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RA, Perfectionism, and Productivity

I am a perfectionist. I place an immense amount of pressure on myself to complete any given task. It can be at work, at school, or a regular household chore, but I will always put my all into the task at hand until it's perfectly done.

Unfortunately, RA is not a disease conducive to perfectionism. Since being diagnosed with RA, I have had to rework how I approach tasks — in all contexts — to accommodate the chronic pain I feel on a daily basis. In this article, I want to reflect on the need to negotiate having RA with productivity and perfectionism and share best practices I have found to wrestle with this negotiation.

The unpredictability of RA is frustrating

First, when you have RA, it is rare that things will be perfect. RA is an unpredictable illness; you could be fine one day, but then the next day wake up in unbearable pain, unable to get out of bed and do anything.

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As you can imagine, if you're a perfectionist like me, this unpredictability is very frustrating. Plans eventually become unpredictable and rooted in how you feel. It's hard not to feel like RA has control over your life in this instance; but it also depends on your perspective. I have recently tried to shift towards an understanding that I am now more in tune with my body and aware of its intricacies, even if it is frustrating to have to regularly change plans.

Internalized feelings of shame

This unpredictable nature doesn't just affect me; it also affects my friends, my coworkers, my boss, my professors, and my students. In a work and academic setting, people rely on me to teach or to complete tasks. Sometimes, my body won't allow me to complete those tasks, and this can affect my own feelings about my work and my team.

This is where my RA and perfectionism intertwine and spread out and affect others. I feel guilty for not being able to complete some tasks, which I then internalize and feel shame about, which then can affect how I teach and the work I complete. I am actively trying to remedy this line of circular thinking, but that is easier said than done.

Bringing others into the conversation

I try to be as open as possible about my RA with these individuals so that they are aware of how RA affects me. Of course, there are times where you have to push through the pain to work — this is usually in a work-based or teaching setting —, but being able to communicate about having RA helps bring individuals into the conversation and helps them be more understanding of your condition.

Not everyone will understand

Unfortunately, some individuals will not understand how RA can affect you, nor will they understand the unpredictable nature of RA. Some friends will think you are flaking on them when you have to cancel a few times in a row to take care of your body.

As unfortunate as it is, I have found that I have had to limit my time with those friends because they don't understand what I go through on a daily basis with my body. At times, it can feel like I somehow failed the friendship or myself (again re: perfectionism), but I actively try and guard against this thinking.

How do you negotiate between perfectionism and RA?

Ultimately, perfectionism often intersects perfectly, almost too perfectly. I have tried many ways to mitigate this intersection; some have been successful and some have not. But I'm curious if other community members have felt the same way in trying to negotiate their feelings of perfectionism and RA and how that manifests in your life.

Share an experience in the comments below!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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