When A Manic Perfectionist Takes On Recovery

The sky this morning is a disrupted marina, clouds racing full-sailed across like illegal dragsters. I’ve been watching them scud into each other and kick up backsplash for the last twenty minutes or so. Maybe longer. I kick myself under the desk on purpose.

Here is what happens when a goal-oriented achiever with perfection mania decides to take the month as a mental recovery period: She will wake up the next morning determined to engineer the best damn recovery ever. She will stock her Kindle app with inspirational books and her desk with lined notepads just right for spontaneous to-do lists. She will schedule the entire month’s mornings with activities that should most effectively result in a whole heart—two hours of writing, one of reading, half an hour of meditation, and then time left over for language study or correspondence before the kids come home for lunch.

She will forget, of course, that the kids appreciate having an actual lunch to come home to. This will startle and dismay her every day for two weeks until she remembers that soup makes excellent leftovers. Lunch will become known in her house as soup o’clock; one problem solved. Unfortunately, having a fridge well stocked with leftovers will not solve the other flaws in her plan. For one thing, she’ll quickly remember that her creativity does not respond well to stopwatches. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make her crank out a heartfelt essay in two hours flat.

A typical morning will start with her sitting down obediently at her desk, typing the date on a blank document, and then staring out the window for twenty minutes wishing that she could just describe clouds for a career. She will realize with a start that she is failing to follow the Efficient Recovery Plan and will redirect her gaze to the blank document, which will perversely remain blank as the left half of her brain shakes the right half in frustration. Time will slip by. Soon, she will grow far too sad to write anything, but this is her scheduled writing time! She is following the golden rule of just showing up, and nothing is going to move her from her chair until she has accomplished something.

To help combat the frustration and jumpstart her inspiration, she will open her blog reader. There will be 674 unread posts. This will make her want to cry, but she will wade in anyway because this is her one and only strategy for salvaging the morning. Lovely sentences will grab her from the screen, and she will spend the next hour and a half pacing between Bloglovin’ and her blank document asking herself, Are you there yet?

Finally, with twenty seconds left in her allotted writing time, a first sentence will present itself. This will stir up joy, relief, and panic in equal measure. She is writing! Whew! But also: The schedule says she should have finished by now! What to do??

She will stick with the writing, of course, because she knows that words are irreplaceable; nothing else in her day will bring satisfaction if she lets go of this thread right now. She will be furious, however, at her obstinate horsey brain for not coming around earlier, and the footsteps of passing minutes will echo above the sound of her typing. She will almost certainly not finish before lunchtime.

Once the afternoon crests, she will be swept up by the current of daily responsibilities, and maybe she’ll find a few calm minutes to finish writing and maybe she won’t, but the schedule is shot anyway. She has failed to recover efficiently. She will berate herself for failing and then, realizing how counterproductive that was, berate herself for berating herself. This will go on for several layers of beration before she’ll give up trying to make the day mean anything and resolve instead to make the next day count extra. This is a great plan, she’ll think. I’m going to win the hell out of this recovery. It’s not even going to know what hit it. Boo-to-the-yah. 

Yeah. So.

Over the four weeks since declaring my intentions to recover from soul shut-down, I’ve meditated exactly zero times. I’ve read a few books but lacked the energy to process much of what they said. I’ve managed to get words on paper about ten times—a good start, all things considered, but I’ve struggled to feel any satisfaction over it. My Plan called for so much more. Of course, one might argue that my Plan was poorly reasoned and doomed from the start, but then, one might never have tried to soothe a goal-oriented achiever with perfection mania before. We will not be soothed. In fact, we may even subconsciously crave failure; why else would we so adamantly insist on setting ourselves up for it?

I’d like to be able to say that I came to my senses and abandoned the Plan today, but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. After all, I’m sitting here with my eyes full of clouds, goading myself into writing because I’m desperate to accomplish at least this much with my day. However, there is one subtle difference in my reason for doing so compared with my reason other mornings this month. Rather than sitting here writing because I remember it used to make me feel alive (thus warranting a spot on the recovery schedule), I’m sitting here writing because I know that it does make me feel alive. Present tense. And yes, there were other things I’d hoped to do with my morning, but this thing I’m doing now is recovery… and what else is a recovery period for if not for throwing well-intentioned schedules to the wind and watching them set sail?

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  1. oh dearest love.

    “She will berate herself for failing and then, realizing how counterproductive that was, berate herself for berating herself. This will go on for several layers of beration before she’ll give up trying to make the day mean anything and resolve instead to make the next day count extra.”

    i hear you. hear this. i wish we could talk. do you still have international minutes?

  2. Oh, how I love this. Every break, every day off and, especially every summer I give myself a schedule. And every break, every day off and, especially every summer I blow that schedule to hell. I NEVER follow through. Ever. And I look at those schedules that I come across, and think: That was such a great plan, why oh why can’t I ever follow through? And the vicious cycle begins again.

  3. Rain – Always. Phone date post-marathon? xo

    Megsie – You and I operate so similarly sometimes that it’s crazy. What is it with our compulsion to set impossible goals for ourselves… even when it comes to relaxing?? The plus side to this is that we get to commiserate and laugh over the crazy together. 🙂

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