“If you want my help, then stop rejecting it!”

If you’ve already read my post, “It’s not good enough. I’m not good enough,” then you should know that I tend to be somewhat perfectionist when it comes to my schoolwork, or just about anything. This has been the case since middle school, I believe, and it gradually got worse from then onward. I think it probably hit its peak when I was in my later high school years, and did not get any better afterwards. My academic fastidiousness was particularly noticeable in how I handled many of my homework assignments, and it would sometimes cause me to have nervous meltdowns.

To clarify, however, I actually did pretty well in terms of my schoolwork throughout most of high school and college. Although I struggled quite a bit with the workload and would habitually complain of having too much to worry about at once, I usually completed my assignments with commendable results and performed very nicely on exams for the most part. So I wasn’t exactly having troubles with learning the material or studying it.

Instead, I believe much of the ongoing anxiety came from my desire to do as well as I possibly could with each assignment for every class, combined with my constant lack of confidence in my ability to do so. I typically approached each piece of homework I was given, from minor daily assignments to big, long-term projects, with an intention to do a really good job and impress the instructor, as well as myself. In the majority of cases, I was able to complete my homework without getting too worked up about the outcome or how I was going to be graded. Naturally, it was the larger, more complex assignments that tended to bring me a lot of stress and make me worry that I wouldn’t be able to do well. Smaller projects could also make me anxious if I didn’t fully understand what I was supposed do.

Anyway, as I’m sure most kids would, I often asked my parents for help with my homework whenever I was having trouble. At least half of the time, my mom or dad (sometimes both of them) was successfully able to assist me with whatever I was struggling with, without a whole lot of drama. I must admit that in several cases, they may have done some of the work for me, particularly when it came to long-term writing assignments. I can’t blame them for doing this as I actually used to have some difficulties with writing, believe it or not; specifically with trying not to sound too awkward or vague.

Unfortunately, there were far too many instances where my anxiety and perfectionism got the better of me and led to usually brief, yet unpleasant conflicts with my parents. What I mean by this is that I would sometimes become a little fussy or upset when the help that they were giving me didn’t meet my expectations or went against what I wanted to do. This more often occurred with writing assignments, and nearly always involved my parents wanting to do something with the assignment that was very different from what I had in mind. The idea of completely abandoning my ideas or going with something that I didn’t think could work filled me with severe apprehension, and thus usually resulted in me having some kind of emotional outburst or temper tantrum. On occasion, the same thing could also happen if I simply didn’t think that what my parents were suggesting was “good enough” or wasn’t helping all that much.

Whatever the case, I would make quite a scene while my parents tried to give me the best help they could with the assignment. Being so overwhelmingly stressed out and confused, I would stubbornly reject their suggestions and shout at them angrily. I would moan or yell things like “This won’t work,” or “This isn’t what I’m supposed to do,” or “I still don’t know what to do,” or “No, that’s not how I wanna do it!” Eventually, seeing that I wasn’t listening to reason or willing to give their proposals a chance, my parents would throw up their arms and say, “Ok Tim, I give up! You’re on your own! We’re trying to help you, and you just aren’t letting us!” At this point, I would implore them to continue helping me and try my best to explain why I couldn’t go with their recommendations. Afterwards, I would usually either calm down gradually and let my parents assist me in the way they were suggesting, or I would stick with what I thought was best for the assignment, with or without my parents’ help. Most of the time, I believe the former was the ultimate outcome.

Looking back on these nervous meltdowns, although I definitely regret being so rude and stubborn with my parents when they were trying to help, I honestly do understand why I behaved the way I did. As I mentioned earlier, my perfectionist way of doing things was really problematic at this point in my life, and so I was very easily stressed out by my schoolwork. I cared a great deal about my academics and wanted to do as well as I could on all of my assignments. At same time, I didn’t like taking risks or trying things I wasn’t confident I could do successfully. I wanted to feel completely safe in what I was doing with my homework, to know that I was “doing what I should be doing.” Meanwhile, I always looked up to my parents and believed that they could give me the solution to any problem I was having, especially it if was school-related. So when my parents tried to help by suggesting something that I thought was risky or pushed me out of my comfort zone, I understandably became very nervous and conflicted. On one hand, I wanted them to help me and I knew that I couldn’t proceed confidently without them, but on the other hand, what they wanted me to do was at odds with what I thought I needed to do with the assignment. So I think you can see why this would lead me to get into intense arguments with my parents.

All the same, I still realize that I should have been much more appreciative of my parents’ assistance, and I wish I didn’t give them such a hard time when they were just trying to be helpful. Believe me when I say that my mom and dad had to put up with quite a lot on my part; they showed a remarkable amount of patience, tolerance, and understanding when most people would probably lose their cool and give up on me completely. For that, I am forever grateful to them! I still go to them for help with my schoolwork every now and then, and they never fail to make me feel much more confident in my ability to get it done successfully. I try to express my gratitude for their assistance by achieving the best academic results that I possibly can, letting them know that it is only thanks to them that I have been able to succeed so well. If it weren’t for their ongoing, unconditional support as well as their patience, I wouldn’t have come even close to accomplishing what I did in high school as well as in college.

“It’s not good enough. I’m not good enough.”

Do you constantly find yourself worrying that the work you’re doing might not be “good enough?” Do you also tend to worry about not being “good enough” as a person in general? If so, then let it be known that you are not alone. In fact, a sizable percentage of the human race has some form of perfectionism; they believe that no matter what, they’ll never truly be good enough. I just might be one of those people who suffers from this the most.

If there is one thing that never fails to bring me severe stress, it’s the endless, relentless fear that I’m not doing an adequate job: whether it be on a specific task, or as a general fact. In other words, I have a pretty severe case of perfectionism. I stated in the post, “What do I do? What ‘should I do?” that this, along with my poor time management skills, makes it easier for me to panic whenever I have many tasks to handle at once. Just as I did with time management in the previous entry, I will now elaborate upon my issues with perfectionism and why it causes me so much anxiety.

As I mentioned earlier, I am completely aware that tons of people have this problem of constantly trying to meet a certain standard in their lives, and never feeling fully satisfied with themselves. It’s definitely NOT an unusual condition, and it may very well be that the majority of all human beings suffer from it. With that said, perfectionism seems to have a particularly powerful influence on my day-to-day behavior. Perfectionism affects my life in two key areas.

Firstly, whenever I am given a responsibility or task to complete, I will often spend a considerable amount of time making sure that I do a “good job” on it. This mostly applies to tasks such as schoolwork assignments, duties at work, and long-term academic projects. It can also sometimes apply to less substantial things like household chores, exercise, meditating, buying products, and even playing video games. In any case, as I engage myself in the task at hand, I will quickly become obsessed with getting the most praiseworthy result that I can; with being able to feel genuinely proud about what I have accomplished. Of course, when you’re such a perfectionist and nit-picky person, it’s not easy to be fully satisfied with your work, and you tend to give yourself unreasonable standards for quality. Consequently, I will spend far more time than necessary to finish a particular task, with much of it spent struggling to meet these standards. Most of the time, I will be unsatisfied to some extent with the end product and believe that someone else could have done it a whole lot better.

For example: I rarely feel completely gratified with my own posts on this blog. No matter how hard I try, I can’t shake off the impression that the article I’m writing could be a little better. As a result, I have to make several modifications to each entry before I consider uploading it. I will sometimes even send the post to my mother for a quick review. Even when she says that it’s perfectly fine, I’ll still feel a little disappointed with how the post turned out in the end. Since I am apparently unable to make it as fantastic and well-crafted as I’d like it to be, I upload it anyway, hoping that at least others will appreciate it. So I guess you can say that I’m not a huge fan of my blog, because I’m so perfectionist and self-critical when it comes to writing. I also tend to assume that other people write far superior blog posts, including on the topic of Asperger Syndrome (please don’t try to convince me otherwise, because that’ll mean you’re putting down your own writing, which I do not wish to hear).

The second way in which perfectionism enters into my life is on a much more general level. It would be difficult to explain this issue fully without making the post over 3000 words long, so I’ll do best to give a basic summary. Whenever I take a good look at myself – what my social life looks like, how independent I am from my family, how hard I study, how productive I am at work, what I do with my free time, how much I contribute to charitable causes, among other factors – I’m always extremely discontented. Particularly when I compare myself to others in those areas, I can’t help but feel awfully pathetic, unaccomplished, and lazy. As a result, I keep on thinking that I need to do a lot more with myself and follow the suggestions of others in order to become a more admirable person.

For this reason, I like to give myself a bunch of activities casually recommended to me by other people on a regular basis. These recommended activities can include things that my parents said I may want to consider, advice given by my therapist or counselor, interests a friend has which they want me to try out, or suggestions from a book that I’m reading. Whatever the source may be, I will often perceive the recommendation as something that’s mandatory, an activity that I need to perform in order to feel better about myself. I will typically add the activity to my to-do list, put a reminder for it on my iPhone, and try to make absolutely sure that I eventually attend to it. Alternatively, I may myself stress out because I don’t have the time to engage in that activity or because I simply don’t want to do it. Again, even though it is merely a suggestion, I will treat it as a vital task or a direct command from someone else, thus feeling pretty awful and lazy when I cannot fulfill it.

Even if I do commit myself to performing an activity that was recommended to me, it doesn’t guarantee that I actually will get to it. Either I may forget about it completely, or I might be too busy with academic assignment, work-related stuff, and other responsibilities to make time for it. When that happens, I will naturally feel somewhat guilty and stressed – criticizing myself for “being lazy” and not “doing what I should be doing.” Yes, I know that it never was 100% essential, yet I cannot help to perceive it as if it were, since I’m so unsatisfied with myself and I constantly think that I need to do more with my life.

Once again, I fully realize that I’m not the only one who has these problems with perfectionism and self-disapproval. It’s something that affects those with or without autism-related disorders, including those without any disorders at all. All the same, I have a good feeling that those somewhere on the autism spectrum likely struggle with it more than “neurotypical” individuals do. It may have something to do with our troubles with executive functions, how we tend to interpret what other people say, or perhaps the way we grew up as children. In any case, I think it’s very important for all of us to be aware just how critical and nit-picky we can be toward ourselves – far more than most people are in our lives. I, for one, am currently trying my best to abandon my perfectionist way of thinking, and adopt a more encouraging, more relaxed way of looking at things. I believe that many others out there, Aspergers or not, may want to consider doing this as well.

“What do I do? What ‘should’ I do?”

Have you ever experienced a moment where you felt completely “stuck” – where you were under a significant amount of pressure, were given a large number of tasks or requests, and you simply did not know how to handle it all? In other words, have you ever had to say to yourself, “God dammit! I seriously have no idea what to do right now!” Well I certainly have… countless times in the past few years, as a matter of fact.

Not being able to decide for myself what I’m “supposed” to do in certain situations is yet another significant contributor to my overall anxiety. Although this issue is not as prevalent as many of the others I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts, it is still pretty frequent and causes me severe stress whenever it happens. It usually occurs when I have a lot of things that I want to get done as soon as possible and I’m not at all sure where to start. On some occasions, it can also occur when I don’t have much to do at all and I cannot decide how I should spend my free time. So in other words, it is considerably easy for me to become lost and confused with what I ought to be doing in the present moment, especially if there is a great number of tasks or activities I could be engaged in.

Anyhow, whenever I am in this sort of situation of not knowing how to move forward, I will most often spend a considerable amount of time standing or sitting still, stressing myself out and worrying. I will try my very hardest to come up with a plan or schedule that I think will sufficiently address everything that I wish to address. Unfortunately, in most instances it will take almost hours for me to come up with a plan that I feel ok with, and even if I come up with one, it may not work when I put it into action, forcing me to try to come up with another strategy. On top of that, I will sometimes be much too frightened by the sheer (or apparent) difficult of the tasks that I have been given as well as how many I have to (or wish to) tackle in one day.

As a result, instead of being as productive as I can in the time that I have, I will waste so much that time just thinking about what I’m supposed to do and endlessly stressing myself out to find an adequate solution. In most cases, though, I eventually will sit down and get to work, doing what I can to accomplish at least some of the things that I wanted to do for that day – typically with the help of my parents or college counselors. Well, that’s at least what happens with academic assignments or anything that’s absolutely mandatory. It can be a slightly different story, however, with things that aren’t exactly obligatory, yet are highly recommended to me.

Indeed, there are two separate categories of tasks that will cause me serious unease when I have so many on my mind at once. The first are tasks which I am directly required to fulfill within a certain period of time. Right now, this mostly consists of academic assignments and long-term projects (although eventually it will no longer be the case, after I complete my Paralegal Certificate Program at Marist). Aside from that, it can also involve things such as duties at work, personal obligations to other individuals, and household chores.

The second category of “tasks” are things that people, either directly or indirectly, have suggested to me or said that I ought to try, for one reason or another. A couple of common examples include trying to make plans with friends, reading a particular book, using a certain meditation technique, trying a new exercise schedule, playing a video game that is extremely popular, staying in touch with current friends, or going to a local event. I’m basically talking about anything that could, supposedly, be somewhat beneficial to me.

To sum up: whenever I’m given large amount of tasks from one or both of these categories, I very easily get stressed out and have trouble deciding what I ought to do first. One reason why this happens to me so frequently is that I am not too skilled at managing my time as well as many others. As hard as I try, I simply cannot get things done as quickly as I would like to, and thus it’s pretty difficult for me to accomplish a significant amount in one day. On top of this, I can only be productive while I’m on my medication (see blog post “Focus, man, focus!”), which sadly only lasts for about 9-10 hours. I shall elaborate upon this whole topic in far more detail in the next blog post.

Another reason it occurs so frequently is because I can be a little bit of a perfectionist when it comes to performing tasks and “doing what I ought to do.” What I’m saying here is that I often want to: a) Make sure that the work I’m doing looks adequate and meets all sorts of criteria; and b) Do all of the things that I feel like I “should be doing” given my current situation. In other words, I seem to have this constant desire to feel productive and do what will supposedly make me a better person. This perfectionist tendency is something else that I will definitely touch upon in another upcoming blog post.

I think you can imagine how stressful and embarrassing it can be to have this sort of problem. Not only has intense indecisiveness delayed progress on some very important projects, but it has also resulted in several emotional outbursts and temper tantrums in the past. The worst part is that I am not confident that this issue will go away in the near future, meaning that I may have to deal with it as I enter the workforce and start living independently. So, as with many of my other problems, it is my hope that I will gradually get better at handling multiple responsibilities at once without stressing myself out so much and without making a scene. Maybe as I get more used to functioning in a job environment and continue to use many of the tools I’ve mentioned in “Ways I’m trying to cope with my problems”, I will be able to settle down and take things one step at a time instead of spending hours to formulate an intricate plan. One thing for sure is that I cannot allow myself to go through life continuously worrying and procrastinating when I should be getting things done.