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10:00 a.m. - 2012-11-17
when you aim for perfection, you discover it's a moving target
I'm starting to toy with the idea that maybe I'm doing OK. Maybe I'm doing better at life than I thought.

I spend most of my waking hours silently berrating myself for everything from choosing an eating disorder over college 14 years ago to failing to buy dryer sheets. I am a lousy spouse, mother, sister, student and human being. Everything I do, according to the voice in my head, is wrong. I hate myself and I feel like my life is a trainwreck most of the time. And by "most of the time," I'm not sure if I mean 99.999 percent of the time or always.

Yesterday I took a standardized nursing school assessment exam that I didn't think I was well-prepared for -- at all. I expected that I would get an above-average score, because my greatest talent in life is probably taking standardized tests, but I didn't expect that I would be happy with my score. I figured I would not do as well as I did on standardized tests when I was a teenager because that was half a lifetime ago, and I'm not the person I was then any more than a fat 35-year-old couch potato is the hunky linebacker he was at 18.

Then I pushed the compute score button and a whole bunch of nines popped up; I'd scored in the 99th percentile in all four subject areas -- reading, math, science and writing. I got a couple of questions wrong but apparently you can get a couple of questions wrong and still score in the 99th percentile. This is what I used to get on standardized tests back when, but I couldn't believe, for a few minutes, that I could still do it.

And I was extremely happy, because I know those 9's pretty much cinch my admission to nursing school. I ran out to the parking lot and called Matt, A. and my mom. And I was happy.

For about 10 minutes, I was really, really happy.

That lasted until I took my A&P exam, which started about an hour after I got my TEAS scores. I thought I was well-prepared but apparently I wasn't. I was aiming for 100 and I think I probably got some form of a B (low A at the best). Driving home I was depressed and angry with myself and the usual track was back to playing full-blast: "You fucked up again. You always fuck up. How are you going to fix this? Your life is a trainwreck. You are the biggest loser on the planet. Look at all the people all around you who are doing so much better at life than you are. Look at all the people who probably did better on that test than you did. It's not like you can claim that you're channeling your energy away from academics to your kids these days because let's face it, you're a shit mother too. Shit student. Shit mother. Shit wife whose husband walked out. You are the biggest fucking loser ..."

All the time my brain is also trying to calculate: How do I make sure that test doesn't drop my class grade to an A-? Because I can't get an A-. How do I fix this?

Then, for no known reason, my regularly scheduled program was interrupted by this message:

"You just aced the TEAS.

"You have a 97.5 average in A&P right now.

"You have a 3.94 GPA.

"You are going to get into nursing school no questions asked, signed sealed and delivered, done deal.

"You have your shit 100 percent together, academically. A person really can't DO much better than you are doing right now.

"Why are you screaming at yourself in your head? Why are you telling yourself you fucked everything up, that you just blew everything today?

"That. Is. Insane."

It is insane.

And so for a few seconds, driving, I allowed myself to think, "Gee, I really have my shit together. I can relax."

It was the second time in one day that I'd been happy with how I was doing in one small area of my life.

It's also the second time I can remember at all.

Then I started right in on obsessing with something else -- the wife failure, mother failure, etc., and believe me there are a lot of areas of my life where there is no standardized test to measure how I'm doing and plenty of immeasurable indicators that I believe are all screaming "failure."

These are, of course, very typical thought processes of people with eating disorders. I realize that. I am a hopeless perfectionist, and since perfection is impossible to achieve, I am always miserable and disgusted with myself. It might sound like I have to be perfect in everything because I think I'm better than everyone else, but actually it's because I think other people have intrinsic worth and I don't. I have to be perfect or I'm worthless; therefore I am always imperfect and always worthless. Being a perfectionist means you fail at everything you do.

Being a perfectionist doesn't make you feel good about yourself. It means you hate yourself for breathing and taking up space; it means you see yourself as an inadequate, worthless failure.

I am tired of being a perfectionist. I just don't know how to stop being one.



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