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Chronic Illness & Perfectionism

Theodore Roosevelt

I’m writing this post as I sit in my doctor’s office getting my monthly infusion of medication, which seems all too appropriate.

I am a chronic perfectionist. I’ve always been the type who breaks down over getting an A- instead of an A+, who does something great but focuses on how I could have been done better, and who doesn’t settle for being second. So, you can imagine that when I was diagnosed with Lupus it was a huge struggle for me. Even though I had been searching to answers to my health problems for years, I cancelled my first appointment with my Rheumatologist three times because deep down I knew it was Lupus, and the last thing I wanted was to have a scary, lifelong disease.

So there I was: after successfully graduating from college and excelling in my new career I was working like crazy and putting myself under tons of stress, and suddenly people were telling me that because of my illness I needed to slow down, rest, and relax. I was so annoyed. I didn’t have time to relax, I had goals to pursue! It was very important to me to be practically running the world by age 30 after all.

So what did I do instead? I mostly decided to ignore it and went into about a 6-month period of denial. I took the medications the doctor gave me, I became more devoted to my diet than ever. I did tons of research on natural treatment, and I saw new functional doctors. If I just tried hard enough, and stuck to my diet 100% and made sure to take all of my supplements, I could beat the disease and go on with my life.

I’m sure you can guess how well this went for me. First of all, I got sicker, despite all of my best efforts, because I was so stressed out and wasn’t listening to my body at all. This led to me getting more and more depressed about my disease, because if I was trying so hard and only feeling worse, I felt there was no way I was ever going to be better. As my job got more stressful and my health got worse, I found myself crying almost every day, and then I got angry that I had to deal with this and my perfect life plan had been interrupted. Finally, I decided my approach clearly wasn’t working, and I started going to therapy.

I know there is a huge stigma around therapy and mental health, but my therapist honestly changed my life, and I think everyone can benefit from it. Being diagnosed with a chronic illness changes your life, and you go through something very similar to the 7 stages of grief. My therapist was able to walk me through these stages, and also help me start to get over my perfectionism. I realized that my obsession with being perfect wasn’t only keeping me from being healthy, it was keeping me from being happy and showed up in every area of my life.

Perfectionism

One of the big turning points for me was reading “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown. I realized that I was hiding behind perfection to protect myself from rejection and criticism. I was following a life path based on what I thought I should be doing so that other people would see me as successful. And then, I finally realized that I didn’t have to be perfect, and that having an illness didn’t make me “lesser.” It wasn’t something I needed to “beat” and get rid of. Instead I accepted it, and learned what living my life with Lupus would ultimately mean. Finally, I asked why this had happened to me (but in a better way this time) and what I could learn from it.

Ultimately, that is what led me here. I did some things that I think a lot of people would consider a little bit crazy. I quit my great, stable job where I was on a management track because I realized I needed a step back and that for me at that time, resting and focusing on my health was of the utmost importance, and that that was okay. Luckily, my company was amazingly understanding and I got the opportunity to work part time for 4 months, something that my previous workaholic self would never have allowed. Before, I always felt guilty and lazy for taking a sick day, and it was nearly impossible for me to spend the day just relaxing, because it meant I wasn’t working hard enough. Admittedly, I still struggle with this (to the extreme annoyance of people around me), but I have gotten much better.

Most importantly, on this journey I discovered what I am passionate about: helping others, especially through nutrition! So, my next step after going part time at my job was to enroll in nutrition and health coaching courses so that I could pursue my passion and ultimately create a life that both makes me happy and allows me the flexibility to maintain the best health possible. I have also finally gotten the courage to put myself out there and start this blog, something that I’ve wanted for years.

I now also have a much stronger relationship with my body. When I was first diagnosed, I felt that my body had betrayed me. I was mad at it and was going to force it to work the way I wanted it to one way or another. Now, I listen to what it is saying. I know that my health is a constant work in progress and what works well for me one day might not work the next. I may have a week of feeling amazing and then wake up in a flare and barely have the energy to get out of bed. Instead of responding to these setbacks with anger and stress, I try to listen to what it is telling me. Have I been taking on too much? Have I been eating badly? And if the answer is yes to either of those questions I don’t punish myself, because I am human, and I can’t maintain a 100% perfect lifestyle all of the time. For me, this has also meant accepting that at least right now, I cannot be healthy without pharmaceutical medication, and that is okay.

Now, I don’t want this to seem like I have given up on giving better. I definitely haven’t! I’m still fighting every day to get healthier. But, I accept where I am at right now, I understand that I might not always be able to do as much as I used to, and I am at peace with that. Stress is one of the greatest contributors to illness, and by decreasing my stress and stopping my constant internal battle, I’ve become both physically and mentally healthier. Honestly, just last night I was thinking that I don’t remember a time I’ve truly been this happy, and it is all due to the work I’ve put in over the past year! It definitely wasn’t easy, but it was incredibly worth it.



4 thoughts on “Chronic Illness & Perfectionism”

  • You are an amazing person Amber. Thanks for sharing your story. I know you will help many others on their journey to health as well.

  • Every time I read your posts it is weird how well they resonate. Even though I don’t share all the same health complications – how I feel dealing with my own battles is this. It shows me I am not alone, and that everyone is fighting their own battles and being your own advocate is an incredibly vital part of that battle.
    Thank you for being brave enough to share.

  • Wow Amber! What a wonderfully written story about your long, tough journey and the fact that you are finally in a much better place. You should think about becoming a writer. Stay positive and keep healthy!

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