“Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.” — Harriet Braiker
I have to remind myself that I am not perfect.
I have to remind myself that I will never attain perfection.
I have to remind myself that I can’t work on myself alone.
These can be difficult for me to keep in mind. Especially that last part. White male-presenting folks in this society are expected to be self-sufficient self-starters, to have the inherent strength to yank ourselves up by our own bootstraps, to achieve simply by virtue of being white and male-bodied. Lack the strength, and you’re a ‘wimp’. Listen to the advice of those with different genders, colors, or orientations, and you’re a ‘cuck’. Struggle to reach even simple goals, like picking up the phone to handle important issues or make appointments, and you’re a ‘failure’.
This onus is nowhere near as bad as it is upon non-white non-male-presenters, but it still exists.
This is also not an excuse for bad behavior or bad decisions.
I don’t blame this state of affairs for my moments of weakness or those mistakes I’ve made that have shamed me and made me feel the opposite of proud in myself. My mental illness is not, nor will it ever be, something I can or should hide behind. It is an explanation, not an excuse. There is a large difference between the two. I still said the words I said; I still took the actions that I took. Those things are on me, and they are my responsibility.
When I make those mistakes, I get flustered. I back myself into a corner by admonishing myself, by berating myself for the mistakes I’ve made, by letting any of the fully justified criticism being related to me get amplified to a deafening level. Every moment of this pushes me further and further back, undoes hard work that I have done, and can even bring back the spectre of a version of myself that died years ago. The simpering, weak, reactionary, childish, trifling-ass…
I’m doing it again.
I have to examine this calmly. I have to avoid working myself into a self-flagellating froth. I’m writing this mostly as a stream of consciousness; other than spelling mistakes, I’m not editing things. This is a look inside of my head. And, more often than I’d like to admit, it’s not a very nice place.
When I have been backed into a corner, fielded accusations or insults, they’ve gone straight to my heart, and I’ve acquiesced, made myself smaller, given the accusers what they want, just to make the accusations stop. Just to be left alone. In the past, I’ve left very little room for myself, to stand up for myself, to assert that no, I have just as much right to fight back as anybody else, that I have my own sovereignty, my own identity. I’ve failed myself many times in this regard; I’ve pushed my own identity away so that it conforms to the perceptions of others, just to satisfy them, just to make them feel like they’ve won, just so they will leave me alone, in the desperate hope that it will stop the pain.
Again — and I must stress this — this is not an excuse for any of the above behaviors. They are childish, inappropriate, and even toxic. I am not proud of them. I am not hiding behind them. This is a statement of the facts. This is who I’ve been.
It is not who I would choose to be.
I’ve seen others do this. Perhaps not to the drama-mongering extreme that I’ve engaged in during the moments of which I am the least proud, but definitely turning themselves down, making themselves smaller, hiding themselves away. And it breaks my heart.
Compassion for others is a trait that some would argue is detrimental to one’s success. Look at those who are “successful” in the eyes of the greater population of capitalists and autocrats. They don’t give a damn about other people. They leverage their privilege and exploit weaknesses to get ahead, to make money, to seize fame. Being a “good person” is one of those exploitable weakness. It’s been used against me. So, too, have the weaknesses enumerated above. It’s left me with scars, with knives in my back, with bruises on my heart.
I’m waxing poetic again. Let me get back on point.
I can’t change the past. I can’t make up for all of my mistakes. I can’t dwell on my divorces, or my estrangement from the child I brought into this world, knowing now that I was — and perhaps always will be — ill-equipped to handle those responsibilities. Prevailing sentiments and admonishments from others would contend that “better men” would be able to “man up” and rise to the occasions. I didn’t. I failed. And I can’t change that.
The only thing I can do, the only thing I am empowered to do, is change these things, change myself, for the better going forward.
I know I can do it. I’ve seen it. Not just in myself, either. I’ve encountered, spoken to, been seen by people who knew me before. They’ve seen the changes in me. Some have looked on them with pride; others, with shock. I’m doing everything I can to make those changes consistent, self-evident, and ever-evolving. Ever onward, always upward.
When I stumble and fall back, I feel an incredible amount of shame, even though rational thought reminds me that mistakes and misfires are inevitable.
They don’t matter anywhere near as much as what I do when they happen.
I still have to unlearn some of my old behaviors. I have more work to do than I’d thought. I am not as “fine” as I’ve pretended to be. I still need help. Adjusted meds, better counseling, more time taken to step away from the escapism of screens and dice, the dire circumstances of the outside world, the overwhelming presence of others, and pasts I have with them, and futures I crave with them. I need to take more space for myself, center and calm myself within that space, and be the change I want to see in the world.
That is something I’ve wanted since I was a boy. When I’ve fallen short of the mark, that is when I’ve considered myself a failure, and mentally and emotionally abused myself for that shortcoming.
I still need to address that, to examine it, and change those neural patterns and behaviors so I am better equipped to be a better person, a better friend, a better partner, a better man.
Not a perfect one. I’m not perfect. I can’t be perfect.
That doesn’t mean I can’t be awesome.
“Awesome” is a much better goal than “perfect.”
Hell, it even sounds better.
I’m going to try and refocus on that, to work on better handling depression and doubt, and to seek the help and self-care I need to keep myself alive, moving forward, and being awesome.
I have to believe in myself.
All I ask of you, if you’ve read this far, if you’re seeing this, is that you believe in me when I can’t do that. When I can’t believe in myself, please believe in me.
Tell me that you do. I’ll always tell you the same. I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.
I’m always open to hearing from you, if what you have to say is honest, helpful, constructive, and coming from a place of love and respect.
I will always believe in you, that you can be the change that you want to see in this broken world.
Because that is what compassion is.
And it is what I would want you to do for me.
Tuesdays are for telling my story.