When I started my uni degree, I made a pact with myself to avoid scenarios that resulted in brain-melting panic mode at all costs. This might seem violently paradoxical to some. University can easily be described as three years spent scaling a sweat-drenched wall of deadline stress. Yet I was determined not to let myself get worked up over each and every assignment. I would remain calm and relaxed about deadlines and grades, I could be a zen-like creature, right? Wrong.
On the subject of self-perception, I’d clearly been floating down that long Egyptian river De-nile (sic). Put it this way: Upon hypothetically meeting myself at a party I’d have thought, cool chick, GSOH, doubts herself too much, total fucking perfectionist.
My first assignment that I handed in I started it 10 days early. I made an appointment with the student-learning centre so they could help me. I ran it past at least three other friends and I reworked my draft more times than I’m going to admit here.
I ended up getting an excellent grade.
While this was an awesome achievement, it also carried some dark undertones along with the congratulatory feedback from the tutor. It created a controlling, perfectionist monster that then took up residence inside my head. Each time an assignment was due (about 8-12 times in a 12 week semester) I’d become a deranged version of Monica Geller from Friends. Without the canned laughter. Stuck in a furious battle against my own expectations as every inch of every essay had to be perfect.
Rob was witness to me sitting at the kitchen table, countless times over, saying things like, “why is this so god damned hard, I’m totally going to cock this one up, I really mean it this time.”
He was also there when my abilities would prove me wrong over and over again. I continued to get good grades whilst totally doubting myself. It was like I was suffering from psychotic amnesia as I claimed a front row seat on the carousel of denialism every single time something was due. Not annoying for him at all…..
Things all came to a head midway through last year.
At the beginning of the term, I’d been given an average grade. The perfectionist monster, let’s call her Monica, went fucking ballistic. “how could you let this happen, Emma?? Did you read the brief wrong?? Don’t you care about being perfect all the time?? Oh my god the world is going to end!! It’s the new reality for evermore, average grades!!!!!”
This continued for a couple of months until Monica had mutated into a grotesquely bloated Godzilla-like creature, feasting on my anxiety and keeping me awake at night with her ceaseless chants of self-doubt.
By June of last year, I was pretty much convinced that everything was screwed and I’d probably need to drop out and build a bunker under the house. Things were so bad that clearly, the world was going to end.
Fortunately, I am surrounded by a number of trusted family members and friends who are sane and not living inside my head with me. At the start of the mid-year break, I ended up getting honest with one of my sisters about the hole I’d managed to dig myself into. She spotted it for what it was right away, anxiety run riot. From there it was a case of admitting that I couldn’t carry on the way I was and taking some action around it. Monica the rampant perfectionist had been living rent-free in my head for way too long, it was time to get rid of the fucker. I spent the three-week break working shit out, sleeping a fair amount, talking to people about their coping techniques, and I started seeing a therapist (highly recommend, nothing like getting a trained professional to help neutralise your neurosis). What I mostly did though, was give myself a bit of a break. One afternoon I wrote down all the constructive tidbits that I’d been flogging myself with over those preceding months. Then I read them out loud to my reflection in the mirror. They were cruel, pithy and unfair. The type of diatribe a demented sports coach would scream at scared 12-year-olds in a bad TV movie.
So I made a new pact that I’d be kinder to myself and this has remained largely unbroken since then. I still get a bit hepped up when assignments are due but I keep things in perspective now. Plus, worrying the crap out of something doesn’t change the outcome, it just turns you into a frowny mc frowny pants. And that’s no fun.