Bipolar & Perfectionism Part 1: The School Years.

Song of the Day: Perfect by Alanis Morisette

Photo Credit: SouthernAnts available under a Creative Commons Licence.

Perfectionism is something I’ve developed from a very young age. Both my parents are very critical (of me and the world in general!) and were depressed much of the time I was growing up, so I guess I learned that making as few “mistakes” as possible and being “good” led me to the quiet life I craved where everyone was happy. It was certainly easier than being criticized and judged negatively at every turn and contributing to my parents’ depression.

Perfectionism spilled over into primary school life. I went to a very strict Catholic school with a couple of real dragons for teachers who put the fear of God into us (rather than foster a healthy relationship with God and Christianity) . It was not uncommon for the misbehaving amongst us to be flung over the teacher’s knee and smacked on the backside infront of the whole class. So combined with critical parents at home I think I felt my behaviour was being constantly monitored and judged- particularly by God, he could see everything. I never felt safe, I never felt free from eyes watching me, even when I was alone. Thankfully my relationship with God has much altered now.

During school years I was meticulous with presentation of work, correct spelling and grammar and making as few mistakes as I could manage without giving myself an aneurysm. My main aim seemed to be to have as little negative attention thrown my way from teachers, parents or other peers as possible. Luckily for me I wasn’t lacking in the academic department and was pretty much a straight-A student. Any B grades that happened to grace my beautifully constructed essays were enough to put me in a bad mood for a few days. I would often feel despairing over them and seemed to see them as a judgement on me as a person- not quite good enough: I was just a B grade.

From the age of 12 I also became obsessed with losing weight and exercising. I was a chubby kid and attracted a fair few “fat” taunts. To my perfectionist child this was devastating- so I lost two stone, which at that age was pretty drastic, managing to keep it off until I was about 21. I think this was my way of getting control over my emotions- so easily distorted by what others thought of me and the powerlessness I felt to help Mum and Dad overcome depression and past traumas. If I could feel so good about being skinny- and it felt really good, I felt more powerful and in control- then it didn’t matter so much if I was criticized. As long as I was skinny and in control of my weight then everything was OK, I would actually go so far as to say I felt clean and pure. Of course this didn’t always work, but it certainly seemed to help me feel in control. The scales ruled my life then really though, they were in control, not me. If I was a pound over 7 stone 11 pounds then all I could think about was eating as little as possible and exercising at every opportunity. Perfectionism was stealthily wending it’s way into every aspect of my life.

(Photo Credit: david.nikonvscanon available under a Creative Commons Licence).

I think Bipolar crept in from about the age of 15, when I have vivid memories of coming home from school with an essay marked in red pen with a B grade (which screamed inadequacy to me), shutting myself in my bedroom and collapsing on the floor, sobbing my little heart out and silently screaming into nothingness. I couldn’t talk to anyone about this- it was stupid to get so upset about a grade. Why was I in the depths of despair about it? I honestly started to feel my life wasn’t worth living. I thought I was stupid and babyish. I was so lonely too, I couldn’t tell my parents as it would make them even more depressed, couldn’t tell my friends because I was too ashamed. I don’t think I even knew how to put my intensely dark feelings into words back then. I was plagued by unrecognized anxiety- I just thought what I felt was normal and that everyone felt like this. Looking back it is so easy to see that there were deeper reasons behind the B-grade despair.

The symptoms of Bipolar worsened at sixth form along with the perfectionism. I couldn’t contain my emotions when I received my first ever C grade for a first draft piece of Biology coursework. I burst into tears on my teacher- I was mortified. I couldn’t stop crying and ran away for the afternoon, skiving Chemistry and walking aimlessly around the streets sobbing and sobbing for two hours. I felt totally lost, alone, finished in a way, almost like I had failed at life and was about to die. If this was what poor grades and imperfection brought me then I was gonna do everything within my power to be perfect.

Perfectionism Part 2: Excuse me- where has my life gone?


4 thoughts on “Bipolar & Perfectionism Part 1: The School Years.

  1. Hannah

    I can SO identify with this! In all aspects, as if every little thing that isn’t perfect is a reflection on my flawed character… You’ve articulated it so well… I have never really thought of it as a Bipolar trait, but maybe it is – that kind of all-or-nothing thinking. Or maybe it’s the extreme reactions which are more Bipolar (either distraught or overly happy). Hmm. Very interesting post!! xx P.S. Thank you for your kind words yesterday xx

  2. Pingback: Perfectionism Part 2: Excuse me- where has my life gone? « My Bipolar Life

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