So one day I’m at an arcade playing DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) and as usual, a crowd forms around me because it isn’t everyday that they see people who could move so fast with such precision. When the song is said and done with, everyone applauds and is totally floored by my performance. Everyone is in awe and people think it’s the greatest thing they’ve seen. Everyone watching believes it was incredibly stellar, everyone except me. You see, every seems to be in awe that I managed to hit about 490/500+ steps in one song. I on the other hand am in awe that I missed those ten arrows and should have been able to hit them. While everyone is in awe about what they just saw, I’m sitting there analyzing EVERYTHING I did wrong. There is no longer “I did the best I could”, there is only “that totally sucked, I can do so much better, that was pathetic”. In those moments I realized that I ‘m perfectionist and that I seem t never take what I can get.This article has nothing to do with DDR, it is one of many analogies from my life to set up this next exciting blog entry and to expose probably one of my biggest flaws. I am a perfectionist to a fault and I am constantly setting the bar higher and higher and higher. Every time I reach the bar I just set it higher, sometimes unrealistically high at an unrealistic pace. What people seem to find good enough from me, I’m not satisfied with. From the outside looking in, people would think that score I got is the greatest score ever but for me I will always be haunted by the fact that I could have done better. Now you’re probably wondering why I would be so hard on myself and why I desire to set the bar so high at such an unreasonable pace. A lot of has to do with how I was raised and how I grew up and a lot also has to do with society and how we view our performance in anything we do.
When I was first diagnosed with Autism, doctors were already setting the bar low before I even had a chance to reach it solely based on facts and statistics about the disorder. In that time, most of the people on the higher functioning end of the spectrum went undiagnosed so the concept of someone with Autism living a normal life or being able to blend in with the rest of society was unheard of. My parents however refused to believe that I couldn’t be anything but a loud destructive kid who ran around stores destroying glass objects or someone who always shattered plates. They saw something greater, so great that at times I felt like the bar was set unreasonably high for me. Part of the earlier forms of early intervention was focusing more on correcting the negative behaviors rather than praising the good ones. You knew you did something wrong because everyone got mad and this was repeated until the negative behaviors were eliminated or less noticeable. What I never realized however is that this negative reinforcement would follow me for most of my life and would rear its ugly head in different forms. My parents always saw something greater than what I saw in myself and though most people saw this as a great thing, for me it was a double edged sword that I would find myself getting pierced by very often.
Growing up, I felt as if I never had the room to make mistakes and learn from them in a positive matter. In the earlier days of middle school my mother would be really pissed when I brought home failing tests and I mean pissed. It wasn’t any better when my dad found out. At the time I struggled and was willing to take what I could get and never saw myself getting any better. Most of the time I was happy with just passing but they wanted better as well. Some days I felt as if they just didn’t get it, that getting As was like asking a snowman to do a mail route during a heatwave. What was normally easy for neurotypical kids was almost impossible for me. I didn’t help that I had a brother who was an honor roll student and a was also skilled at ballet. Metaphorically and literally speaking, the kid practically waltzed his way to success in his youth. Watching him get honor roll easily was the most discouraging thing ever. What made it even worse was being compared to him. My brother set the standard for what a child in our family should be and in that moment all of my accomplishments felt as if they paled in comparison to his. My parents constantly wanted better from me and all of a sudden my best never felt like it was good enough. What good was barely passing if my brother could top it with an A? Learning how to drive brought upon a similar problem. Driving was a cakewalk for my brother looked rather effortless but I struggled greatly and with every screw up, my dad was always comparing me to my brother. “But your brother gets it, why can’t you be more like your brother”? Once again my brother was always the standard and if I didn’t reach or exceed that standard it was never good enough. I knew my parents wanted the best for me and I knew they wanted me to push myself but there were days where I wish they could be happy with the little things.
Fast forward several years later and that all or nothing mentality has rubbed on to me. I never apply it to anyone else because I know that everyone is different and that accomplishments are celebrated within the context of one’s life but for my own life, I feel like I’m nothing if I can’t reinvent myself and constantly evolve. As soon as I see better than my best I am in the situation where my best isn’t good and I need to step it up a notch. This applied to everything in my life, school, video games, how I interact with people, job interviews, and a lot of other things. I could have a really good conversation with someone yet the only thing I can ever think about is what I did wrong in the conversation, maybe I talked too fast, maybe I talked a bit too much. I remember one day a few years ago I was pulling out of the driveway with my dad’s car and I heavily dented the fender of his Mercedes because I turned too early and too sharply while exiting our awkwardly shaped driveway. For once my dad was just happy that I wasn’t hurt and that my first car accident happened in our own yard and didn’t involve me getting mangled in a road accident but for me, I was mad at me because I made such a stupid mistake and banged up the one car my dad took a lot of pride in. For the next few days I constantly reminded myself how much I sucked and punched the porcelain tile in the bathroom until my knuckles were bruised up.
I grew being informed mostly of my mistakes, my mistakes were always presented in a very negative light. If I talked too much in a conversation when I was a teenager my mother never started the conversation with “I liked that you were able to engage my co worker in a conversation but, try to keep the conversation relevant and give he/she a way to talk”, it was always her scolding me for talking way too much or bringing way too many details into a conversation. The bad always came first and you were lucky if they even mentioned a shred of the good. At the end of the day there was almost never any, “you did your best and I’m proud, anything you messed up on can be done better next time”, only “you can do so much better” as if a next time didn’t exist and every moment was my last. Now this is not to say that this is all bad, I’ve learnt how to put all my energy into doing something efficiently the first time, the problem however is that I don’t leave myself enough room to screw up. I guess I’m afraid of screwing up because my worse fear is that if it happens, I won’t have the room or space to efficiently learn from any mistake made. I never had that airbag to support me when I crashed and burned. I walked out mangled up and was expected to pick myself up.
If I had to make a comparison of my household some days to something, it was the equivalent of the New England Patriots locker room and every other football locker room but we’ll focus on New England since that’s my team. Now those who watch Bill Belichick during interviews will know that win or lose, there are never any smiles or grins, just lack of emotion. Even during a win there seems to be more of a focus on what was done wrong because that’s how the team gets better, it’s how everyone grows. When we played the Broncos back in November we were down 24 points and managed to make one of the most epic comebacks in the history of our team and barely won towards the end and while we and probably the rest of the team minus Tom Brady were happy with the fact that they barely survived what could have become a Peyton Manning style beat down from what is shaping up to be a VERY dangerous Denver Broncos team, Bill Belichick was getting ready to scold the entire team about the fact that they were down 24 points in the first half. Forget the fact that the team came back from behind and beat Denver, or how WR Julian Edelman had a career day, receiving 110 yards for two scores or how Nate Ebner recovered a fumble during kickoff that brought us into field goal range in order to win the game in over time or how our defense played the best it did in weeks forcing turnovers and catching interceptions, they were down 24 points and failed to execute and that will be the only thing that entire team hears for the rest of that week. All of a sudden the focus quickly goes from “we won” to “we played like ass, how do we not play like ass the next time? How do we avoid this situation in the future?”. Now for adults this kind of thing is okay because it is expected but for children, especially ones with intellectual challenges, this can be quite damaging.
I guess the lesson I hope that people can take from this is that while we want the best for our children and anyone we’re in the care of, some days we have to just take what we can get and celebrate the little things. We spend way too much time focusing on the negative as a way to force people to get better. There’s never enough room for people to soak in what they did right because the negative is constantly thrown in our faces. We use the bad to drive us to be better and sometime it’s at the cost of our self esteem. All of a sudden nothing we do is good enough. As adults this can help greatly because we as adults are tough enough to take the harsh criticism but children and teens aren’t mature enough to handle such methods. This is not to say we should be a society that accepts failure as good enough because teaching kids to push themselves to be their best should be our priority. We however need to approach this from a context sensitive stand point. Children are going to make mistakes and that’s something we just have to accept and those with intellectual/social disabilities are going to make the mistakes we don’t usually expect people to make. It’s life and mistakes are okay, what our emphasis needs to be on is the ability to learn from the mistake and grow from it. I remember at camp this year, one of my campers lost his shampoo bottle and despite having an awesome day, he was fixated on the fact that he lost his shampoo and that his mother was going to be mad at him. Now most people would assume that he’s just worrying excessively about something simple but I already knew just from that incident alone how his home life was and realized he grew up with parents that only focused on what was wrong with him and the mistakes he made hoping that would make him better. This doesn’t work, it’s damaging and will create some serious problems later. Imagine Bill Belichick coaching a Pee Wee football team the same way he coaches the Patriots and ask yourself how those children would turn out. Before you decide to decide to criticize a child or a preteen ask yourself, does what you have to say effectively point out what they did well and point out the mistakes they made in a palatable form that gives room for both growth or new mistakes? If it doesn’t then I suggest you go back to the drawing board. With me, my need to constantly push myself and reinvent myself isn’t as damaging but for some, it can be quite damaging so use caution during a child’s development. People will probably say that this is the best blog post I’ve ever written and just like every other post I will be breaking this down and figuring out what I did wrong with this as far as delivery goes and attempt to top this next post. Stay classy peole