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The government takes your children's drawing and uses them to evaluate their value to the state

Noah 2017-08-16
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My therapist used a phrase I do not like today; one that makes me uncomfortable in a very core and well-guarded cavern of my mind. That is what I want to explore in this post.

When I was little, I took great care to make sure that I erased any mistake that was made on mazes, word searches, or hidden pictures. I believed that the Highlights magazines that my grandparents had gotten us subscriptions to were certainly government tools. Whether we threw them out or our parents secretly mailed them back in with their taxes, surely, it made more sense to look for the most supremely gifted children through measurements of their activity in their leisure time than through schoolwork. I fastidiously removed each blemish and even cleaned up my handwriting within puzzles, because I wanted to be chosen into that secret program.

This was the unfortunate beginning of a slow, self-perpetuating, paradoxical descent of mental stability for me. At the age of 7, I found myself very concerned with the number of times my fingers made contact with each other, the number of steps I would take across patterned sidewalks and floors in the grocery store, the frequency, duration, and distribution of my eyes closing, and began washing my hands until they bled from raw, chaffed skin. I would wake up in the middle of the night from dreams in which I was trying to stop increasingly large dominoes from toppling, only to find that the more I tried to set them upright, the more rapidly they fell, until they rose the size of skyscrapers. (There were (of course) two different sets of dominoes, and they were (of course) going to war with one another, and if I could only set them upright, it would have cured everything. Yet as each larger set of dominoes fell, it brought the line closer to its inevitable crash in the middle.) The only miracle I have ever knowingly experienced was sitting in a laundry basket in the linen closet outside of my bedroom, reading Matthew 6 from my Bible, and praying that God would take away my anxiety so my hands wouldn't bleed anymore. The strongest symptoms of my OCD left immediately, and I believed that the source of this pain had been rooted out of me, but perfectionism takes many forms.

In high school the paradox began to show itself, and the beast of perfectionism found a new way to feed. With my older sister's high grades and test scores in front of me, I set my goal and standard in high school to simply surpass each of her metrics. Competition driven perfectionism lifted me to new heights of achievement, and with that achievement came praise, and with that praise came pressure to sustain or surpass all of my prior work. I am embarrassed by the degree to which I can rattle off individual class and test scores from that period of my life, but not experiences or even the names of many of my classmates.

This all of course turned into robust alcoholism in college.

And here I am now.

"Good enough" is a hard phrase for me. Compromises themselves are difficult enough when they are made across differing opinions. I grew up with a very modernist view of the world. Things are black and white. We should strive to draw distinctions and lines wherever we can in the world to help us categorize our world so that we can have a degree of control over what we do in our lives through quantification. My greatest enemy was naturally that post-modern mumbo-jumbo, with its experiential truth, perspectives, and spectra. I thought that post-modernism was overly emotional bullshit. However, when I actually got into the world and tried to quantify and black-and-white and divide and draw lines onto everything, I quickly found out two things. The first is that we simply do not have the capacity to draw enough lines to place almost anything into a neat box, and we certainly cannot when it comes to describing humanity. If we try to, we become absolutely paralyzed by our inability to sift through even the information that we have, and we will always reach incorrect conclusions based on a lack of information. The second was something that I learned from an art class, but makes a lot of sense here, gray is just differing density of black and white markings.

Truth, perspective, and even my perfectionism can be theoretically divided into two sides. But right now I am trying to recognize that the millions of shades between the two sides doesn't diminish their existence, but instead gives us a framework within which we can operate and use to interact with the real world.

Here's a quick example of that in my life. I have been worried for the past month about moving out of my apartment. In my mind, there is a proper way to move from location A to location B that involves reviewing your possessions, evaluating which should be kept or discarded, neatly organizing everything into packing boxes, delivering those boxes to location B, and then cleaning out location A. I became so concerned with making sure that I had a plan to properly execute each step of those plans that I worried about moving for three weeks, panicked in the final week, and then moved everything out poorly in the last two days. If I had been able to accept a "good enough" job rather than a perfect job of moving, I could have used that framework as a means to make sure I got everything done, instead of a set of rules that prevented me from starting. But in the end, I actually did get everything moved, and I'm comfortably out of the apartment, and that stress is gone, and to be honest, I think that's good enough.