My journey as a perfectionist by Lilly Barlow

My journey as a perfectionist

Photo Credit: `James Wheeler via Compfight cc

I have read and reread this blog and in my mind it is not perfect…You see my name is Lilly and I am a perfectionist.

I live every day with the demons of GAD, every thought I have escalates out of control. I will walk into a room and be totally convinced I am the fattest, ugliest most stupid person in the whole room and every single person is talking about me.

Every conversation I have with my Peers starts with “What have I done wrong?” and “Are you sacking me?”. It is exhausting, debilitating and has over the years destroyed every shred of self-esteem and confidence I have struggled to find. It stops me socialising and having the most basic of relationships with friends or family. I have a huge, massive wall that is impossible for anybody to penetrate.

Defining moments

There is a defining moment in my life; at 18 months I was adopted, when I was 9 years old my parents told me “I am special, I was chosen and very much loved and wanted”, what I heard was “Your parents didn’t want you so they gave you away” and so my perfectionism was born. I had to please every person in my life to avoid rejection, just in case I was “given away” or gotten rid of again. The double edged sword was proving to the person who rejected that baby that they had made a mistake, that I was smart and had achieved amazing things without them.

The consequence of this driving force is that I have an overriding need to push the very limits in everything I do. I have gotten out of bed at 4.30 in the morning and commuted into London to work on a report only to struggle to “get it perfect” and still miss my deadline, resulting in me having a panic attack in the middle of an open office.

I have taken on senior management roles, absolutely flying through the interview process and then only to find I have been crippled by self doubt, where I would totally close down to the point of exhaustion and deep, deep depression and then have the feeling of failure, ultimately leading to the total conviction that I am stupid. Logical? No. Do I have evidence that backs this up? In my illogical mind, plenty.

My last crisis

My last crisis two years ago was the turning point for me. I was in a demanding job, customer facing and in my own personal hell, studying for my degree that I had to have to prove I wasn’t stupid, along with countless other courses and exams, working ridiculous hours to keep my head above water, barely able to function let alone deal with clients or manage staff and all the conflicts that people management inevitably brings. Predictably the perfectionism and the wall I built to protect myself fell… spectacularly.

I made the best decision in my adult life. The job was destroying me. I was contemplating walking out of the office, no mobile, no laptop, no money and just disappearing from the face of the earth. I truly felt I was going mad and I was going to end up being sectioned, I had to do something to stop my complete and utter collapse. I left my job, took a substantial pay cut and took hold of my life and gave myself a break. No more studying, no more exams. It wastime to break the chains of rejection and choose to move on.

I found a job in a small family company, no responsibilities, fixed contract, I had therapy, took my meds and started the recovery process. I have been on a journey of reflection, learning who I am, reconnecting with my mind, I gave myself the gift of love and acceptance, time to heal.

Old anxieties return, but I’ve made progress

My contract ended this year and I started a new job, my old anxieties surfaced, I reverted to type and have found myself enrolled on a Masters course via distance learning. The difference is I recognised the signs, every review I had I asked when I would be sacked and I was awake half the night worrying and analysing every conversation.

Checking my emails every five minutes so that I wouldn’t miss anything and able to reply instantly to “prove” I was on the ball and in control, I felt I had to justify my abilities and if I missed an email people would think I wasn’t capable. I recognised this would make me very Ill and I asked for help. Six weeks ago my journey was given labels, GAD with obsessive tendencies.

GAD is not something that is “one size fits all” but the results are the same. It is an endless cycle of self doubt, anxiety and isolation. It takes away your ability to enjoy the moment, your energy is spent on the thoughts and rituals of perfectionism and “keeping up appearances”.

Why am I sharing?

I am sure my situation is not unique. I want to tell people about my experiences, even those who have no concept of mental illness. To tell people who do battle every day that there is someone who is not afraid to talk about their deepest fears and talk about the taboo subjects.

Self reflection is part of my journey that is still ongoing. I am sure I will have bad days, but doesn’t everybody? I have further challenges to face with my studies, dealing with the workload and learning to be able to submit work on time and not worry if it is perfect, but today I feel strong, I can do this. I want to openly talk about living with GAD, and say to you that you are not alone.

My name is Lilly and I am more than a statistic or a label, I am prepared to stand up and be counted. The more people that read this and understand the better.

  1. sara November 6, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    Holy Crap! You and I are a lot alike. Just keeping up appearances is enough to set me up for complete failure. It’s like a self fulfilling prophecy, yet I do this to myself over and over. Every fall gets harder and harder to get through. I am my biggest fear.

    • Steve Clarke November 6, 2013 at 9:44 pm

      Hi Sara,

      I’m sure Lilly will reply a little later, but I just wanted to let you know that you do not need to keep falling and that when you do, they can become easier to deal with.

  2. Lilly November 6, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Hi Sara,

    Thank you for commenting, it means a lot to me. I understand what you mean by falling, the self fulfilling prophecy can be your worst enemy, but it could also be your best friend, listen to the positive things it has to tell you, you might surprise yourself, every small victory is a triumph, it’s not easy because the negative committee can be very persuasive, but that little whisper of encouragement can grow into a shout x

  3. Rhian November 7, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Thank you for sharing your story, you have me thinking about my own and altho I used to write, I haven’t for a long time for fear of….yup you guessed it… not being worth it to other people!

    • Steve Clarke November 7, 2013 at 10:42 am

      Hi Rhian,

      Thank you for the comment, I’m sure Lilly will very much appreciate it.

      In regards to writing, you’d be surprised at just how many people would read your personal experiences and tips, and how much good it can do for them. In addition, writing can be very therapeutic for you and is one of the many reasons I started this blog in the first place.

      Why not consider writing for Complex at Best?

  4. Lilly November 7, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    Hello Rhian,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to reply… I look forward to reading your first blog :)

    I think you should re discover old pleasures, I for one would take an interest in anyone who took the time to contribute, I know how difficult to take that first step, so as I say I look forward to reading your first post, it will give you a massive boost of confidence I promise :)

    Lilly x

  5. Edwina Clarke November 8, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and being brutally honest . I totally understand what you are saying and I didn’t realise the extent you are suffering . I know you will help people by your honesty and vulnerability. I am proud to call you my best friend . Ed :)

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