I bet when you read the title of this blog, you thought that I would be telling you what the perfect New Year’s resolution would be. That’s not how I meant it, though. I meant that I will be making a resolution this year about perfectionism, which I will call the “perfect” resolution. And, the resolution will be to end my quest to be perfect.
The reason why you probably misunderstood the title of my blog is because our minds trick us into believing that if we are “perfect” we will be the best version of ourselves, and find true happiness. We are looking for the “perfect” everything. The media slams us with headlines like “your perfect body” or “the perfect job.”
Getting over perfectionism was a lesson hard-won for me. I lived the first 18 years of my life as a perfect-a-holic. I had to have perfect grades, a perfect body, and a perfect life. But, chasing after all of this didn’t help me one bit. In fact, I was diagnosed in the fall of my 18th year with bipolar disorder. So much for perfect.
What ensued was a total identity crisis. How could I be perfect if I had this “blemish?” I felt deeply flawed and un-loveable, which is even far worse than just feeling “imperfect.” But, I turned this all around, and I here’s how: I changed my perspective and thinking. I decided that rather than trying to be perfect, I would go on a quest for authenticity, meaning that I would work hard to bring out the best that I had to offer that was unique to me. This included being open about who I really was.
I remember the first time I shared my authentic self. It was before Facebook was popular, so I went on MySpace, and I decided to share my story about my struggle with, and ongoing work to recover from bipolar disorder. I had many friends on MySpace who didn’t know about my story; friends from growing up and high school, friends from work, etc, so, I put it out there publicly. I remember the cold sweat that I instantly broke out into as soon as I published the first post. What would people think of me? Would I hurt myself in some way, in my career or relationships by telling the truth?
Yet, the response was unexpectedly amazing. People who I had lost touch with reached out to me to thank me, and share their struggles. People shared how much they respected me for “going public.” But, I didn’t do this to get accolades or win a popularity contest; I shared my story because I wanted to be the voice that I didn’t hear when I was 18, and scared that bipolar would ruin my life. I wanted to talk to that fragile teenage girl and let her know that recovery is possible, and that just like I overcame bipolar, she could, too. I wanted to be a role model for her, and all others who struggle with mental illness.
In the process of sharing my story, I reached a new level of authenticity. My career changed from being a teacher to life coaching people with mental illness and helping them build the lives of their dreams. I also got a wonderful opportunity to begin my work at Columbia Psychiatry training mental health professionals. This fall, I will start a PhD program in mental health.