the mirror. TC mark

Kirsten Corley

Kirsten is the author of But Before You Leave, a book of poetry about the experiences we struggle to put into words.

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