I remember my first appointment with my psychiatrist. It wasn’t quite what I expected. Within ten minutes of arriving he seemed to have completely sussed me out. He sat forward in his chair and picked up the pen from the table. He wrote the words “Anxious perfectionist” on a white piece of paper.
I stared blankly at the page.
“This is your personality type” he explained. “In fact, many medics tend to be like this.”
I sat, avoiding all eye contact.
“As an anxious perfectionist you have lots of positive traits.”
He started writing a list on the sheet:
- Very conscientious
- Caring and compassionate
- Applies self fully to everything
“But this personality type also comes with a number of not so helpful traits:”
- Gives 110% to everything
- Struggles to say No
- Creates own stress where there perhaps needn’t be any
- Struggles to accept good enough
Me, scrawled on half a side of A4. I cried. Relief. Sadness. Helplessness.
I have always felt comforted by success. There is something about performing well that gives me worth and value. When I was quite young I realised that if I tried hard and did well, people seemed to like me. There was a lot going on at home and I needed people to see me, to like. As I got older, the compulsion to out-do myself got worse.
If it wasn’t perfect, then it was simply no good.
This attitude continued through high school and university. With it came great results. I graduated top of my year, I passed my membership exams pretty quickly, got several publications etc but none of it meant anything to me. No pride at all. No self worth for what I was achieving. People told me how well I was doing; all I heard was empty words.
I now know the price I paid for all this. Medicine was my crutch, my way of controlling everything that was going on inside me, feelings that I didn’t know how to deal with, childhood traumas/ that had never been processed. Slowly, I became numb to everything else. Perfection had become a drug.
But then life changed. Two children came along, I suffered with bad post natal depression, started working part time and realised that I could never be the doctor I had been up until then. This strange fear came over me. Grief for the loss of the driven, ambitious and competent person I had been, a feeling of failure. And worst of all… I don’t even know who I am.
Slowly, like a germinating seed, the concept of ‘good enough’ is beginning to feel more comfortable. Life has changed and with that I need to realign my priorities and expectations. I now have a husband and two children. I have a diagnosis of type 2 bipolar, which unfortunately isn’t going to go away. It is now my job to take care of myself, to stay well and prioritise what is important to me. The only way to do that is to begin to accept ‘good enough’.
If I stop giving every ounce of my soul to being the best mother, the best wife, the best doctor maybe there will finally be space for me to be the best and the happiest version of myself.
Good enough is plenty good.