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The Fall of a Perfectionist
“So you would like to talk?” the therapist asked me.
“About what exactly?” I asked her back.
“About what's been going on,” she said. “About why your parents brought you here in the first place.”
“Why don't you just ask them that?” I said to her. I was beginning to get frustrated. But then, she was cutting into the precious time that I had left.
“Because I'm here to see you, not them,” she answered. Ooh, a smart one.
“Well, have my parents told you anything?” I asked.
“Your mother has,” she said.
“And what exactly did she tell you?” I asked. I heard her sigh deeply.
“Your mother told me that you basically had an emotional breakdown last week,” she said.
“Oh, really?” I asked. I clasped my hands tightly together. That was true. I had never cried in school before then. But last week, a new wave of emotion had come over me. I had practically collapsed emotionally. One moment, I was standing against the wall hyperventilating, with some teachers trying to calm me down. The next, I was curled up on the floor, crying my eyes out. I blinked back the memory.
“Is there anything that you would like to talk about that you think might have...brought on this breakdown?” I nearly wanted to laugh.
“Yes,” I said. “As a matter of fact, there is.”
Where should I begin? My obsession with school went way, way back. Back to the time that I had transferred schools in the 2nd grade. I had been one of the best in my class, which didn't really help when you were the new kid. It only made me feel even more alienated. But I got used to the feeling.
Throughout my school years, I moved around and transferred from school to school, always being the “new, smart kid,” who no one really paid any attention to. At some point, I believe it was in middle school, I gave up on trying to have a social life. Instead, I delved completely into my schoolwork.
“So you're saying that this is what caused the breakdown?” the therapist asked. “These events that happened so long ago?”
“I'm getting there, doc,” I said.
Without having friends or even real acquaintances, it was very easy for me to do my schoolwork and not become the least bit distracted. It became my only passion in life. Some kids practiced for hours for soccer or football. I spent hours polishing off my reports. Other kids hung out with their friends on the weekends. I spent that time creating elaborate projects and finishing off homework. My parents sometimes worried. I told them not to bother.
I consistently got the highest grades in the class, which only alienated me even further from the rest of my peers. But I loved the looks of admiration on the teacher's faces when I got straight A's. I loved the look of pride on my parent's faces when they saw my report card. And even better, as I'd come to realize, the looks of envy the other students shot me as I walked on stage every quarter to get my certificate. Yes, I loved it all. I relished every moment of it.
“So your love of school is what you believe is causing this?” the therapist asked. I was getting really tired of her interruptions.
“Just hold on, okay?” I said. “You asked me to speak, so I am. Now please stop interrupting me.” She seemed a bit put off, but stopped talking nonetheless. I continued on.
Of course, things change when you get to high school. People change. It didn't help that I had just moved to a new city and had to transfer schools yet again. I had no friends. No one spoke to me at all. So with no social life, I did what I did best: dive head-first into my schoolwork. Teachers adored me. My GPA rose to new heights. I got on the honor roll every quarter. And yet, I still felt unfulfilled. People congratulated me on my grades. And I did enjoy that part. But I'd always see people hanging out during lunch, students laughing together during class, couples walking around the school holding hands. I realized that I didn't have any of that. So to compensate, I worked even harder. But I still wasn't any happier.
And then, in the 11th grade, Bill Wilson came along.