In my obsession with perfection, I forgot a valuable life lesson: pretty good can be perfection too.
Adventurous and fun-loving and driven and studious, I have sought it all. The dreamy vacation, the fulfilling career, the steamy romance. But the mind has always craved more.
Growing up, I would spend hours poring over an essay. I rehearsed clever rejoinders before dates. I would analyze events from 2002. I am laughing and cringing at these memories.
I was comfortable in my skin as long as I met my own exacting standards.
College, with its whirlwind of courses, activities, and temptations, was exhilarating. I loved it — the engaging discussions, the bucolic setting, and rabid school spirit.
It is also where my mental health issues emerged. My quest for perfection would blaze a long, winding road.
For the past decade, I have doggedly pursued mental health remedies. Individual therapy, group sessions, medication. I was determined to feel good. In my quest for good, I forgot that pretty good can be perfection too.
Swimming with a bunch of sharks and piranhas, my mental health nosedived during law school orientation. In law school’s self-contained world, every class, presentation, and exam seemed deathly important. At semester’s end, I was a disheveled, distracted mess.
As I reviewed end of semester exams, my perfectionistic tendencies enveloped me. If a friend struggled in a class, it was permissible, even acceptable. “These classes are tough. You busted your ass and should be proud of the effort you put forth,” I reassured a study buddy. When I struggled? My sensitive soul transformed into a demanding dictator. The cure: medication. Or so it seemed.
My personality mix of persistent, stubborn, and resilient is a potent cocktail. Persuasive and personable, I would press my psychiatrist for the latest medication. He would oblige. Speeding to the local pharmacy, I believed the latest prescription would be the antidote.
Within eight weeks, my mood had dipped and energy level waned. Dejectedly, I scheduled another appointment with the psychiatrist. He would prescribe another medication; again I would bolt to the nearest pharmacy. Within weeks, I would complain of sagging energy and erratic mood. A bundle of volatile emotions, this pattern continued for years as I cycled through multiple psychiatrists. As I chased perfection, I was mired in a never-ending race.
I was running on empty. Frustration seeping out of my pores, life’s marathon nearly grounded me. Family dissension, mental health issues, my mother’s passing, and employment instability were overwhelming.
Insert Dr. McCann. “There is nothing wrong with you,” my counselor commented. Her gaze fixed on me. “Matt, you overthink things.”
Mouth agape, I stared at her. After years of mental torment, something must be wrong with me. I was sure of it.
Identifying unhealthy core beliefs, Dr. McCann and I slowly unpeeled my past. With her help, I have made significant strides. She is tough, unapologetic, and encouraging.
There is nothing wrong with me. Not a thing. And there is nothing wrong with you, either.
It has taken me years to realize that. Pretty good, if I don’t say so myself. Welcome to my new perfection.