Therapy Success Stories
Graduate OCD Sufferers Speak Out
Graduate Story #11
Pain & Perfectionism
I can't remember a time in my life when I wasn't a perfectionist. In fact, I sometimes even wore the label as a kind of badge. It gave me an identity to always do the "right thing," to be known as overly responsible, to be the hardest worker, to have the best figure, to make the best grades, to be a flawless wife and mother...and on and on. But owning perfectionism as my identity came with an overload of growing pressure. Every time one of my areas of perfectionism was complimented, I felt even more pressure to continue to be noticed for it. That's perfectionism - it's a lot to bear and I still battle that sometimes.
The anxiety that accompanied my perfectionism came to a head when I went through some significant health challenges followed by some problems in my marriage. At first, I started to experience some numbness in my cheek due to jaw tension. It subsided after a few sessions of physical therapy but because I didn't deal with the root of my issues, namely anxiety and perfectionism, the physical symptoms came back with a vengeance about a year later. I clenched my jaw so tightly while sleeping, that eventually I couldn't open my mouth very far and chewing most foods was terrible. Worst of all was the journey I found myself on to cure myself of this pain. I travelled to multiple specialists, attended countless physical therapy appointments, took lots of prescriptions, and even had jaw surgery. I became so desperate for relief that I spent money on weekly massages, acupuncture, and even tried hypnosis. Finding a solution was looking more and more impossible. The strangest part was that after a couple of years, new symptoms presented and they were more distressing than the jaw pain: massive headaches, facial pain, periodic muscle convulsing, foot pain, and a burning sensation on my skin all came and went repeatedly. I couldn't find any answers.
Of course with each new symptom, anxiety intensified to find relief. I thought about my symptoms and possible solutions all the time and worst of all, I was losing my life to either the actual pain or the fear of triggering pain. My life, which was once full of family, friends, travel, and activity had become a shell. I didn't realize it at the time but my perfectionism and anxiety had me in a cycle because the less I could do, the less perfect I seemed, which led to more anxiety, causing more pain.
This cycle went on for a few years and one day a good friend of mine mentioned her work with Dr. Phillipson and suggested I call him. I had tried therapy before, so I wasn't sure he could help me. I am so grateful I called! From the first appointment, I knew his therapy was different, and what a relief. He didn't feel sorry for me or try to console me. He just reassured me that he had some tools he could share with me about how to live a less fragile life.
We worked together for 2 years and he taught me to notice my pain, rate it, and carry on with whatever activity I wanted to do. The scarier the activity, the better too. He also challenged me to give up relief seeking in the form of physical therapy, massage, etc. I began to do what I call the "rate and take" - I rated my pain on a scale of 1 to 10 and took it with me wherever I wanted to go that day. The freedom that came with doing what I wanted in spite of my fear and pain was amazing. Dr. Phillipson helped me realize the power in living the life I choose, not what my pain dictated. He also showed me that finding a solution is not important and is usually an anxiety trap. The most important thing was to not allow pain to trick me into viewing myself as fragile. Slowly, many of the symptoms relented, although they do come back here and there. When they present, I remind myself that pain doesn't get to have a say in what I do. As Dr. Phillipson would say, "Pain is not relevent."
Dr. Phillipson was great to work with, giving me honest feedback and relevant challenges every session. He gave me the tools to accept my imperfections and face my fear of pain. Because of our work, I was able to discontinue four different prescriptions (including Valium), become involved in my son's school, volunteer to serve my community, get back in the gym, go on trips, basically live the life I want to live. I still use the "rate and take" method and knowing that my brain processes anxiety into physical symptoms are both valuable tools I've gained from therapy. Dr. Phillipson doesn't like to be thanked, but I will always be grateful for the patience, honesty, wisdom, and especially those tools I can carry with me.