So here’s the truth about me: I’m a bit…obsessive. I wake up in the middle of the night with a jolt, knowing suddenly that I have a typo on a certain page of a document. I can’t go to bed without making a To Do list for the next day, nor can I feel relieved or productive unless I am able to cross every item off that list.
It gets worse. I still remember the questions I got wrong on standardized tests from several years ago and can write them out, and it is with equal queasiness that I can play back every word of a fight or disagreement or awkward situation verbatim, wishing I’d have said this or cringing that I’ve said that.
Not surprisingly, such tendencies also mean I like to be in control. I never liked group projects because I figured I could do a better job on my own, and when I served in editorial positions of power, I had to constantly remind myself that delegating the work out to the staff was a positive thing, not a necessary evil. My dog got lost last year when someone was watching her, and since then I have become a total helicopter mom. At dog parks, I can’t relax and instead, stand guard at the gates lest anyone leave them open for even a second. When my parents watch her, I plaster their back door with signs reminding everyone not to leave the door open.
Too much hubris? Probably. Too much energy wasted on wishing things were perfect and making sure everything unfolds just so? Definitely. Qualities I’m proud of in myself? Not really. But at the same time, they are qualities that are partly responsible for the things I have achieved, and I can’t help but feel that our biggest weaknesses are also often our strengths—it just depends on the degree to which we allow them to dominate.
I’ve always chalked a lot of this perfectionist/control stuff up to the fact that I have always been so sick: I can’t control so much about my life, so what I can control, I try to do in full force. I take the large issues, the life-threatening ones, in stride, so it’s sometimes the smaller stuff that frustrates me. It makes sense, and it’s certainly a convenient rationalization on days where I wish I could just escape myself a little bit.
But lately I’m wondering about how much of my personality is defined by illness—or, more accurately, a reaction to the presence of illness—and how much is just my personality. Would I be this way I was healthy? Since I’ve never been healthy, I just don’t know. I know that in various ways I am a lot like my parents, but then again for as long as I have memories, they have been sick, so that doesn’t help me tease it out much. I could have inherited these traits from them, or I just inherited a lot of medical problems and the three of us happen to respond the same way to illness.
I guess since I have no “before” and “after” when it comes to illness I will never know where illness leaves off and plain old Laurie begins when it comes to these qualities, but in the end that doesn’t really matter. What’s more important is maintaining that balance between strength and weakness that keeps me going without making me go a little crazy.