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Are You a Perfectionist? Bipolar and Perfectionism May Go Hand in Hand

By: Conor Bezane

A perfectionist strives for that which is flawless. Impeccable. Immaculate. My name is Conor, and I’m a perfectionist. I also have bipolar disorder.

According to Psychology Today:

Perfectionism is a trait that makes life an endless report card on accomplishments or looks. A fast and enduring track to unhappiness, it is often accompanied by depression and eating disorders. What makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so theirs is a negative orientation.

Studies have shown that perfectionism is an antecedent for anxiety and bipolar. A study in the Journal of Affective Disorders says that stress and anxiety are a go-between for depressive bipolar symptoms.

“Perfectionistic people typically believe that they can never be good enough, that mistakes are signs of personal flaws, and that the only route to acceptability as a person is to be perfect.” So says psychologist Thomas S. Greenspon.

Addiction plays a role in perfectionism as well. Alcoholics and addicts are obviously prone to making poor choices. Just go to an AA or NA meeting and you’ll see how much addicts worry about what others think — which is why they hide their drinking and drugging in an attempt to maintain a façade of perfection. Another study of college students found a correlation between perfectionism and drinking alcohol to cope.

Perfectionism often leads to procrastination. For this blog post alone, for example, I sat down three separate times to ensure it met my standards — and that was before I sent it to my editor for a first look. It’s not uncommon for us to go through draft after draft after draft until the piece is perfectly shiny. There is no half-assing. Every punctuation mark must be correct. Sources must be cited. Sentence fragments, although a favorite device of mine, must be used sparingly so as to have maximum impact when they are employed. Repetition is minimized. Passive voice is a no-no.

If I’m writing a card or letter to someone, I compose what I’m going to say in advance on a separate sheet of paper before I put pen to card. When I smudge a word, it feels catastrophic. A blemish — the horror!

When I cook, I follow recipes to the letter, measuring ingredients, including tablespoons of olive oil, exactly. I don’t eyeball it.

People-pleasing goes with being a perfectionist.  I am guilty of that as well. If I’m hosting a dinner party, I feel the need to go above and beyond. Mood lighting with real candles is a necessity, as is a perfectly straight and meticulously ironed tablecloth. I must have flowers. I provide ample appetizers presented nicely, a salad filled with plenty of goodies, and a main dish that not only looks great on the plate but tastes fantastic. That’s the goal anyway.

In researching this blog post, I was surprised to learn that psychologists consider perfectionism to be a flaw, not an asset.

Voltaire said, “The best is the enemy of the good.” Confucius said, “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” And per the great William Shakespeare, “Striving to better oft we mar what’s well.” 

I should take the sage advice from these historical icons. Sometimes, especially if you’re on deadline, you just have to get it done — perfect or not.

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Conor Bezane is a music-meister who has written for MTV News, AOL, and VICE. His first book — The Bipolar Addict: Drinks, Drugs, Delirium, & Why Sober is the New Cool — arrives June 21. 

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