Brain Waves: Imperfect is perfect

Brain Waves: Imperfect is perfect

Katie Scott, Contributing Columnist

Most of the details from the night I met my ex-boyfriend will never slip from my memory, but one sticks out in particular. Moments before our first kiss, I told him I was a romantic. I believed that life was one great novel, that everything is a metaphor, that everything happens for a reason and that if something seems perfect, then it is and it will work out in the end.

In the months that followed, those notions mixed with reality. My fairytale romance was but one aspect of a life that felt effortlessly perfect. I was being quickly promoted at my new job while simultaneously keeping an exceptional GPA.

Months later, however, everything that seemed so light and wonderful became a heavy burden. I began to succumb to a blend of anxiety, depression and an eating disorder, each marked with a craving for control and consistency. The more things began to slip out of my reach, the more I clawed to keep them in place. But I wasn’t as powerful as I believed. My parents tried to intervene, urging that I seek professional help, but all I did was scream back at them about my lack of time. I hung up the phone and sobbed, knowing they were right but recognizing that I was unable to make the necessary sacrifices.

In February 2015, I broke down in a massive panic attack. It happened during the Friday Mardi Gras parades. When it turned physical, the police got involved and I was arrested. I threatened suicide and I was taken to the emergency room. The next day I was transported to a psychiatric hospital.

I spent 60 hours in absolute terror there. The strongest medications couldn’t keep my mind or body at rest. My parents came to visit me but I could hardly speak. All I could do was pace up and down the length of the room while they watched with a combination of shock and pity in their eyes. I was equally terrified to see how far I had fallen. Where was I supposed to go from here? How was I going to get there?

After my discharge my boyfriend and I broke up. I quit my job because I couldn’t meet the time demands anymore. I fell behind in my coursework and had to consider dropping courses instead of graduating in May. I attempted suicide twice because I could not bear the thought of falling so far from assumed perfection.

Still, everything gets better eventually, including my situation. I withdrew from Tulane to go to residential treatment and receive the support I needed. I moved back to Atlanta to be closer to my family. I got an exciting full-time job that challenges me daily. I wake up each morning thrilled to be alive.

Yet, as this dreaded anniversary draws near, my foundations are shaking. It’s frightening to think that this happened only a year ago. But I’m choosing not to cower in fear as it approaches. Instead, I will bravely approach it with new insight. Perhaps it will always be the most tragic and humiliating day of my life but I can also see it as the most humbling. That day threw some big blows but I learned three important lessons.

First, I can’t make it through life with just self-reliance. I must have a strong support system. While I can’t always choose who I have to interact with, I do get to choose who makes an impact. With this option, I must carefully select the members of this team. I should make room only for those who bolster my spirits, while setting boundaries for those who do not.

The second lesson rides on the heels of the first: medical professionals are often a necessary part of a support system. To refuse to make time to attend appointments, to choose pride over medication and to disregard effective treatment options are all actions that damage my mental health. Choosing recovery uprooted my life in a variety of ways, but I recognize that a life worth living is worth those sacrifices.

Finally, I learned that my darkest moments do not have to permanently derail my life and worldview. When everything went wrong, I abandoned my aforementioned romantic ideals. I concluded that nothing good was going to come out of my misery and my story was no longer worth telling. I tried to kill off the main character.

But as I recover, I realize that I’m still a romantic. I still think life is one great novel, that everything is a metaphor, that everything happens for a reason and that if something seems to be perfect, then it is and it will work out in the end. Now, these notions are backed by a newly found acceptance that I will never know what the end of the story is. I can’t choose the plot twists, I can’t choose what characters make an appearance and I certainly can’t decide upfront what meaning lies behind each event.

I’m not writing my novel, I’m living it. And, despite everything, it’s turning out to be perfect.