I Thought I Was Perfect. I Was Just Stupid

by Bill Brenner on July 26, 2011

Let me tell you about the time I wanted to be perfect, how the urge nearly ruined me and how I learned to accept — if not embrace — my flaws.

One of the great delusions an OCD sufferer labors under is the notion that he/she can achieve absolute perfection. Maybe the goal is to be the perfect employee. Maybe it’s to be the perfect parent and spouse. In some cases, the goal can even be to be the perfect addict.

The suicide drive for perfection is closely tied into the OCD case’s compulsion to control as much of their environment as possible.

Why yes, everything you’ve heard about OCD and control freakism is true. People like us crave control like a junkie craves a shot of smack to the arm. It grabs us by the nose and drags us down the road until our emotions are raw and bleeding.

That’s why I used to be such an asshole at The Eagle-Tribune. Every story I edited then went through three more editors and then to the page designer. Along the way, everyone after me had to take a whack at it. I’d hover over the poor page designers because it was the closest thing I had to control. Ultimate control would have meant laying out the pages myself. That would have been a stupid thing to do, mind you. I couldn’t lay out a news page to save my life.

When I was the assistant news editor for the paper’s New Hampshire editions, I was out a week when my son Sean was born. I came in one night to catch up on e-mail and saw the message where my boss, Jeff McMenemy, announced my son’s birth. In it, he joked that I probably stood over the doctor and told him how to deliver the baby.

I wanted to punch him.

I saw red.

Because I knew that was something I could easily be pictured doing. It hit too close to the truth.

All along, I just wanted to be perfect. The perfect editor, in the latter case.

I wanted to be the perfect family man and thought the way to be it was to do as many chores as I could. The problem was that I wasn’t there for my family emotionally. That still happens sometimes.

The drive for perfection always takes me to the brink of disaster.

But all the treatment I’ve received for OCD and addiction has cooled down that compulsion. It still surfaces from time to time, but it’s no longer a feeling that stalks me every minute of every day.

Sometimes my work gets sloppy, but most of the time I do a better job than I used to because I don’t try to get it perfect. As a result, I enjoy what I do more, even if it gets messy sometimes.

Erin has noted a few times that I’m more of a slob now that I’m better. I leave books, socks and gadgets lying around the house.

Somewhere along the way, it stopped being about perfection.

Now I just do the best I can and hope it’s enough most of the time.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Katherine July 26, 2011 at 7:04 am

Nicely summarized. Oh, and I like the site redesign too.

Ilary Gleek Pillsbury July 26, 2011 at 10:49 am

I’m a perfectionist and “control freak” too. It’s still an issue I need to face in therapy because sometimes I think of myself as “different” and feel ashamed of these personality traits. I tend to do my tasks slowly because I’m afraid of not doing them right, I crave control in my life, I want things to be done my way, I prefer doing things on my own, etc.

I heard that people with OCD tend to have obsessive-compulsive personality traits, too, but some people have an actual OC personality disorder, and some others (like me) don’t, but just have some traits of it.

Rachel Alembakis July 26, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Bill, I have to say that this is a revelation to me. I really enjoyed having you for an editor at the Eagle-Tribune. I knew nothing of what was going on iwth you internally; I just thought you were a fine editor. Funnily enough, one of the things I like best about you were the few times when I did hand in a sloppy story and you kicked it back to me with a few gentle questions that did end up making things better. Also, I also liked the fact that you never indulged in major rewrites of my copy after I left to correct my newbie-reporter rough edges.

billbrenner1970 July 26, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Hehe. I got much, much worse after you left. New Hampshire destroyed me.

Rachel Alembakis July 28, 2011 at 1:10 am

Sure. And I accept that I had a limited tenure with you as night editor. But I thought it might be worthwhile to remind you that I did (and do) view that particular time as pleasant and a good learning experience.

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