What I learned when I stopped being a control freak

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with controlling everything around me. My mom likes to say that I used to set up all of my stuffed animals with tea cups and pastries – and then scold them. I’d tell them they weren’t drinking their tea right, or that they needed to sit up straight. I was raised in an environment of perfectionism, and it became a part of me. Everything needed to be perfect, or everything was going to go to hell. Simple as that.

Obviously, I got older and realized that the world wasn’t going to function under my thumb. I didn’t worry about controlling the people around me – thank goodness that wasn’t my reality – but I did obsess over my own flaws. If someone didn’t like me, it was all my fault, and I was the worst person in the world. I wasn’t pretty enough, had no sense of humor, was too strange. I envied other girls in a way that went beyond simple jealousy – I wanted to become them so that I could stop being myself.

It wasn’t just about looking a certain way, or being cool. In a lot of ways, it was about wanting the ability to control myself. I wanted, more than anything, to be able to shape myself into who I wanted to be. I felt like if I made myself perfect, my life would be purpose, and nothing bad would ever happen to me.

But life doesn’t work like that. I found myself simply not doing things to avoid being bad at them. Mistakes weren’t allowed. I didn’t learn how to swim because I’d just end up making a fool of myself. Gave up on art after taking one class because other people were better at it than I was. Didn’t put myself out there, didn’t take chances, and didn’t do anything without planning it out in extreme detail beforehand.

I thought I was protecting myself. But I was suffocating myself, instead. The only person I was hurting was me.

One day, after months of slipping into a sprawling depression and bad thing after bad thing happening, despite my striving toward perfection, I was just so over it. It was like a smack in the face. I decided to test the boundaries I’d created for myself and spent two decades following. I stopped straightening my hair, and the world didn’t come to an end. I stopped wearing makeup – no changes. I started kissing girls at parties and then kissing girls in my living room and then dating girls and introducing them to my mom. And, somehow, little shifted.

I thought that if I followed this weird mixture of societal norms and my own rules, my life would be perfect, and sparkly, and happy all the time. But life doesn’t work like that. We all have to learn it on our own time, but I’ve come to realize that, for me, randomly getting a tattoo or going on an unplanned adventure or just letting life happen doesn’t set the world on fire. Making a rapid decision doesn’t always lead to the end of everything good.

Sometimes, it’s the only way to find good in the world at all.