Eye-Opening Moments are real-life stories of adversity, encounters, and perspectives intertwined. In this episode you will hear about Left in a Daze and Stop the PerfectionistSupport the show
Comments or questions are welcomed on Twitter @emilykaytan OR on https://inspiremereads.com.
Hello and welcome to episode #72 of Eye-Opening Moments where you’ll hear real-life stories of adversity, encounters, and perspectives intertwined. They are moments that can lift your spirits, give you some food for thought, or move you. For the introspective mind that likes to reflect, discover, and find solutions or meaning in a complex life, this is for you. I’m your host Emily Kay Tan. In this episode, you will hear about Left in a Daze and Stop the Perfectionist.
Left in a Daze
Shocked when my boyfriend of nine years broke up with me, I was left in a daze. I knelt down on the carpet in my house in a fetal position. My brain matter seemed to have lifted itself out of me because my head felt hollow. My heart felt jabs of pain like he stabbed a knife in my heart. All my insides seemed gutted out, and I was suddenly a shell of a person. No sound came out of my mouth. I couldn’t scream or cry. The howling cries and the river of tears never came. I seemed suspended in the aftershocks and couldn’t find my way out. I was in neither heaven nor hell; I was not even on Earth. I was in a fog for months and couldn’t see life clearly. When I finally came out of it, the world no longer looked the same, and I shifted into another place of being I had never been.
With my insides hollowed out and no wails of pain or drops of sadness, I moved like a zombie. My brain was empty, so I had no thoughts in there. I didn’t feel happiness or sadness; I felt nothing. I couldn’t feel any feelings and wondered if I was human anymore. I couldn’t think of any thoughts and speculated if I was braindead. But I couldn’t have been because I knew I didn’t want to be destroyed by the trauma of the breakup I had experienced.
I made sure I went to work out at the gym every day. I lifted weights and jogged on the treadmill. I didn’t enjoy it, and I didn’t know what was driving me to have the will to do it daily. Perhaps it was a survival instinct that motivated me. I also sang songs in karaoke fashion every day. I wanted to be cheerful and thought singing would help. I don’t know if I felt any joy, but I didn’t fall into a depression.
I know I wasn’t depressed because I could eat and sleep. I lost any desire to eat, nothing tasted good, but I ate to nourish my body. I didn’t want to sleep because I wanted to know I was still among the living. I was a fighter and refused to be defeated. Still, I went to sleep because I knew it was the thing to do to keep me healthy and breathing.
For weeks and weeks, I sat at my kitchen table after finishing a meal I could not taste. I was in a state of limbo. Thinking of the past was agonizing, and pondering the future was frightening. I used to always plan my future; I loved planning what I would do the next day, week, year, or decade. It was my way of ensuring that I was a productive and valuable human being.
After the shock of the breakup, it was the first time I was afraid of the future. The future looked blank and empty. I couldn’t see anything there. Did I think I would marry my boyfriend and live happily ever after? Apparently, I did. And then the plans were shattered in an instant. They were all extinguished and irreparable. The life I had with him was to be no more. My brainless mind could not plan for a new future or think up what to do next. The me who always loved to plan the future thought hope lived there. Now in limbo, I was fearful of the future that I didn’t even allow myself to go there. Traumatized and disappointed by many things in the past and frightened by the unknown and unplanned future, I could only stand in the present.
Finding myself in the present with no past or future to look at, I strolled on the streets and drove on concrete, respecting Earth for giving me a ground to stand on. Lifting weights and jogging daily, I thanked the spirits for giving me the mobility and muscles to move. Food started to taste like it had some flavor. I knew I was breathing, but I didn’t feel alive. I hadn’t wanted to talk to anyone for weeks and had no energy to speak. I barely had enough strength to eat. I certainly didn’t want to talk to anyone about the breakup. But coming out of the fog, I began to call friends for a chat. Talking with others seemed to pump blood in me and bring life back to a hollowed-out body. It was the first time I felt the meaning of life as having people in my life. It was also the first time I truly appreciated connecting with others. My listening skills sharpened as I was more present to being with others. I had begun living in the present and savoring each moment.
The beautiful moments I had in the past were no longer; I could not hold on to them. They taught me to treasure each moment in the present because they will escape me. I only have today or this moment. They also reminded me that all the ugly moments would pass. I needed to let go of them to move on and not be controlled by them.
Out of the daze and the fog, I arrived in a new city, a new country. I was now in a different place of being. I live more in the present than ever before. I live more in the present than in the past or future. I traveled and traveled whenever I could. I explored and encountered new people and places. I chatted with many strangers and acquaintances. I was living and feeling alive.
Friends asked me how I could travel so frequently and why I didn’t wait until retirement. I would say I only have now. Who knows what the future holds? If I wait until later, I could be too old or unhealthy and unable to travel. I also have an income now to afford to travel. My finances will deplete when I am not working, so now is the best time. Others ask me how I could make new friends nearly every week. I say I need to practice my foreign language. But in truth, I wanted to feel alive. Communicating and connecting with people gave me life. I knew this after returning to the living from the shock of the breakup.
It has been over ten years since the shocking experience left me in a daze. Fortunately, I came out of it and into a better place: The Present. Today, I still live more in the present than in the past or future. If I don’t, I will quickly remind myself and return to the present. The present helps me live and appreciate what I have at the moment. I also remind myself that I only know of the moment I have now. Living with that motto, I work to do more of what I want and check off more things on my bucket list. After all, life is what we make of it.
Stop the Perfectionist
A thirty-day challenge writing course claimed that if you could write one story or an essay every day for thirty straight days, you would develop the habit of writing. As it turned out, the course not only created a writing habit for me but also unexpectedly taught me a big lesson about perfectionism. Surprisingly, it also brought my attitude and perspectives toward many things to the forefront. The need to stop the perfectionist in me was in order. Could the perfectionist be contained in thirty days? And why does she need to be barred?
When I began to take on the thirty-day challenge, I completed my assignment of writing one story per day, but I was unsatisfied with my work. The pressure to finish one story without more time to revise and edit left me uneasy. Before improving or adding more details to my stories, I would have to work on the next essay. The time constraints forced me to submit work that was not perfect or to my satisfaction.
Given the course's purpose and structure, I followed it begrudgingly. As I found my work imperfect before submission, I also found myself on a journey to facing the demons within myself. The time constraints forced me to write, just write, and get ideas into print. The actual work of writing was not difficult. It was me judging my words as to whether they were the correct ones or the best choice of words. Then I wondered if I should reveal or conceal specific details about my life. All these thoughts caused my dissatisfaction because I wanted it to be perfect. My motto has been, "if you are going to do something, then you need to do it with perfection; otherwise, don't do it at all."
Racing to get a piece of writing done, I found something good about it. I was getting something out there; even if it is brainstorming, a jumble, or a mix of ideas, it is better than a blank page. Too often, I would have many ideas for projects or goals to achieve ramble through my mind, and you would not see anything. Everything was in my mind, and there was no hard copy of something to show my abundance of ideas. It's like having many great ideas and goals but doing nothing to bring them to fruition.
Why was nothing done? I didn't do anything because I did not perfect it in my mind. The mind saw many obstacles and could not overcome them. For example, I discovered an idea that I thought was doable. I could have some T-shirts printed to sell along with my books. One T-shirt would say: There is a WRITER in me. It sounded like a great idea to me, but you would never know I had the idea because I never took action to have anything to show for it. So why didn't I do it (yet)? I stopped myself because I didn't think anyone or many people would buy it.
This attitude rang true after taking many years before I wrote my first book. The obstacle was my demanding perfection. Everything needed to be right before publication; if it weren't, I would not submit it. I have wanted to write a book for decades but never lifted a pen to write. Why? Many obstacles rolled into my mind, and I told myself it was difficult and that all my efforts would not make it worth it. The result was nothing anybody could see. This demand for perfection would have me not even begin a project, much less bring them to fruition.
Wanting everything perfect, crippled me from achieving more. Luckily, the thirty-day challenge helped with my rehabilitation. I had to stop demanding to write the perfect words because I had a story to submit the next day. Satisfied or not, perfect or not, I had to submit an essay. So, write I did. Gradually, I focused more on getting words on the paper rather than judging myself every step of the way. More words appeared on the page, and more ideas flowed in because I became less focused on the judges. The judges were my future readers and me.
The perfectionist in me could not be so easily stopped. Outside of the writing assignments, I'd research for more writing tips and take more writing courses because I always aim to improve and get closer to perfection.
Back in class, I kept up with the writing assignments. One thing that quickly slowed me down was my emotions. Since I was writing personal essays or excerpts for a memoir, the stories were intensely personal. By recalling traumatic events, I brought forth buried, painful memories. I'd need to pause and sometimes even cry when I had an epiphany. At other times, I would reminisce and enjoy pleasant memories. All the emotions slowed the writing process, and I had looming deadlines. Still, I discovered that letting out my feelings was essential to my well-being and helped clarify my thoughts on paper.
When deciding what to write or do, it was another obstacle that slowed the goal of completing an assignment. Though I am a decisive person, for the most part, I find myself mulling over many things before I do something. Luckily, once I decide, action is swift. Though it takes me a while to choose a topic or a memory to write about, I can quickly complete the writing part once I select the content. I reasoned with myself that though the perfectionist in me wanted to have the "right" topic to write about, I knew that once I decided, my quick writing would make up for lost time or all that time spent thinking about what to write about or what to reveal or conceal.
Through the writing process, I discovered that the Ms. Perfect in me did not always serve me well. It could stop me from doing or even starting things. The result would be fewer goals and dreams achieved. Ms. Perfect gave me a lot of self-inflicted pressure. She said I still cared about what other people might think of me. I worried about how I would look to others. I wondered who my readers would be, how they would feel, and what they would think of my personal stories. I have no control over the readers, but Ms. Perfect would like to think she knew and then she could write the best stories for them.
Having had a whole month of facing the demons from within and dealing with perfectionism through writing stories daily, I began to notice changes in my behavior. For example, when I started a podcast, I read my life stories aloud. It had to be perfect before I broadcasted it. If it weren't, I would record again and again until it was perfect. How did I stop demanding perfection? I would record, make a mistake in speaking and quickly self-correct or repeat it to the correct sentence. I would not rerecord! I said to myself, "I don't need to be perfect." I rationalized that the imperfections would be more natural speech and that the perfect recordings were not so genuine or normal. I want to sound human and not like a robot.
Whenever I didn't complete a task as soon as I wanted, I'd take the self-inflicted pressure off me. I'd be confident that I would finish in a reasonable amount of time. After all, Ms. Perfect leaves residual marks. I am still a bit of a perfectionist, but I relieve the pressure on myself and take back the controls. Aware of how Ms. Perfect does not always serve me well, I take the driver's seat to control its intensity. The result is a happier, less intense, and more relaxed me. More gets done by relieving the pressure rather than getting stuck in the head!
The perfectionist in me wasn't altogether stopped in thirty days, but Ms. Perfectionist got her under control. Why does she need to be under control? It is because there are adverse side effects to perfectionism. Self-inflicted pressure and self-judgment are two enormous hurdles that need to be dealt with to deescalate perfectionism. There is perfection in imperfections. If you consider and accept that, you can soar like a bird. Don't be a caged bird strapped down by your demons!
Though I was left in a daze after a devastating breakup, I found myself fearful of looking into the future, reluctant to look back at the past, and forced to only live in the present. Living in the present gave me life and appreciation for each moment.
Though I tend to be a perfectionist, which gives me pressure and stress, I discovered that I could control perfectionism and enjoy a more relaxed life with more acceptance of the self.
Next week, you will hear two new real-life stories called The Meaning of Life Lost and Found and The Hong Kong Couple. If you enjoyed this episode of Eye-Opening Moments, please share it with others, subscribe, support the show by clicking on the link in the description, or go to www.inspiremereads.com and leave a message. Thank you for listening!