Embracing “Good Enough”

I’ve been a perfectionist for as long as I can remember. When I was four years old I asked my mother to save all of the small margarine containers and lids so that I could use them to organize my massive collection of Barbie accessories. All of the shoes went in one container, the hats in another, and the purses in their compartment.

Each day when I finished playing, I laid all the dolls horizontally in their plastic bin, their toes pointing in the same direction. The dresses and clothes were similarly laid flat and neat in their bin. A play session did not feel complete until everything was put away just so. Having such order has always had a calming effect on me, making the world feel manageable and purposeful.

Rheumatoid arthritis: the opposite of perfectionism

Given that I’ve always tried to instill order through perfectionism, it’s ironic that I should have a disease as chaotic as rheumatoid arthritis. Erratic, unpredictable, and incredibly variable, RA makes it very hard to have the order in my life that I so desire.

This disease can surprise me with a flare out of nowhere, can create intense pain in joints that don’t generally hurt, and can steamroll me with fatigue even after a long night’s sleep. This autoimmune condition turns the world on its head, afflicting young people with the ailments of the old, and caused by the very system of our body that is by design supposed to protect us from illness. Rheumatoid arthritis just doesn’t make sense.

The disorder of rheumatoid arthritis

Canceled plans and unchecked lists

The impact of this disease on my life often involves a lot of disorder. There are the plans I’ve made with friends and family that I have to cancel only hours before they were to take place. There are the to-do lists full of items that go uncrossed because the pain and fatigue make it so difficult to be as productive as I want to be.

Chores that don't get completed

There are all the household chores that can become utterly unmanageable when my joints are inflamed. There are times when I am laid up on the couch with an intense pain in an ankle, knee, or hip and I look around my messy house in complete dismay. Unlike that four-year-old girl putting each item away in its proper place, I often find myself needing to rest in spite of the toys littering the floor and the dirty dishes filling the sink.

Achieving perfection isn't everything

It is in these moments when the disorder of my reality feels as if it is boring holes into my brain, that I try to talk the perfectionist in me down from the proverbial ledge. While it is true that on any given day there are many tasks that go undone, it is also true that each day that goes by I accomplish something of importance, even if it is only kissing my children and telling them I love them.

Being proud of what I have accomplished

After my diagnosis I completed my bachelor’s degree and went on for a master’s. I birthed two amazing children, and I let them know I love them each and every day. While I don’t always provide them with a spotless house, our home is full of books, crafts, laughter and warmth. I have nurtured my marriage, and my husband and I have weathered many storms together, supporting one another through the hard times. I have a meaningful job that challenges me while also paying some bills and providing benefits for my family and myself.

It is true that many of these things did not happen according to the timeline I’d originally envisioned, but they happened. “Perfect” is a construct that can rarely be observed, much less maintained. Rather than focus on the gap between what I accomplish and what I’d hoped to accomplish, I instead want to focus on the actual accomplishments. While my life is certainly not perfect, it is definitely “good enough.” Perhaps “good enough” is, after all, a perfectly good goal.

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