Today I have the privilege of sharing Brie’s mental health journey. She shares the story of overcoming debilitating perfectionism that caused unmanageable stress and anxiety in her life.
The interesting thing about Brie is that she has never been diagnosed with a mental illness. Sharing her story is a huge departure for me because I usually share stories related to someone’s personal experience navigating mental illness.
I thought Brie’s story was important to share because it is a reminder that you can have mental health issues without having a mental illness. Although mental illness and mental health issues are two very different things, the symptoms do sometimes overlap.
So, without further ado, let’s pull back the curtain and get a glimpse of Brie’s struggle with perfectionism and how she overcame it.
Hi there! My name is Brie, and I am an accountant from Buffalo, New York. Aside from my full-time accounting job, I also run a blog called Sincerely, BL. I share advice on how to reduce stress and anxiety, achieve your goals, find purpose in your life through self-discovery, and much more. I base all my posts on personal experience and research. My blog’s mission is to help others learn how to thrive, not just survive.
In my spare time, I love doing yoga, meditating, hanging out with friends and family, and jamming out to music. Singing and dancing at outdoor concerts is when I am truly in my element, thriving!
I have been a perfectionist my entire life, but the trait began affecting me negatively when I was a junior in high school. That year, I took AP Chemistry as my first college credit course. It was the first time I struggled and didn’t know nearly every answer on a test. I remember crying while taking the first exam because I couldn’t answer half the questions and wanted a 100% on the test.
When I get stressed, I cry. After taking that first AP Chemistry exam, I became a “crybaby.” As I moved forward into senior year and then to college, the stress and anxiety became worse. The material became harder and more time-consuming, yet I still wanted A’s (and always attempted to get them regardless of the cost to my mental health).
My perfectionism overrode my sanity. This resulted in excessive crying almost daily. I would cry in front of my friends, my boss, my parents, my professors, and so on. I couldn’t keep it in.
People would look at me like I was crazy, which I probably was. They couldn’t understand why I tried so hard in class.
How could I have believed an A was more important than being happy? It was simply part of my habits. Perfectionism was part of who I was and who I had been since I was a child, and that was difficult to change.
Seeking Professional Help
I sought professional help at my college. It had a counseling center to help students who were struggling with their mental health. The counselor I met with gave me some articles on tactics to help manage my stress and anxiety, but I never even read them.
I didn’t think I had time. I had to focus on my schoolwork. I felt that going to a counselor actually added more stress because it took time away from getting my homework done and studying.
At that time, my mental health was not a priority. Over the last few years, I have realized that when we have struggles in life, there’s a turning point. This is the point in which you make a decision that you no longer want to live your life that way.
Although I knew I was miserable when I went to see the counselor, I was not at the turning point yet where I was ready to actively change my life for the better. Looking back, I realize that it wasn’t my time to change, and I wasn’t ready.
To change your life (in any way, good or bad), you must want it. I didn’t want it bad enough to realize that tending to my mental health was more important than getting A’s. I didn’t view self-care as productive.
I have changed a lot since that day.
Treating Others Poorly
I was sitting at my counter studying and crying, and my Dad expressed his concerns. He told me I couldn’t live my life like that anymore. He didn’t want to see me placed in a mental hospital.
This opened my eyes to how severe my issues really were. I realized that my stress and anxiety were affecting not only myself, but others. I was creating worry for my parents and my boyfriend, and I was also treating people poorly.
When I get stressed, I am snippy and rude to people. I take my issues out on them and that is completely unfair. I no longer wanted to do this. I wanted to bring joy to the room, not negativity.
I started reading self-help books. Two of my favorite are You are a Badass by Jen Sincero and Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis.
These books helped me realize that I needed to live in the moment more often. I read about their life experiences, and it motivated me to try their methods of improving their life.
I implemented coping mechanisms to help manage the stress and anxiety I developed because of my perfectionism and to help change my mindset from negative to positive.
Here are five strategies that helped me overcome my perfectionism:
- I expressed my gratitude by thinking of five things I was grateful for in the morning and at night.
- When I felt stressed, I took out my journal and wrote down everything going on in my mind. It cleared my thoughts and helped me realize that things weren’t as bad as they appeared.
- Meditation helped me to calm my thoughts, live in the present moment, and discover myself.
- Self-affirmations improved my confidence and helped me realize that being perfect isn’t realistic.
- When I felt overwhelmed with work, I would get up and walk away from it for at least 15 minutes.
Brie’s Life Today
Honestly, my life is amazing. I am incredibly grateful for everything I have. I am in a strong financial position, have supportive people in my life, and spend time on things I love. I still have stress and anxiety from perfectionism, but I use healthy coping mechanisms that work great for me to mitigate it.
I have taken classes, read books and performed research to identify what truly creates happiness and have focused my life on those essentials. I have made habits out of my coping mechanisms. Therefore, when I feel stressed, I immediately turn to meditation, journaling, self-affirmations, etc. to make me feel better.
I don’t even have to think about it much anymore. I have realized that if you take care of yourself, you have a greater ability to take care of others.
You must know yourself, your skills, talents, values, what makes you feel good, and what makes you feel bad to live a life of fulfillment and happiness. Negative stress and anxiety will melt away once you identify these items and focus on them.
I hope that reading Brie’s story helped you redefine what perfect really is. Being perfect is not about being flawless. Being perfect is actually about creating a lifestyle that supports your goals while maintaining your mental wellness.
Brie’s story serves as a reminder that mental health issues don’t necessarily occur because of an underlying, diagnosable mental illness. Sometimes the symptoms you experience are related to a negative mindset—like perfectionism—or a lifestyle you can’t support.
The good news is that you can overcome perfectionism. Even if you don’t have a diagnosable mental illness causing your symptoms, it is still wise to seek professional help. Learning strategies to help cope with mental health issues is just as important as taking medication to help control mental illness. You must do the work and develop coping mechanisms that work for you and make your life manageable.