I’ve always had an overactive amygdala—the two almond-shaped clusters of nuclei in the brain governing emotions. Nimble and clicking, it was a gift in the classroom and allowed me to predict outcomes with accuracy. I’m not a pianist or a dancer—critical thinking was my only form of artistry.
Still, my mind ran ahead of me quite often, catastrophizing, over-analyzing, humming in the middle of the night. Many years ago, there was a thread of inner violence inside me. My eating disorder was a terrible affliction that bled out onto everyone around me, the way darkness often does. It wasn’t long before the volume of that inner violence began to petrify me, headphones blaring. I could recognize it as separate from me—not built on the solid substratum of my reality, but more like a curtain dropping, like a cancer metastasizing everywhere.
I thought that the black liquid of self-sabotage was part of the human condition, oozing out of our pores. After all, how else do you explain why some people become workaholics, why some people overeat (or don’t eat enough), why some people have indiscriminate sex with strangers?
As I started to share my truth—gingerly at first, and then with increasing vulnerability—I realized that not everyone welcomed that level of dysfunction. Some people, it would seem, felt secure in the privacy of their own thoughts.
Laboring for perfect fuelled my eating disorder; it was like I was in the ring, sparring with a more experienced opponent, but had too much pride to bow out. In the end, I was left beaten—having eaten a killer right hook to the side of my rib cage—kidneys aching. I could elucidate the problem more clearly than ever as a crippling sense of inadequacy revealed itself: That “go hard or go home” mentality was an effort to fill the hollowness inside me.
Perfect is brittle and unyielding, distant, more fantasy than flesh—it calls to mind stiffness, silicone, an aggressive relentlessness. I wanted a life marked by connection to my body and a meaningful presence in the world. I wanted less of the over-training, less isolationism. However, the messages of the world say, in no uncertain terms: Starve yourself. Wring yourself out. Ignore your cravings, your soul, your brokenness.
If perfect is parched, nourishment is prolific, loamy soil—equal parts of clay, silt, and sand. It’s fresh bread, soft and springy in texture. It’s tactile and something you can fashion with your bare hands. It may not always look presentable, but it’s yours to own; it’s your masterpiece.
I’ve missed so much of my actual, human existence trying to force things into perfect. I can’t hear the voice of self-love when I’m grinding; all I can hear are my own feet pounding the pavement. But competition has no place in my life anymore, and drowned out are the sounds of other runners about to cross the finish line.
These days, I’m finding myself drawn to the graceful, elegant movement and poise of my body—shaped by the life force generated within. I move like a swan, or ballerina, with fluidity and power, and I no longer concern myself with losing balance. This self—this fragile and strong, creative, yoga pants and messy bun self—was here all along. I almost lost her when I started to believe that my internal engine always needed to go full steam ahead.
Shifting my perception created an opening for deliberate intention. To tame my unruly amygdala, was to override all its stories and automatic programming. And just like a lit candle—flickery and fragile at first—my confidence grew. I found my senses attuned so much more deeply than they had ever been. Music and poetry reached me with a depth I couldn’t remember since my adolescence. And my work? My work is so much more intentional.
I don’t often expect my body to be perfect these days, but I expect my outlook to be perfectly evolved. I take up space and create space—for my body, but also my frustration, my longing, even my anger. There’s room here for good days and bad ones, for crying in my salad and dancing in the rain. I’ll show compassion, even when I’m unhappy with my body. Unhappiness, come right in and have a seat. I’ll acknowledge you, and you may stay until you’re ready to go.
The pursuit of perfection, be it in the form of obsessive dieting or self-loathing or whatever that looks like for you—builds just a tiny, luscious buffer between you and… well, everything. So words that would hurt you when you’re stone-sober don’t bother you after a few glasses of wine, or after you’ve lost a few more pounds, or as long as chocolate can provide you solace. But you take away those things and, all of a sudden, you’re scraped raw.
When you leave exhaustion, codependence, and compulsivity behind, you can see the cracks in your relationship with yourself for what it really is. You quickly realize that all that self-medicating keeps you in a dissociated state. You can’t stay wide-eyed and able when you’re hurling yourself through life.
It’s not about working less or more, necessarily. It’s not about homemade or takeout, or full-time or part-time, or the specific ways we choose to lead our lives. It’s about rejecting the notion that every day is a new opportunity to prove our worth—rather, that worth is inherent.
What would our lives be like if we kept a summer heart? A malleable, playful, subtly irresponsible spirit that chased optimal experiences? What if silly, nonstrategic, wild minutiae studded our days?
What if we showed up and let ourselves be seen just as we are? What if our lives carried meaning—not because of what we accomplish, but how deeply we connect with others and how wholly we give ourselves to leaving the world a little better than we found it? Lucidity over mania, discernment over apathy.
Sink deeply into the world as it rotates on its axis—that is where life happens, not in some imaginary, photoshopped dreamland.
Here. Now. Just as you are.
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