Photo credit: Ed Bowron
This entire biography should have come easily. As Ross Hockrow once wrote, “no one knows your story better than you do.” Even though he was speaking about filmmakers, I think this quote is quite relevant to the entire process of writing this; obviously, I should be able to explain my story, from the beginning, to the middle, to the end. Then, I could go on with my day.
However, writing this biography was not that easy.
I’ve stuck on it for the last two months, determined to make sure that it was written in a way that was perfect.
The irony of the situation does not escape me.
Each time I would open this document, my stomach would clench, my hands would become sweaty and my brain and my heart both felt as if they were pounding against my body in a desperate plea to escape imprisonment. I felt as though an anvil sat on my chest, restricting my lungs the oxygen that I so desperately needed.
These feelings are nothing new. While I cannot single out the point in time when I first felt this way, my black and white, catastrophizing mindset of perfectionism has manifested itself in numerous ways over my life, with a different trigger each time.
Learning to ride a bike.
Getting my first job.
Driving a car.
Whether I was acting in a way that wouldn’t turn people away.
While I have felt this way for a majority of my life, I never looked for help. ‘I can handle it myself’ became something of a motto, as did ‘no one else feels this way so I shouldn’t have to.’ However, starting university exacerbated these worries in terms of school work. As we’ve been told time and again, the stakes are higher in university: you need good grades to get into grad school, you need to network, you need to do this and that and it all needs to be done perfectly.
I dived in school work and extra-curricular and volunteering and I enjoyed it. Soon, I began to feel burned out and I felt increasingly concerned over every little detail. The standards that I began to set for myself were unreasonable and any grade that fell below the bar was enough to send me off the deep end.
Over the last year, I found myself increasingly panicked over my school work. With one class that I was making grades far below what I usually would make, another that required constant and undivided attention, along with three classes that I was determined to provide equal attention to, a volunteer and extra-curricular list to which I was firmly committed, multiple part time jobs and an attempt at a social life, I was completely bogged down. My mind was racing first thing in the morning. I would start work, judge it as being poorly done, scrap it, start all over, and allow the cycle continue. I had difficulty sleeping and my heartbeat was pounding out from my torso nearly 24/7. I began to feel depressed and my mind started to go completely blank.
It was in the middle of the night in the middle of March that I realized that I felt myself letting go. I reached out to a close who friend who consoled me and helped me get in contact with the counseling services here on campus.
The reason I’m telling you this is because this is not an uncommon occurrence. In fact, perfectionism is a growing problem across campuses, as is the rate of anxiety and depression among students. However, many of these individuals do not seek out treatment. Why? Admitting that you have perfectionistic tendencies is admitting that you have a flaw - that you’re not perfect. While we can function for a while, these thoughts can accumulate into anxiety, depression, eating disorders and, sadly, suicide.
Thankfully, I have started seeking therapy. While I still have anxiety and I will likely have this mindset for quite some time, I am taking steps to get better and to focus more on self-care. I’m learning to say ‘no’ to people and I am becoming better at accepting criticism.
I talk about this to encourage you to look after yourself; realizing that you have a problem is the first step and getting help is the second.
I talk to encourage you to watch out for your friends and to give them a helping hand. There are services available to all of us on campus and off; for minor issues and for major. We all have mental health and we all need help from time to time. It is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of being human.