Two Sides of the Same Bad Penny

Blog two sides of the same bad penny













I live with a person who struggles with the next, or even the first, step. His pile of things he needs to get done keeps growing higher and higher, and now the messy tangle of to-dos is too daunting to even know where to begin. So he sits there in a very dark place, berating himself for his lack of progress. He calls it, “self loathing.”

I am a person who can’t let things go, until they’re done. These thoughts burrow inside my brain, keeping me from being in the now. Foolishly, I think if I’m perfect, if I get everything done in a timely fashion, I’ll never be disappointing to anyone, including me. The problem is that while standing on this Pedestal of Perfection, I look down on others who can’t (and don’t want) live up to these ridiculous expectations I’ve set for myself.

We’re exceedingly anxious individuals – both medicated for it – though our anxieties manifest themselves in different ways. His anxiety creates an insurmountable inertia; my anxiety drives me to do, to not get caught not doing something I’ve committed to do.

Both of our anxieties were born of traumas, or repeated “insults.” Without going down those deep rabbit holes, I’ve been faced with too many situations where I’ve done what I thought I was supposed to do, to the best of my ability, only to have my hand slapped, unable to see the minutiae (often fabricated on the spot) that was standing in the way of my “job well done.” For him, it was a succession of episodes with cruel and insensitive teachers, managers, and other voices of authority (including perfect me), who chose to interpret his autistic behaviors as willful obstinance, indolence, or insubordination.

My “hand slapping” was verbal, denials of promotions, disapproving looks; his was 5-point takedowns, time outs with no time back in, locked closets, and demoralizing expulsions from classes, activities, programs, job possibilities, and a connection with me.

I respond to my anxiety by striving to be even more perfect, faultless, above reproach and criticism. He has responded – ever anxious about a punishing outcome – by giving up.

I truly don’t know which is worse, or more debilitating. I’ve always assumed that because my anxiety leads to accomplishments or a tangible product that mine must be better. But there are exposed and hidden costs to anxiety-induced doing – like high blood pressure and doing damage to those I love, in my quest to not be found wanting, or less than I have held myself to be.

From my far-from-blameless self, I offer my family member a piece of advice: “Do something! Take a step. Make a move, no matter how small.” If he felt the trust needed to give me counsel, he’d probably tell me to, “let it go, man! You’re going to blow a gasket.”

We’re both right. Still, it’s a painful tug-of-war, with both of us facing the same direction, a rope between us that binds us and defines our distance. I pull him to get him to move; he pulls me to stop moving, to lighten up.

It has taken me an exceptionally long time (too long) to see we’re two sides of the same bad penny. There’s no quality difference between our anxieties: they both damage and destroy opportunities and relationships. We’ve battled and been at each other’s throats, when we could have been – could be – working from the ends of the rope in.

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