July 24, 2014

GUEST POST | I'm Not Perfect: Katharine's Story.

Hello lovely readers, yesterday the lovely Katharine Chestion, from the splendid Katharine and M.E., published this stunning article for the I'm Not Perfect campaign.

Like me, Katharine is a Myalgic Encephalomyelitis suffer and likes to tell a glass-half full account of life with it. We stumbled across one another's blogs in the later days of this year's M.E. Awareness Week. You lovely lot will adore this lovely girl as she is also a avid literature lover. 

Perfectionism is something I am deeply guilty of. Having always thrived under pressure and I would continuously strive to achieve what I perceived the utmost best prior to having M.E., I could really relate to Katharine's struggle of adjustment. I truly hope you enjoy this superbly written contribution to the campaign.
Today I'm joining in with the lovely Tammy-Louise Wilkins for her I'm Not Perfect campaign. This is a topic I feel strongly about: last year I witnessed some quite traumatic consequences of perfectionism (which culminated in sirens and police cars), and as a chronic illness patient I know how important it is to avoid undue pressure and stress. Perfection is - perhaps by definition - impossible and unattainable - and as Regina Spektor sings, 'good is better than perfect'. So why do we insist on placing additional pressure onto our already heavy-laden shoulders? 
For as long as I can remember, I have been a perfectionist.* I've always set myself incredibly high standards, and strived to achieve them. Whether in sport, music, personally or (and especially) academically, I wanted to be the best that I could be, and to get the best results I was capable of. I could spend hours perfecting one piece of homework, I trawled the internet researching topics in more depth, and I practiced the violin and the piano until my fingers were too sore to continue. My evenings after school were filled with sport (as "contact" as possible; judo and rugby were particular favourites), various orchestras, music lessons, guides, reading(!), and I regularly went running. I have always been fiercely determined, and I grew up learning that if I put my mind to something, I could achieve it. I wanted to succeed, and I was more than willing to put in the necessary hours - and all the blood, sweat, and tears - to achieve this. 
I miss these days. I can vividly remember the burning pain in my throat and lungs as I pushed myself to run just 100m more; the tearing ache and shakiness in my arms and stomach as I determinedly did just one more chin-up or 10 more seconds of the plank; the exhilaration and sheer relief as I made that throw, or scored that try. My body aches to be able to run, to exercise, and to break free of the barriers enforced upon it by its physical limitations. I want to set my sights on the peaks of mountains... not the top of the stairs. And, while I know that my health is the most important thing, embarrassingly I still miss the flat stomach, toned arms, and being able to squeeze into size 8 jeans. 
Ultimately, I miss being able to strive for perfection. 
When I became ill at the age of 14 it was a painful (in the most literal sense of the word!) reminder of my imperfections - and, indeed, the imperfections of the human body itself. The healthy body is invisible; able to be moulded to whichever shape, or adapted to whatever task. The ill body, however, loudly announces its presence - its imperfections - with each task it fails to complete, or with each step it struggles to take. 
What is more, chronic illness does not exempt us from the - often impossible - expectations society likes to force upon us. From the point of diagnosis, the chronically ill can be pressured into a stoic attitude - a truly British stiff upper lip - that dictates that illness is a battle that must be fought valiantly and gracefully. I'm grateful to have seen few examples of this in my time as an 'ill person', and to have had so many wonderful people for support through the highs and the lows, but sadly many of us suffer as a result of the oft-held belief that adverse circumstances are there to be overcome.  
Illness, too, is something we are expected to do perfectly. Optimism, courage, and bravery are inspiring qualities respected in the chronically ill; self-deprecation, complaining, and moaning are treated with disdain. Yet chronic illness or disability is an inexplicably difficult cross to bear and it's okay to admit that. While I absolutely consider myself an optimist, I'm not perfect. I'll readily admit that there are times when I get upset, angry, and incredibly frustrated; when I struggle to see the positives amidst the overwhelming, all-consuming fog of negatives; and when I feel scared as to what is happening inside my body, and I fear what will happen in the future. There have certainly been times when these fears have overwhelmed my usually-inextinguishable optimism, and I haven't dealt with the predicaments I face in the most positive or healthiest ways.  
Despite this, I believe it is acknowledging these difficulties that allows us to start to come to terms with our imperfections. We shouldn't have to spend our entire lives feigning perfection: putting on a brave face, hiding behind a smile and the well-rehearsed assertion that I'm fine. Instead, we should give ourselves credit for the battles we wage on a daily basis, and allow ourselves to think "This isn't fair," "I hate this," and "I don't deserve this". It doesn't make us any less strong - and it certainly doesn't mean that we are dealing with the situation negatively. In fact, I think it is this which allows us to accept and embrace our imperfection - and therefore to develop a more positive attitude, and to grow from our experiences. An optimism that ignores or denies life's imperfections is an unnecessary burden and does more damage than it solves. True optimism, however, offers an enduring hope and positivity in acknowledging current imperfections, and accepting those of the future. 
I'd like to call time on the relentless need to put the impossible pressure of perfection onto ourselves and others. No-one is - or can ever be - perfect, and it's dangerous to think that we perfection is attainable. 
*While I admit to being a perfectionist, I thoroughly disapprove of the bio-psycho-social-mumbo-jumbo psychiatrists' idea that ME/CFS is caused - or perpetuated - by perfectionism, high expectations, or a Type A personality. I did not get ill because I wanted to achieve the best of my capabilities; I simply got a virus (or viruses) and didn't get better.
The disclaimer above is quite an apt slogan for all of us who live with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.

Please pop over to her blog and leave her a message on this post.
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2 comments:

  1. Hi Tammy, I'm so glad you followed me so I could be led to your lovely blog! I loved Katharine's post, it was so well written and the message behind it was spot on.
    I'm looking forward to reading more from you and getting to know you better! Have a great day lovely!

    Hayley-Eszti | www.hayleyeszti.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Haley, I stumbled across your blog during M.E. Awareness Week thanks to the lovely Katharine.

    I absolutely agree, Katharine has a fantastic way of expression in dissection of detail.

    Thank you, I hope you'll enjoy my ramblings! Have a wonderful evening, my lovely!

    ReplyDelete

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