It’s been a flat-out wonderful month with some really big wins. Really, I couldn’t have asked for nicer outcomes writing-wise than if I had spent hours polishing a magic lantern. And, I’ve responded to all this excitement by feeling …
…nervous. Hypervigilant. Like I’m forgetting something. I’m overly weepy and having multiple panic attacks in quick succession. Every deadline has been met, and yet, I keep looking at my completely crossed out to do list, staring at my empty calendar, and checking my email every five minutes. “Why am I so nervous?” I keep asking. “Shouldn’t I be happy? I SHOULD be happy.”
A friend of mine works as a therapist, and she assures me this isn’t nearly as backward as it sounds. “Eustress,” she tells me, “is positive stress. But while your mind knows the difference, your body does not.” All my body knows, she says, is that my heart is beating fast, there’s been an influx of adrenaline, and my breathing has sped up. So, whether you’re falling in love or going through a divorce, whether you’ve gotten an acceptance letter or a brutal rejection, your body just knows one thing: it’s stressed– truly STRESSED. I can’t seem to sleep, food tastes like cardboard (not that it stops me from stress eating), and my nerves are on high alert.
While eustress may be a physical reaction I have little control over, there does seem to be an element I do have control over. It’s a certain pattern of thinking I’ve had since I was six years old that I call it the “the cycle.” Here’s how “the cycle” works: As soon as I achieve something, I immediately dismiss the achievement and raise the bar. For example, I said I’d call myself a real writer when I got published. Immediately after getting published, I decided it didn’t count because it had low circulation. Then I decided I would be a real writer when I got paid to write. I got my check but it still didn’t feel “real.” And this cycle hasn’t ended since I began scribbling. This is actually a very condensed list of how I seem to be unable to celebrate victories, or worse, how each victory has actually caused me to dismiss what I’ve already done and raise the bar on the expectations for myself. “The cycle” is the route I’m on but, perfectionism drives “the cycle.”
I’ve heard people describe someone who claims to be a perfectionist as just giving themselves some sort of back handed compliment. I suppose this is the type of person who might tell a schizophrenic, So what? I hear a voice in my head too. Fear of not being good enough has often kept me from even putting my work out there in the first place. Perfectionism is not believing yourself to be perfect. On the contrary, it means any mistake, any perceivable imperfection will render all your efforts nil. It’s a deep belief that you stand out from the rest of the world not because you’re special, but because you’re running the race with a handicap just by being you. As personality traits go, it’s quite hindering.
Being a perfectionist, even a recovered/recovering one like me, means that you get to enjoy a few minutes out of every year before being launched back into a black hole of criticism, dread, and unreasonable expectations. I think I enjoyed about two minutes of this, by anyone’s standards, eventful and happy month before “the fear” sat in. Even if you do manage to achieve something, even if all the fear and anxiety finally “pay off,” you reward yourself with a much more complex goal. I fear that even if my wildest, most impossible dreams came true, this cycle of immediately dismissing my victory and raising the bar would end with me saying, “I won’t be a real writer until …” whatever the literary equivalent of an EGOT is (although I’ve yet to come up with a snappy acronym for the Nobel Prize, Man Booker Prize, and Faulkner Award. Not enough vowels).
“Good enough really is good enough.” I must say this out loud at least once a day. Whether I’m hitting send on an email, before I mail off a story, or when I’m second guessing that text I just sent you, I tell myself, “Good enough really is good enough.” I have no control over how my body reacts to eustress. But I do try to combat “the cycle” the only way I can. By reminding myself that I am no different than anyone else. I don’t have to ace everything because of some sort of genetic defect. Sometimes, just ticking off the boxes is good enough.
Now, if anyone can tell me how to actually believe the words that come out of my mouth, please let me know.