The Cost of Perfectionism - My Journey pt. 1 (through 10th grade)

Hello everyone!

I hope you're loving the #blissbeanselfcare challenge so far - we're over halfway through it! Make sure you follow me on Instagram where I share how I complete each day's challenge (or most of them, haha). I've put all of it together into a handy dandy story highlight. Also, if you're looking for the original challenge (which, true story, can actually be done during ANY 28 days of the year), you can find it here:

1: How I Deal With Perfectionism + 28-Day SELF CARE Challenge

And all of the other Bliss Bean March of Self Care series blog posts can be found here:

13 Ways to Show Yourself Love (Self Care Ideas) 
2: 50 MORE Self Care Ideas for Total Wellness  
3: 23 Resources (Books, Websites, Videos & more) to Continue your Self Care Revolution
4: you're reading it!

This post will be a bit different. I knew that with my self care series, I had to explore what I consider to be somewhat the opposite of self care - perfectionism. And so today I'll be sharing my own experiences with perfectionism throughout my life. Hope you enjoy!

I have always been a perfectionist. I touched on this a bit in the first post I wrote for this series. While it has waxed and waned and manifested itself in different ways throughout the years, I can always see it. And now that I'm older and have the opportunity to step back and look at the bigger picture, it becomes even easier to spot these patterns.

5th grade

When I was in 5th grade, the teacher let us run wild with a broad assignment - simply, a "book project". I finally settled upon creating a faux newspaper based on my book: interviews with the characters, cover stories based on major plot points, themed crossword puzzles, even obituaries based on who passed away in the book. My teacher warned me right away that this would be a big undertaking. I didn't listen, and I went for it. It didn't help that I was also a procrastinator at the time (a terrible combination with perfectionism). I clearly remember the anxiety of fussing with various Word files at midnight the night before it was due, trying to get them to print correctly, my parents upset that I was up so late. But when I presented, my teachers and classmates were impressed. I lapped up the praise.

6th grade

In 6th grade, my reading teacher put me in this accelerated online course. I was so excited to get to skip reading class to go to the library to work on my own. I felt so grown up. But I soon became so overwhelmed. The instructors of the course were tough. They weren't like my regular teachers whom I could easily please with my work. These instructors always found something wrong with what you'd written, and it was impossible to ever reach full points. That scared me. The gigantic textbook and long reading assignments also scared me.

This year was the worst. That winter, I soon found myself spiraling into a terrible sadness. It's hard to remember much from this period of my life. I remember that I got sick a lot, which only made the situation worse, because I would have to make up work at home. I remember that random thoughts would start troubling me. A memory of something stupid I did would resurface and nag me constantly. And then another memory. I remember labeling these as the "first", "second", "third thing" and so on to keep track of them. I collected agitating memories like knick-knacks and turned them over and over in my mind.

I couldn't fall asleep at night. I was constantly crying. I could hardly smile around my family. My parents were concerned, but they didn't understand at all, which made me feel very alone.

The thing is, I felt pretty good at school. Somehow, being around my friends the regular routine really helped me. It was when I went home and was left to face all of my homework alone that I crumbled. My mom told my reading teacher, who then pulled me aside one day. She commented that I had totally fooled her, that I seemed happy in the reading course. But I wasn't trying to fool anyone. I genuinely felt happy at school.

She told me about her own experiences with perfectionism. It helped. I don't remember if that's what fixed it, though. I genuinely don't remember how I got out of that bad place, but I did.

From there on, I continued to be a perfectionist, albeit one that was generally happy. So let's continue.

On the sand dunes in Lithuania

On the sand dunes in Lithuania

8th grade

In 8th grade, I faced the dreaded year that the older kids had always warned us about. We'd always thought that 8th graders stopped coming to biology club because they felt too cool for it. We realized then that it was because they were overwhelmed.

I'm not sure why exactly eighth grade in my middle school was so hard. A big part of it was the new grading system. Doing perfectly on a test no longer meant you got a 4.0. Doing perfectly constituted a mere 3.0, and if you wanted anything more, you would have to do extra work. In science class, for example, that meant learning about extra topics on your own time and answering questions about them on the tests.

Looking back on it, I took that entire year way too seriously. It's almost laughable at this point. I remember making a huge stack of flashcards to memorize this big table of information on Native Americans from different regions. For example, what sort of shelters did Eastern Native Americans build? I remember spending hours writing a story from the point of view of a photon for science class because I wanted so badly to impress my teacher and show her that I was also skilled in writing. I remember memorizing the entire phototransduction cascade (wow, I still remember the name) for an extra credit question on a science test about eyes. I remember writing such, such detailed answers on my science tests that I used my tiniest penmanship and would come in during lunch to make sure I could get down everything I had spent so long memorizing.

9th grade

A few days before I began high school

A few days before I began high school

Moving on. Freshman year. It was truly a breath of fresh air after eighth grade. While most of the grade was having trouble adjusting to the new expectations, kids from my middle school were finally getting a chance to breathe easy. But I quickly managed to create a new problem for myself. I saw kids around me who were SO successful (or at least, it seemed to me). They were taking their PSATs, whereas standardized tests were not even on my radar yet. They had planned out their course schedules for their four years of high school, whereas I was just taking it year by year. They were involved in all of these clubs, whereas I had two or three.

I felt like I should be doing more, but I had no idea what. And that feeling terrified me. I remember one specific day where I was sitting in my second hour class and genuinely panicking. I had to try really hard to keep from crying because of the sudden guilt that hit me that I wasn't doing enough.

Disordered eating

Oh, and let's not forget my disordered eating. I almost forgot about that, honestly. It's not something that stands out to me when I look back at my life, but it's an important part of my journey. I began restricting my food freshman year. I started exercising. I started counting calories. It was almost too easy to lose weight. I lost my period, but I was too busy to stop and think and actually do something about it. When my parents intervened, I was absolutely terrified of going to the doctor. That was a few really unpleasant months of my life that caused a lot of tension in my family.

During one particular visit, my doctor asked me about what I was involved in at school. I started rattling things off. I saw this look of understanding wash across his face, and I knew exactly what it meant. He saw straight through me and understood how my perfectionistic tendencies led me to develop this obsession with my eating and exercise habits. While it took a while for me to let up on the routines I'd established, I eventually got through that, too. And I can finally happily say I have gotten my period back and am healthy.

Selfie with a goat...

Selfie with a goat...

10th grade

In tenth grade, I may have overcompensated for that guilty feeling. I didn't join any more clubs, but I really threw myself into everything I was a part of. That really wore me out. I remember a specific moment of having about a month left of school and wanting to just laugh and cry at the same time because the thought of having to go up to my room to do homework was crushing.

Ah, cliffhanger! What happens in 11th grade? So I had actually written this entire story as one blog post but it ended up being over 2000 words so I decided to split it up into two parts. On Thursday I'll be publishing part 2, about junior year (spoiler: the best year) and what things I have done differently that have made it so good. 

Thank you so much for reading this... this is a more personal post and I truly appreciate you for taking the time to read it. I love you all!

Do you feel you are a perfectionist? What are some habits/tendencies you wish you could let go of?

Beatrice x