How to Stop the Grinch of Perfectionism from Stealing Your Holidays

I spent yesterday moping around my house, green with anger at the fact that my house isn’t perfect. That I’m not perfect.Carie Sherman

I know. Ridiculous, right? Everyone knows there’s no such thing as perfection. Everyone knows that striving to be perfect leads to nothing more than a first class ticket to the nuthouse.

And yet. There I was. Unable to concentrate on the stuff that mattered, because my eyes only saw all the ways I fail in life: A tree, undecorated and lying on the floor. The floor, covered in fur and crumbs and renegade Christmas glitter. Dishes in the sink that interrupted cookie baking. Tubs filled with castaway decorations awaiting transport back to the garage.

The perfect image in my head of a wonderful holiday season did NOT match what I was seeing.

How to Let Go of Perfection

One of my favorite writers, Martha Beck, encourages those of us intent on recovering to go through a series of exercises- imperfectly, of course.

Exercise 1: Personify Your Inner Perfectionist. Beck believes perfectionism is something we have — like, lupus — rather than something we are. She says to create a visual of your inner perfectionist, name it, scribble it down on paper, then destroy it. “By just externalizing and rejecting your inner critic, you can decrease your anxiety considerably.” I named mine the Grinch.

Exercise 2: Embrace Creative Hopelessness. “Perfectionism never delivers on its promise of perfection.” Beck encourages you to write down your reason for maintaining perfectionism. I wrote down, “I will be able to relax and enjoy those around me once everything falls into place.” Beck then quotes Dr. Phil, asking “How’s that working for you?”

Looking around, I saw that my family was upset with my bad attitude. And even though chaos surrounded us, they were tired and decided it was time to relax.

Beck encourages us to laugh at our misguided follies, which will then allow us to open up to the joy that’s real in our lives. Once I simmered down and laughed at myself, the Grinch’s grip on my heart diminished – ever so slightly.

Exercise 3: Do something badly. Recently a client of mine gave my daughter a book about drawing. In simple steps, it teaches you how to drag dogs and boats and flowers and Santa Claus. I’m a terrible artist, so this was a perfect opportunity to give myself permission to fail. And fail I did. But it gave me and my daughter a really good laugh, and we both had fun trying and failing and being okay with the attempt.

Exercise 4: Just keep showing up. Beck says that the people who win at life are those who keep showing up despite subpar performance. And part of this is learning to let your perfectionism “fuss without succumbing to the anxiety she encourages.”

I guess this means I better keep showing up in my living room, sweeping up pine needles as I can, and laughing when my little girl decides my decorations belong someplace else. And each time I respond with a giggle, it’s less likely that The Grinch will steal my Christmas.

Cheers to a perfectly imperfect holiday season!


One Patient’s Story about The Accountable Care Act

I know that the Accountable Care Act – known by most as Obamacare – isn’t perfect. But with all the uncertainty that now Carie Shermansurrounds the act, I wanted to share my story about what Obamacare meant for me.

When I got sick, I was on a group health plan through my partner’s work. My condition required me, at first, to see my rheumatologist monthly. Even with a group health plan, it was $60/visit for the copay alone. Tack on the necessary X-rays, MRIs, lab testing, prescription medications, and I was spending hundreds of dollars a month just to keep myself out of the hospital.

Our financial situation was such that I needed to work. I wanted to work. But working a traditional 40-hour workweek wasn’t feasible. I was too sick.

So I started my own business. And my business quickly became successful—in spite of my illness. I loved writing, and I could literally write from my bed if necessary to meet client deadlines. Some days were tougher than others, but I was contributing to our family while doing the best I could to feel better.

Then my partner’s situation changed. And we were without health insurance. We stayed on COBRA for as long as we could. Then we faced the task of purchasing individual health insurance in a pre-Obamacare world.

I imagine the underwriters receiving our application laughing their assess off as they marked our application with a big red DENIED.

Because of pre-existing conditions, we couldn’t get coverage. My three-person family was without health insurance until Obamacare made coverage open for everyone.

A lot of people argue that letting everyone into the insurance pool is the reason that costs have gone up. Which of course has merit. But without basic coverage, sick people like me didn’t have access to the preventive measures that make up the bulk of caring for people with chronic illness. Without seeing my doctor regularly and coverage for my prescriptions, what might have happened?

I’ll tell you one thing: I could have gotten sick. Really sick. The kind of sick that requires a late night visit to the emergency room. The kind of visit that causes people like me—people who work, who are contributing to this economy—to deplete savings, to overextend credit, to declare bankruptcy.

The ACA gave us coverage we couldn’t have had. The coverage alone was costly, but it limited the amount of debt we could have possibly gone into had we required hospitalization. And it allowed us to budget for preventive care, which helped us to stay relatively healthy.

I hope more is done to address the cost of care in our country. But I hope everyone thinks long and hard about what it will mean to take health insurance away from the 20 million folks who have the insurance they need to at least attempt to be responsible stewards of their own health care.



My Bully, My Brain

My brain treats my body like a hormonal teenager treats her 23-year old step mom.Carie Sherman

For as long as I remember, my body has never been good enough for me. When I was a little girl, I hated it for being so small. Then I became a teenager. Suddenly it wasn’t small enough. The pattern repeats throughout my life: Not tall enough, tan enough, skinny enough, strong enough. Not fast enough, not coordinated enough. Not enough. Period.

And while years of psychotherapy have helped me get past a lot of my self-hate, I still hate something about my body: Now, it’s never healthy enough.

(Go figure. Hardy har har.)

My body is always to blame. When I’m tired but my brain says it’s IMPOSSIBLE to say NO, I defer to my brain. When I eat, I eat what my brain says to eat, hitting that voice in my head saying “a pint of mint chocolate chip will hurt your gut for days!” like a kid at Chuck E. Cheese playing Whack-A-Mole. Even after years of living with chronic illness, Mind Over Matter is my mantra with exercise—tweaked knee be damned!

And guess what? When conflict arises (especially the kind of conflict that requires me to disappoint someone else), my body is the first to break.

Poor thing. It’s never been listened to. Until it started holding me hostage with illness.

I realized this yesterday as fatigue forced me onto the couch. There I marveled at an observation I made while talking with my BFF the night before: “BFF,” I said. “You know your problem? You think too much! Your brilliant brains are keeping you stuck in this situation you complain of!” (All of this is communicated in my it’s-Friday-night-and-I’m-three-drinks-deep voice, delivered with my condescending I’ve-got-my-life-figured-out face.)

I recalled this as my brain was doing its best to will me off the couch. In fact, my bully brain was pressuring me to do ALL THE THINGS (fold the laundry, clean out your closet, arrange some flowers, feed the dog, run to Goodwill, write 1,000 words…).

My plan was to accomplish ALL THE THINGS while my husband and daughter were at swimming lessons. A 30 minute swimming lesson that’s located 10 blocks from our house.

I send my BFF an apology for my lecture and admitted to her my epiphany. Then I took a deep breath. I paid attention to my body.

It was happily fed. It had already been on a walk. And it was tired. It wanted to stretch. It wanted rest.

I thought of my poor body. I thought of my heart. I watched as my brain totally flipped out about wasting the only solo 30 minutes I’d get all weekend.

I fell asleep.

And when I woke up, I had the energy to be present with my family the rest of the day.

Maybe it’s time I start being a better listener. To my BFF and my body.

Does your over-thinking brain hold you back?