To My Little Love,
I was having a discussion about perfection with Annie Sanchez from Debt Free Like Annie. She told me that she likes that I set goals and work towards them without obsessing over making every single detail perfect.
My response to her can be summed up in this quote:
“My farts will never smell like mangoes.”
The phrase just slipped out while I was writing to her, and while amusing, it gets to the heart of what I was trying to explain.
We often obsess over things being perfect. We want the perfect job, the perfect house, the perfect body, the perfect meal, the perfect life experience, but it doesn’t exist.
If anything, it is the flaws and imperfections that provide detail and render life beautiful.
I learned many moons ago that my pursuit of perfection would, literally, make me go crazy.
I decided I would get my doctorate degree when I was roughly 10 years old. From that moment on, I worked super hard at everything. I joined almost every after-school program I could throughout middle and high school, and found myself at Barnard College of Columbia University where I pursued education with the same fervor I did as a child.
At the end of that pursuit, I found myself with few friends and on the verge of insanity when, upon graduation, I was unemployed, back at my mother’s house, and had to make that terrible trip to the Department of Social Services and apply for food stamps.
I cried the entire walk there. I cried quietly in the waiting room. I cried after I applied, and yet again when I got home.
I continued to send my resume and landed a job, again, which I worked at very hard, but the pressure that I had placed upon myself to live a life I had dreamed of when I was 10 years old caused me to have severe panic attacks.
I couldn’t even keep the job, which was a high paying research analyst position in Wall Street, because my entire existence became consumed with panic attacks.
Perfectionism often comes with the consequence of high levels of anxiety. The more pressure you put on yourself on having a particular item be perfect, the more your level of anxiety increases until you are in a state of panic.
Once you are used to being anxious most (or all) of the time, your body transitions faster and faster to the flight or fight mode activated by anxiety.
I began to unconsciously hyperventilate all of the time.
My battle with panic attacks resulted in an extreme fear of death. The more I tried to control my environment, the worse my panic attacks got. This battle lasted about a year.
And, then, I had a breakthrough.
One day, as I laid in bed having one of the worst panic attacks of my life which convinced me that I would die, a thought occurred to me – just relax Melinda.
I took a deep breath, said La illaha il Allah, closed my eyes, and decided that I would allow myself to die if I was going to.
The next day, I woke up.
I felt refreshed. Maybe, even renewed.
When I gave up the illusion of control and my anxiety over dying before that perfect moment I envisioned in my head, the panic attack stopped.
I have had very few, if any, panic attacks since that day.
That moment taught me that life would never be exactly what I wanted it to be, and insisting that life be some ideal version will only cause me anxiety, fear, and imbalance.
Good mental health is not about life being perfect. It is not about always being happy. It is not about everything always falling into place exactly how you want it.
Instead, you can only be a truly healthy person when you learn how to cope with the difficulty around you, how to make the best of it, and how to appreciate what you have.
Letting go of the twin illusions of perfection and control does not mean that you don’t work towards the betterment of your life. It doesn’t mean that you half-ass things and don’t put your all into them.
Rather, it means that you become even more responsible for your own actions, because you have a deeper understanding of your own accountability.
I believe in being able to shape things through my actions.
Things will never be perfect, but they will be what you need to grow and expand into a full human being.
Always by your side,
Mami Loves You
About this Series:
In honor of Latino Heritage Month, I will write 30 letters for 30 days to my beautiful daughter. This series is entitled, Mami Loves You. In these letters, I will tell her about the world around her, and reflect on her development.
Each Tuesday and Thursday, I will honor a Latina woman that I believe is a great role model for my daughter to admire. Through these letters, I pay homage to my role as a mother, and I will teach my daughter about one of the cultures that has birthed her.
To Subscribe to the series Mami Loves You, follow the link: http://mamilovesyou.com/ and fill out the form.