Perfectionism makes me sick—literally

I’ve been sick with a garden variety of head colds, chest colds, and sinus infections since early January. Since Monday of last week, I’ve been battling fatigue and a pretty intense cough that sent me to the urgent care on Thursday. They x-rayed me, tapped my sinuses, listened to my lungs, and decided to give antibiotics a try to clear up what they can only guess is a long-term sinus infection. Being sick has really made me long for the days of health I so enjoyed not too long ago. It’s really starting to wear me down.

In the last 7 days, I’ve shed tears on four different occasions, for multiple reasons: stress overload, the breakdown of my health, the conflicting demands of my schooling and my day job, and my inability to gracefully manage all of the recurrent responsibilities and obligations I’ve scheduled back-to-back into my everyday life.

Daylight savings time caught me by surprise and wiped me out to the point of exhaustion on Monday and Tuesday. By late Tuesday evening, my body was battling both sensations of sleep deprivation and my lingering chest cold. I was dizzy and foggy and barely “there”. This culminated in me breaking down in tears about my stunted ability to perform sexually, as my boyfriend stroked my hair and told me I had nothing to apologize for.

The weather up here in Minnesota has barely broken from it’s winterly posturing. We’ve either had frigid cold days where any misstep will send you careening down icy sidewalks, or warm sunny days that leave pools of dirty city water at every corner (which eventually freeze over again and become the aforementioned icy sidewalks). I crave the days of opening my bedroom window to a cool breeze, sun on my shoulders, and the packing up of all my winter clothes until next autumn.

I can’t even imagine how the folks on the East Coast feel right now. It gives me anxiety even looking at the weather forecasts for this week’s nor’easter.

All of this has ground me down and left me feeling completely drained. I cycle between extreme irritability, calm, sadness, contentment, and flatness on a regular basis.

Spring seems to be a difficult time of year for me.

More difficult than the dead of winter, spring to me is the culmination of my tireless efforts throughout winter and the frequently unrealized hopes for summery respite. It’s warm and hopeful thoughts that are often crushed beneath wet, slippery snow. It’s inequality between cloudy and sunny days. At this point, the end of the tunnel is in sight, as far as my school work goes, but there’s still a month and a half and lots of stressful days between then and now.

I don’t want to be a downer about spring, at least not all the time. But for me, this spring has been frustrating and stressful and cold. So cold. I suppose the cold is normal — over the last several years, our winters have been more mild in comparison, so what is typical of the region has felt particularly punishing. My various illnesses have created a dent in my ability to be present with my clients at my internship, and a dent in my ability to be productive at work. These illnesses have made it impossible at times to train for my 10k in May, or my 5k in April. I have been so tired for so long and this tiredness makes me want to cry.

This spring has been rough, and I know in 5 or 10 years, I will look back at everything I’m doing (or trying to do) and wonder how the hell I did it at all. What is sustaining me? Any true form of self-care has been set to the side for over a month now, and I’ve been pushing myself and my body to just “get through it” regardless of how tired, stressed, or sick I am. I’m pushing and pushing and pushing.

Last night as I cried, I said to my boyfriend, “I’m trying the best I can to get better,” and he laughed while pointing out that there isn’t any magical pill or set of things to do to just “get better.” I protested by saying that I’m trying the best I can to take care of myself, but even then, I knew I wasn’t being 100% honest about that. I have not taken a true day off for myself in months–not even a weekend day–and I am mentally and physically unwell because of it. My body’s defenses have broken down and I haven’t taken the proper steps to build those defenses back up again. The result is an agitated, frustrated, fatigued, chronically sick, impatient woman who keeps pressuring herself to get better instead of just…letting herself get better and letting herself be.

The reality is that I can’t simply walk away from all of my current responsibilities without some major, negative consequences, like losing my job and failing out of school. There are things that I will need to continue doing if I’m going to achieve the end result of staying employed and finishing my degree. But what I’m really starting to force myself to accept is that I cannot run at 110% all of the time. I cannot continue to pack my days full from the time I wake up at 6:45 ‘til the time I fall asleep at 11:30, every single day.

Managing my time well and allowing myself to run at less-than-full-speed has never been easy. My motivation to succeed has increased tenfold over the past few years, starting with my divorce in early 2015 and ramping up even more in when I got sober in 2016. I’ve been so concerned with doing it all that I’ve failed to stop and recognize what it all is doing to me.

And so here I am, a month and a half away from the completion of my first year of internship, still running between jobs and doing weekly homework and volunteering my editing skills and running a bi-weekly creative writing group and dating someone new.

And I am tired.

And I want to get healthy.

And I am afraid of dropping the ball.

I’m afraid I already have.

I’m holding myself back from going to the gym after work today to lift weights because damnit, just let yourself recover for a minute, Em.

I’m procrastinating on a school project until the last minute because I can’t even muster the mental energy to perform in that arena, which is making me even more stressed.

When really, all I need to do is just…stop, and breathe. Listen to my body. Don’t beat myself up too badly. Take my vitamins and finish the round of antibiotics they gave me, and if I’m not better by Friday, go back to the doctor. Get to bed a little earlier than normal, and don’t spend hours before bed looking at my phone. Simple things, Em. Things I know how to do, that aren’t hard and that actually bring my stress levels down, rather than elevating them.

It’s difficult, though, bringing the speed down after running with all pistons firing for so long. Perfectionism is a bitch. It is stress in the making. It has been one of my biggest struggles since the day I got sober, and let’s behonest—I was still a pretty big perfectionist before then, too.

This perfectionist part of being sober is annoying sometimes. More than annoying, it’s sickening—literally. I wonder if I can let myself fail at something and learn that even if I do drop the ball, life won’t be over and I’ll carry on? This might be an experiment I have to test out sometime soon.

8 thoughts on “Perfectionism makes me sick—literally

  1. ainsobriety says:

    Perfectionism makes us all sick. It doesn’t help us at all.

    There is a time for hard work and a time to cut our losses and take time to do much less than we could.
    It sounds like you need a real break. I hope you take it.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Robert Crisp says:

    I agree with everyone–I’d say a break is in order. We can only do so much, and we can be too hard on ourselves.

    Sending you good thoughts and vibes. : )

    Liked by 2 people

  3. thesoberstylist says:

    I am on day 4 (again…) and just read through a bunch of your blog posts. I feel like I know you, I feel like in a lot of ways I AM you. Thank you for being so open and honest, it is such a huge help to read blogs like yours and know that even though I will still have shit to deal with, being sober and dealing is possible and that maybe some day I will even maybe be able to have fun again… I hope you’ve taken some time for yourself and that you’re feeling better ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

    • okayishness blog says:

      This comment makes me smile! Thank you for your kind words. The first few weeks are haaaard (the first few days especially!) but I have no doubt you’ve got it in you. And I also have no doubt that you’ll find sober fun where you least expect it. At least, that’s what happened to me 😊 kudos to you for keeping after it!

      Liked by 1 person

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