I’ve come far enough in my self discovery journey to realise that I’m a pretty negative person sometimes.
Okay, most of the time.
I tend to look at things like, ‘If it isn’t 100% perfect, it’s shit’. For a long time, I attributed this line of thinking to my physical appearance. Nitpicking every roll and stretch mark; but when I found body positivity I began to unlearn this behaviour as my default. I became kinder and gentler with the words I said about my body. But while I was learning that it was okay for my body to not be perfect, I was still expecting my mind to be.
Whilst growing up, I was burdened with a perfectionist complex by the adults in my life. For a while, I found coursework a breeze and standardised tests never fazed me. But as things at home got progressively more difficult to cope with, my performance in school began to falter. As it did, I was regularly violently reminded that not being the best wasn’t allowed. I unconsciously began to associate not excelling at things with fear and abuse, and became my own toughest critic to ensure I didn’t have to face those realities.
Two weeks ago, I sat in front of my MacBook breathing deeply and slowly, trying to prepare myself for a video interview with a company. I had already passed an online assessment and this was the second stage of the interviewing process. The instructions on the screen explained that questions would appear on the screen, I’d have one minute to mull over my response, and then two minutes to record it. There would be no chance to re-record. I’d have to be perfect on my first try. The first question came on the screen and it was one that I had rehearsed an answer for over and over.
‘What do you know about our company?’
The one minute preparation timer began to tick and I felt my heart lurch from my chest. Everything I had rehearsed had evaporated from my brain, and in it’s place were scrambled quotes that I was desperately trying to form back into a cohesive monologue. The timer hit zero and it was time to record. Over the next ten minutes, I stuttered and ‘um’-med my way through my responses and, when it was all over and submitted, I dejectedly shut my laptop and went upstairs to find my husband.
‘How’d it go?’ he asked cheerfully.
‘I fucked it up,’ I replied.
‘Why? What happened?’
‘I just kept stumbling over my words, and stuttering, and I just sounded so ridiculous. I’m definitely not getting a call back for that job.’
About a week later, I was trying to kill time as I waited in the waiting room of my therapist’s office. I was absentmindedly refreshing Buzzfeed and YouTube hoping for new content, when my phone vibrated alerting me to a new e-mail. As my e-mail app refreshed, I saw right at the top was a response e-mail from the company I had submitted that cringeworthy video interview for. I turned my hand over and dug the screen into my thigh, like that was the only way I was going to beat facing rejection. I felt like a teenage girl who had sent her crush a message confessing her feelings, and they had finally written back. This company were totally going to ‘I like you, but just as a friend’ me, weren’t they? Eventually, I flipped my hand over and brought the email onto the full screen.
‘Dear Christine, I am delighted to invite you to an interview…'
I had done it? I had done it! I had made it to the third stage of interviewing!
‘How is this even possible when my video interview was so shit?’ I asked my therapist once sat in her office.
‘Is it possible that it wasn’t as bad as you think?’ she replied. ‘Maybe you’re a bit too hard on yourself?’
‘Yeah, I guess I must be.’
‘You have a long history of giving up when things get difficult. Is it possible that when you feel that things aren’t perfect or you're not perfect, your instinct is to give up to avoid disappointment and all those negative responses you got as a child?’
And just like that a lightbulb went off in my head. I’ve been preaching to myself that it’s okay to not be okay, but I’ve only been taking that to heart in a physical sense. I’ve been expecting myself to be ‘normal’ and getting really frustrated with myself when I feel instances of depression or anxiety. When my nerves cause me to stutter during an interview, I get furious with myself and write it off as a failure. When my anxiety causes me to need alone time at a party, I convince myself everyone hates me. When everyone tells me what a beautiful wedding I had, all I can think about is the grass stains I got on my wedding dress. I never allow myself to see that even though I’m not perfect, I’ve still done my best and that’s enough.
But realising you have a problem is the first step to take in fixing it.
It’s okay to not be okay.