Diary of a Recovering Perfectionist

This was originally posted on my other blog, the OG, ThePeaceMobile.Blogspot.com.

You can find the original post here and explore my other posts. The Peace Mobile, is all about mental health and feeling good from the inside. I’ve actually been thinking of merging these two sites for a long time. ❤ Let me know what you think in the comments!

“Remember, the goal is to win the war, and it is acceptable to lose a battle now and then.”

-LSAT study guide

Yesterday I sat down to take a third practice exam within a 6-week period. After scoring half of the test and realizing I was doing an average job, I was sent into a tailspin of panic and self doubt. Yes, you read correctly. Average, not failing. The score I got was projected to finish with, even at its worst, would have gotten me into several universities. However, that was not good enough for me, a recovering perfectionist.

I’ve been studying for the LSAT, the Law School Admission Test, since September. The exam, in my opinion, doesn’t seem as daunting as the GRE, Graduate Record Examination, but it is still difficult. I had the time to dedicate to the exam, so I decided to take full advantage and study every nook, cranny, and possibility of the test. Law school comes with an expensive price tag, and my LSAT score is crucial to scoring a sale price. (Even in bad times, I can make good dad jokes).

Each time I have taken this exam, I’ve increased my raw score by approximately 8 points. Which is huge progress. That means each time, I get a total of 8 more questions correct. Assuming this would continue to happen, as I’ve been putting in especially long hours the last couple weeks, I sat down with confidence, faith in my weeks of hard work, timer in hand, ready to go. The first section came and went beautifully. Then I got to the second section and had trouble with one or two questions. I faltered. I crashed and burned. I checked the section afterward, and found that I missed a record number of questions. I laid down and cried.

These tears are like a broken record for me. Yesterday’s meltdown specifically took me back to the time I played piano at church as an 8-year-old child. I played “Ode to Joy,” a song I knew by heart. I played it from memory actually, no sheet music. Somewhere in the middle of the performance, I missed a few notes. I immediately began to panic, which caused me to miss even more. By the time I finished, I had done such a terrible job in my 8-year-old-perfectionist mind, that I was an embarrassment to my family, church, and society, all for missing a couple notes and perhaps improvising a Bailey original by the end of the performance. No one heard it that way. Everyone clapped lovingly and assured me of how well I did. I walked back to my seat with my family, where I laid down and cried in embarrassment in shame. I wasn’t crying because I didn’t “get what I want.” It was much deeper than that, like my tears yesterday. I was embarrassed and disappointed in myself for not performing to the potential I knew I was capable of. At that point in my life, I was not engaging in self-harming habits, but I was able to feel full self-loathing. That’s what happened yesterday. I let a few missed notes, a few missed questions trip me, and I fell face-first into my former-perfectionist ways. My appetite changed accordingly. I ate very little yesterday, causing me to have even more shame and disappointment. It was a heartbreaking day all around.

I thought my days of crying about defeat were over. Apparently not. The LSAT has actually driven me to tears before. Like a scene out of a movie, I checked my second practice test, and after question 15, I seemed to have missed every single one. I was at home alone, and immediately started panicking and crying. How had I done so terribly? Had I learned nothing? I’m getting WORSE! Then I looked down to realize I had been looking at the wrong section for the whole second half. Sigh. I was actually more than fine.

Despite that somewhat silly anecdote, I knew that neither of those reactions were healthy. I let the results of a standardized test ruin my self confidence for an entire day. Life’s too short, dude! Not only that, but I was distraught over having an average score. Average is hard for me to accept, especially if it’s something I’ve been working at for a long time. I wasn’t distraught because I tried and failed like a normal person. I was distraught because I didn’t do perfectly– because I achieved X and not Y. I’ve been working for hours per week for months to make sure I do perfectly. My brain just could not accept it.

After my meltdown yesterday, I went for a run, which also did not go 100% according to plan, causing me more feelings of anxiety. I have let the pain of perfectionism rule my life for so long, which eventually manifested into an eating disorder. When that was diagnosed, I tried hard to say goodbye to my perfectionist ways. I was mostly successful, but I still have terrible days, like yesterday. I feel endless amounts of guilt if my running workouts or races are not 100%. I feel guilty when I study only 2.5 hours, not a full 3. I feel guilt when I get an average score on an exam. I work on this everyday.

Today, still feeling a little defeated, I peeled myself out of bed and took my study materials to my favorite cafe to try again. I ended up finishing my 500-page book on LSAT strategies and theories, and found a little nugget of wisdom within the last five pages, the quote that inspired this post.

“Remember, the goal is to win the war, and it is acceptable to lose a battle now and then.”

The advice was purely technical, literally encouraging students to go on when they’re stuck on a question. But the advice was poignant and precisely what I needed to read today, especially regarding my mental health. I never thought I’d see the day that I found solace in a study guide. Here we are. Yesterday I lost a battle to perfectionism. And it was acceptable. Because my goal is to win the war.

Stay strong, my loves. You are more than enough.


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