Written by: Sophia Mohamed // @sophia_mohamed
The past four weeks have been incredibly stressful for me, I’ve been pushed further than I would like and I’ve felt more stress than I have in years. My parents have been away since mid October and I’ve been juggling running a house-hold, maintaining a near-perfect GPA, looking after a loved one with a disability, working for the family business, working on my career, staying active and when I can, having a social life.
I’m usually pretty good at managing my time and I pride myself on that. People close to me would call me a control freak or a Type A personality, but I call my self a ‘realistic’ perfectionist. In all honesty, I would have to say it is my biggest strength and probably my biggest weakness too.
The overwhelming fear of failure is what drives me to be a perfectionist. I subconsciously know that there is no such thing as perfection, but this doesn’t stop me from trying to achieve it. I hate business/accounting; there is no appeal to me, I don’t enjoy it and frankly I don’t understand it. When my mom left for England 4 weeks ago, I knew that her business responsibilities would fall on me, but what I didn’t realize is that my need to perfect what I do, would be the downfall of how I cope. The first week was great, I was on reading week and I fell into a rhythm of getting my mom’s work done, making sure my loved one was getting to school on time with a packed lunch and a quick note wishing her a good day, cooking, cleaning, staying active and being social. I really really thought I had perfected a routine for the next four weeks but of course, I was horribly mistaken. I was getting email after email indicating that something had been done incorrectly or that something was missing, and that item A did not match with item B. This is where I started to feel everything spiralling out of control. It was as though I was being suffocated with piles and piles of paperwork and I could never make it to the top. I’ve always relied on my hand-written to-do lists as a solution for when I started to get overwhelmed, but this time nothing was getting done.
I had this underlying fear that if the work was not done properly it was going to reflect on me as a person. I wanted to be perfect. No wait - I NEEDED to be perfect. I wanted my mom to know that I could handle it all with ease, there's no way I could let her down. My need to control every little detail led to sleepless nights and in turn caused more stress. I knew at this point, after a very difficult panic attack, that I needed to make a change, that I needed to look to those around me for help. I reached out to this friend after my panic attack and told him I felt like I was letting my mom down, that I could no longer do it all. He laid it out and said, “stress is part of life, we are never going to get rid of it but we have to learn to work with it”. He talked me down and made sure that I realized that my mental health came before anything else. He encouraged me to make an hourly checklist to schedule the time between 9-5 that I was going to work down to the minute, he even told me that it was okay to sit around one evening, eating pizza and not do anything, because taking time for me was more important than making sure all the emails for that day had been read. It’s funny because this is advice I’d given to others in the past, but I never even thought about giving it to myself. Self care is not selfish, it’s an obligation you have to yourself. In order to put forth the best of myself in performing all these tasks, I had to take care of me or else the frustration and stress would just continue to build.
"Nourishing yourself in a way that helps you blossom in the direction you want to go is attainable and you are worthy of the effort."
The need for perfection has always been a big part of who I am, and it still is. I love the feeling when something turns out correctly with no flaws, I take huge pride in that. However, this experience helped me realize that these constant demands of myself can and will continue to take a toll unless I start looking after me. I learned that finding my trigger and accepting it was the first step in enabling a change in my mental health state. I also learned that trying to fight through this overload of stress alone was counterproductive, and being able to lean on that friend when I needed it was the best decision I could’ve made. And finally, I learned that working with my need for control as opposed to always working for it, helped me more than I can imagine.
"If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete." - Jack Kormfield