Balance has always been a big thing with me, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and otherwise. I guess I have to admit I am more than slightly OCD. When I was little, I would rearrange people’s couch pillows so there was the same number of pillows on each side. Teacups on shelves had to be evenly distributed. M&M’s were often dumped out on the table, sorted by color, and then eaten evenly by color. Playing with one friend who was a twin for a certain amount of time meant spending an equal amount of time with the other twin.
Looking back, I think I liked ballet an awful lot not just because I loved to dance, but because I had this need within me to always strive for perfection. An overwhelming desire for what was clean, neat, orderly, and, well, perfect. Of course I never WAS perfect. I had the wrong body for ballet, not enough turnout, short Achilles tendons, etc. That’s how ballet is though. Always striving for perfection, and never quite measuring up no matter what. Ballet dancers don’t get to be human. They have to defy things that humans take for granted such as food, gravity, body weight, etc. This suited me just fine, because even though I couldn’t be perfect, if I only just constantly devoted my life to striving for perfection, trying to always appear to be perfect and have it all together, nobody could say I didn’t try. Maybe eventually I would be perfect if I just kept going.
Some people blame their parents for this kind of pressure. But I put this pressure on myself. I was selfish in that I didn’t want to share my faults with others. I was independent. I didn’t need anyone else to tell me what to do. I was a good kid and got good grades not because I was pressured by anyone on the outside, I was pressured by my own need to be perfect. To never slip up. To always appear to have it all together. Ballet was just another way to demonstrate the pressure I could put on myself and still appear to be as perfect as possible.
You should have seen me try to do math as a kid and in high school. Many tears were shed because I couldn’t just pick it up, understand it, and do it. Math showed my weakness and my vulnerability. I needed help to understand it. I hated that. I wanted it to be like English where I could just automatically understand it and do it and be awesome at it. Looking back, I remember various points in the history of math classes where I would panic when I realized I couldn’t understand something, cry over it, gain sympathy for my tears, and then work with someone on the problem. I felt such a sense of accomplishment when math problems and formulas finally clicked. But also in looking back, I see that my greatest rewards and feelings of self worth came from acknowledging it when I needed help, showed that I was vulnerable, and worked with someone on the problem instead of trying to figure it out for myself.
Being homeschooled has many advantages, but one of the drawbacks is that while there are certainly other homeschool kids and activities to keep you involved with a group, the day to day grindstone of getting through textbooks and learning new subjects ultimately fosters a sense of independence. Independence and individual responsibility are very good things to have, and can be extremely advantageous. But the downside is that it makes it harder to ask for help when you need it, because there is nobody else asking for help around you. The absence of peer pressure in other words, made me pressure myself. I felt like I was missing out on something, and I was. I was missing out on being human and making mistakes.
Making a mistake was a tragedy in the world of me. Being measured and found lacking was a bigger fear for me than spiders and snakes. I had an incredible fear of skin problems, because they showed the imperfections I felt on the inside as plain as day on the outside. The very thought of getting chicken pox made me shiver. Poison oak leaves would send me into fits of tears. The fear of acne had me trying every new mask and potion I could get my hands on. If I could perfect my skin, nobody would be able to see my vulnerability. Appearing perfect was of utmost importance. I only shared with friends enough to make them think I was a perfect friend. (Whatever that means). If I had an issue or a fear or a worry, I only shared it if I felt like my friends shared that worry with me. I would only let myself be as vulnerable as they were. I couldn’t give away too much for fear of being judged.
Balancing on point shoes, balancing my math problems, balancing friends, and balancing my skin all had one thing in common…I was trying to show everyone how good I was at balancing things on my own, without anyone’s help. I didn’t need anyone to catch me, because I was never going to fall. And if I did fall, nobody was going to see me do it.
Stay tuned for part 2…