I was sitting on the chair across from my old therapist two years ago. I didn’t know how I wound up back here. After moving out west, I’d lost a counsellor who I trusted for the past 4 years, and now, there was someone new I had to explain myself to all over again.
No one really talks about how difficult it can be to find a therapist you trust. I realized quickly after moving here that I had lucked out the first go-around. This woman was a lot better than the rest I’d tried out in this city, though she loved to input in to the conversation way more than I preferred. I saw her for about 3-4 months until I came to terms with the fact that it wasn’t the right fit. But there was something she said to me that I still think about today.
“You know, the life you have built for yourself now is a reflection of who you are, and your past is only a reflection of where you came from.” I’ve clung onto those words ever since. At that time, I was in a long-term relationship, working at a non-profit organization, lived on my own in the city and had a vast group of friends. My life appeared to be good – no, it appeared to be perfect. So why was I back here? Why did I feel like I was drowning again if everything was so great?
I’ve never thought of myself as a perfectionist, because the qualities I’ve attributed to that include: not being able to start anything because of the fear of it not being perfect and never finishing anything for that same reason. That doesn’t exactly resonate with me, but what does is how I wish to be seen by others. From a young age – to my parents and everyone around me – I was someone who could hold everything together. There was no room for any slip ups or failures, because when you come from an immigrant family, the stakes are all too high. If I wasn’t a successful person, what have they come all this way for? What are we all working so hard towards?
I was trained to appear to be perfect in a lot of ways, and I got away with it for quite a while, too. But I was so unhappy, I was in a deep depression, and my mental health has always had its low points.
When my former therapist said those words aloud to me, it was everything my ego ever wanted to hear. She thought my life was perfect, and not just that, she thought I was a good person. To me, those were quite intertwined. You can’t be perfect if you aren’t good and vice versa. So what I was feeling was likely just all in my head. It was likely just past trauma trying to sabotage this perfect life I had created for myself. I was fine. Everything was fine!!
Fast forward to my life today, I have just about given up all of that: my relationship, my work, my apartment, this city. All of that which made my life seem so put together was actually dragging me down. In a moment where I realized I lost everything, I also came to this understanding that none of it was truly making me happy. But all of it was held together so neatly on display, mainly so that I wouldn’t come across as a disappointment.
I wanted to be this image of someone who came from something so difficult and broken to someone who could work to piece it all in place. Look at me, if I can heal my trauma and turn my life around, so can you! I wanted to be someone others could look up to and feel they could do the same. I wanted to present myself as perfection because if I so failed at anything, what a disappointment that would be – not for me, but for everyone else.
It’s always felt like there have been groups of people waiting for me to fall. Waiting for me to prove them right, that I actually couldn’t do it. That I was quite delusional actually, if I thought I was someone who could succeed at anything. If anyone from the outside looked at me now, they would probably think of all this as a mental breakdown. Maybe it is, but I’m quite familiar with how those crises feel and this has a different energy to it.
When I began to detach myself from what was seemingly making my life look perfect, I noticed that each and every one of those things were actually taking my sanity away from me. They were opposing my core values, deceitful, or to put it plainly, toxic. Funny how in a moment I can easily appear to have lost my sanity, I am actually working harder than I ever have to prioritize, and take it back.
What I’m grieving right now, is actually this ego-based notion of what I attached my identity to all these years. This life that appeared to be successful and good. This life that I built and spent so long pretending I was fine in. But past this grief, there’s sanity and a hope to create a much more intentional life, based around the things that do make me happy. To invest in a better quality of living seems confusing and a bit uncertain right now, but as I continue to figure out how to navigate this, I’ll let you know what I find.