How to be Perfect: The Impossible How-to Guide

I know this gal: she’s a pint-sized bundle o’ bursting happiness— with a passion for fashion (hey, that rhymes!). I’ve known her since my middle school days, back when I sported an unfortunate haircut and rocked some snazzy braces. But it’s astonishing how you can know someone… yet never really know what they’re going through. Even though she’s known for her smiles, it wasn’t until she opened up on her blog recently (check it out— Life on a Dot) about her struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) that I got a glimpse of what was going on behind that smile.

That struggle behind the smile? I can relate. To say that I’ve had a rough life… would be an epic understatement.

My grandmother was the glue that kept my family held firmly together; she was the matriarch for us all— caretaker, confidant, counselor, our everything. Though she struggled with illness for most of her life, she never, ever, not even once complained; she inspired us all with her strength of spirit by living every day with the heartfelt belief that “there is always someone out there worse off than you.” She was never anything but thankful for the life, no matter how difficult, she was given. Yes, I’m tearing up while writing this. I miss her to this day— but I can feel her with me.


My beautiful grandmother

When she passed away, my entire family was upturned. A world without her… felt less. I know that isn’t grammatically correct per se, but it’s the only way there is to convey it. The world was just less than it should be without her in it. The hummingbirds she loved to watch from her porch were less bright. The polka music she gently hummed throughout the day had less joy. The hollow she spied from her kitchen window was less green. And the family she cherished so deeply… well, we were just so much less, so very much less, without her with us. 

But I didn’t just lose my grandmother— I lost my mother too. After my beloved grandmother’s passing, my mother quickly retreated into herself. She’d spent most of her life caring for my grandmother, and when she was gone… my mother looked around and suddenly realized that a huge part of her was gone too. And what little was left? Seemed to be evading her entirely— like the white tuft of a dandelion seed floating mercilessly at the wind’s whim. I wasn’t even a teenager yet. How could I understand?

Life was a house of cards, about to fall apart

My older sister left for college. My stepfather sought solace in a bottle. My mother battled with mental illness, eventually being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. And me? I was alone. I learned to take care of myself… because no one else would. I was ultimately put into foster care through Children and Youth Services, and my mother’s parental rights were terminated shortly thereafter. Yup, a rough life… isn’t even scratching the surface of the horrors my life has held.

And somewhere lost amidst the torrential current of all the murky waters churning around me, I kept fighting to survive. Even though I knew I was lost, I also knew I deserved to be found. But no one would— because no one saw me drowning. I became a perfectionist; I wanted to be the best at anything and everything. I earned straight As. I became newspaper editor. I kicked butt at mock trial. I was chosen to be a kairos leader. I won awards for everything from writing to mathematics to volunteering. Everything that crossed my path, I had to be perfect at it.

Muddy Melissa, circa 2005

Muddy Melissa, circa 2005

At the heart of it all… I just wanted love. I felt so abandoned— rejected, even— by what had happened within my family, and I was grappling with all of that deep pain. I was too young to see that my family’s struggles weren’t happening because they didn’t love me; at the time I truly believed that if they’d just loved me enough… none of this bad stuff would’ve happened to me. So I endlessly chased this elusive idea of perfection, because I thought that if, just if, I was perfect— they’d love me. How could they not? If only I were perfect…

Getting back to Kim’s inspiring story, it all boils down (in a way) to control. These feelings inside of us— for me, feeling abandoned; for Kim, battling anxiety— we convince ourselves that is we can just control what is outside, then maybe we can control what is inside as well. If I am just good enough, my family will love me. If I just check the door again, nothing bad will happen. When I read her brave words, I could relate. It’s a way to make sense of all the things we can’t make sense of. It’s a way to make tangible these feelings that are oh-so-intangible.

Throughout the years, I’ve learned to let it go (don’t you dare start singing that song from “Frozen!”). I’m still a perfectionist; I probably always will be. But I’ve also learned that being loved isn’t about being perfect— those that truly love you will, likewise, love every little freckle, all your foibles, each epic fail, and everything in between. Nobody can be perfect. But loving the imperfect? Now that’s perfect. The drive for perfection doesn’t torment me like it used to. It’s no longer about wanting to be loved— it’s about wanting to be the best me that I can possibly be… simply because I have such love for myself already.

I’ve learned, I’ve grown, and I’ve healed. The birds are bright again. Music has its joy back. The grass bursts with green once more. And my family? Well, it’s a journey… and we may not all be on the same path, but there is love in each direction nonetheless. It isn’t perfect— but, if you haven’t gotten the message by now— imperfection is the root of love.

Oh, and don’t forget to check out Kim’s blog! She’s just about as awesome as they come!

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  1. Hi, doll! Thank you so much for mentioning me and my story. Everyone has got something. It is crucial to be able to discuss our problems openly without judgement. Educating others so that they can better understand these habits, illnesses or thoughts gives them the fuel to provide support, either for themselves or others, instead of tearing people down for what they just don’t understand. These things can effect anyone and it doesn’t mean you’re broken, it just means you’re human. This was a beautifully written post and I am sure you’re grandmother would be so proud of you! <3

    1. muddymelissa@gmail.comAuthor24 Apr 2015

      Exactly Kim! Your blog post really inspired me! No one is perfect! But acknowledging our imperfections isn’t a sign of weakness— it’s a sign of strength! Everyone everywhere is struggling with something… so lets just all be open, honest, & real about it!

      … And I’ve used too many exclamation points! Oh well, I did say that no one is perfect!

  2. Wow Melissa, You’ve come through a lot to become a strong, independent woman. I hope somewhere along the way someone told you how proud they were of you! You are awesome!
    Thanks for sharing. Big hug 🙂

    1. muddymelissa@gmail.comAuthor24 Apr 2015

      Even when no one else is there to be proud of me, I’ve learned to have pride in myself— which I think is better! Thanks so much Sheri!

  3. There are no words to describe how closely our stories relate to each other with the lack of family love, foster care and the deeply driven need for perfection, to be the best. It’s good to know I’m not alone, it’s good to know… There is still hope. Without a reason in the world to live, you inspire me Melissa.. thank you.

    1. muddymelissa@gmail.comAuthor28 Apr 2015

      Thanks for reading Jim! I’m glad you found my words inspiring!

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