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Latent Lollygagger: The Perfectionist in the Way

This month’s theme is Vulnerability and Trust

There is an inherent messiness to being vulnerable. When we’re raw and open, there’s not a script to follow. We can’t predict how others will react. We don’t always know what feelings will arise or what actions we’ll want to take.

For anyone who is a perfectionist, like me, you already know how hard it is to embrace mess. Unknown.

And aren’t we all being tested with living in a big ol’ giant shitty pigsty of mess right now?

Oh, dear. If you’re like me, you’re desperately trying to make order and sense. Perhaps you’re binging on news, trying to soak up as much information as you can. Perhaps you’re following data, or anecdotes, or the decisions being made, or the resources that are needed.

It’s possible that, if you’re like me, you’re trying to do a little bit of absolutely everything to find something solid. Something that makes sense.

You post warnings and encouragement on Facebook, show the aesthetic side of quarantine on Instagram, retweet headlines and stats on Twitter. You collect masks, you do grocery runs for elderly neighbors, you donate coffee to healthcare workers. You buy gift cards, you overtip delivery drivers, you stay home and become Cassandra to those who refuse to take this seriously.

That perfectionist wants to do the right thing. That perfectionist will always see one more thing that needs to be done.

That should be done.

Guess what: perfectionist or not, it’s not up to you alone to save the world.

Can we all—myself included, oh, myself most of all included—give ourselves a fucking break for a second?

This is hard.

It is hard for you in ways that aren’t hard for me. It is hard for me in ways that aren’t hard for you. Yes, you may have it relatively less hard than someone else. Someone you know. Like my sister the nurse practitioner, isolated away from her kids and husband in an RV so she doesn’t infect them. There are stories about a man going in for brain surgery alone, and recovering in the hospital alone, because his wife isn’t allowed with him. A woman who is diagnosed with cancer and has to start chemotherapy that will wreck her immune system.

The point is, now, not to compare. That’s for later, when you’re looking around going, “Okay, where is my help needed?” The perfectionist does have a role there.

But first, take a moment. For yourself. To grieve. To be angry. To be frustrated. You had a trip canceled, you lost your job, you are suddenly a homeschool teacher, you can’t visit a loved one, you can’t even fucking go on a run with a best friend or, honestly, even someone you don’t like all that much but at least she’s company.

This fucking sucks.

The perfectionist wants to skip over that emotional detour. To enter into fix-it mode, to say, “Pull yourself together, now is the time to help, to be extra productive!”

The perfectionist loves that meme going around, about Shakespeare writing King Lear during the plague.

Well, you know what I say? Fuck Shakespeare. He wasn’t dealing with kids and unemployment and Trump. It was his job to write. He already worked from home, and I guarantee he didn’t have ten Zoom calls per day to “check in.”

The perfectionist isn’t good at realizing that we all need a good scream or cry or run or hug before we can get to the to-do list. Not just on the first day we’re stuck at home, but every day, now until, well who knows. Honestly, probably forever, but it’s especially important right now.

This vulnerability is not a detour. It is a necessary pit stop along the way.

It takes vulnerability to wake up every morning to the thought that today is going to be hard, to be angry about that, and then get out of bed.

It takes vulnerability to share how overwhelmed you’re feeling. To vent. To mourn what you miss. And to do so without qualifying it.

In an odd way, it takes vulnerability to feel like you deserve to be mad and sad and whatever it is you’re feeling. I sometimes even feel grateful that I get to work from home every day because that’s without a doubt my preferred set up. Talk about a conflicting thought right now. I feel grateful when I overlap with busy friends in multiple time zones to connect virtually in a way we have never done in the ten years we’ve been out of grad school.

I’m not going to end this with some rosy suggestion to feel grateful all the time. To search for silver linings in everything. I mean, I’m still holding to my three-things-per-day practice, but it’s not to negate the fact that I’m also sad and overwhelmed and angry and tired—exhausted—and scared. My shoulders feel permanently at my ears and the only reason I haven’t devolved into biting my nails is because, well, that’s slightly discouraged by the CDC at the moment.

What I think is most important right now, is for all of us to feel, honestly, what we’re feeling, so that we don’t act out in outrageous ways (pretending the rules don’t apply, being impatient with others, forgetting we’re all in this together). I suppose this is true on any ol’ day, but especially now. If we’re all walking around, a bunch of repressed time bombs, we’ll wear completely out.

Let your vulnerability guide you, and bottle up that perfectionism and very carefully aim it at a few of the most important ways you can help. Not all of the ways, just a few. One, even. And that one can be to stay at home—you can stay at home, perfectly imperfect, and that will be enough.

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