First, let me say that is post was EXTREMELY difficult for me to write post.
For the first time ever, I am publicly admitting that I am no where near perfect.
It has always been easier for me to slap on a smile, lie, and say “everything is great” or “I’m good” than to tell the truth and say “I’m struggling, I’m having a bad day.”
But, while I am being honest, smiling and laughing have been an outlet for me, a relaxing way to have fun and enjoy life! I love to be silly and I love to laugh. And, I have learned that smiling CAN actually change your mood and your outlook on life (and brighten someone’s else’s day 🙂 Bonus!)
Finally, thank you all for taking the time to read this ❤
As a 26-year-old, I was pretty shocked to learn that I had Duck Syndrome earlier this week.
Stanford University describes Duck Syndrome as when people feel pressure to be “effortlessly perfect”: smart, accomplished, fit, beautiful and popular, all without visible effort. Similar to how a duck appears to glide calmly across the water, while beneath the surface it frantically, relentlessly paddles.
I recently learned about Duck Syndrome after listening to Trish Blackwell’s “Confidence On The Go” podcast. After listening to it, I thought to myself…“holy cow – that describes me exactly.”
Perfectionism, or “duck syndrome” is thought to be linked to the tragic suicide of former Penn University runner, Madison Holleran. While Madison and many others have unfortunately lost their battle with being a duck, there is hope for me, you?, and others to still break away from the pack.
My Experience Being a “Duck”
— 1989 – 2007—
I don’t know when or why it all started. I was constantly really sick as a toddler, and missed lots of the school year for pre-K and kindergarten. I missed big milestone events and memories. When I started getting better the next years, I never wanted to miss school again. I had a perfect attendance record throughout high school (except for a few family vacation days), I even went to school on senior skip day.
Looking back, I think my perfectionistic mindset started as a result of wanting to be liked. I was always heavy-set while growing up and I would get bullied, teased, made fun of, what ever you want to call it for my weight and my pre-pubescent pimples. I figured being good at everything would make me seem more like a “winner”. I feel like a developed duck syndrome because I felt like I never had anyone to talk to. I thought “how can I tell my ‘beautiful’, ‘perfect’ friends how terrible it makes me feel when I get teased? What do they know about that? How could they help me? Won’t they just take pity on me and think I am a loser”?
So I didn’t tell anyone. I kept in all inside usually just long enough until I walked through my front door after school and ran up to my room.
To compensate for all of the “fat”, “ugly” and “bad skin” jokes, I played 4 sports year around (Tennis, Swimming/Winter Track, Track and Dance Team) and was a part of almost every club in my school including the band, chorus and orchestra. I thought “if they are going to tease me about my appearance, I am not going to give them anything else to laugh about”. So- despite all of my extra curriculars, getting a B on a test, or forgetting my homework would send me into a wave of tears and a state of depression for a few days because it showed weakness, that I was not perfect.
*So, on the surface, I just kept ‘swimming’
— 2007 – 2011—
My perfectionism continued during college. Even with playing college tennis, golf, and swimming, I still held myself to unrealistic expectations. I was still extremely dissatisfied with anything less than an A, and would beat myself up if I forgot a step on a project, a meeting with a friend, or even my laundry in the dryer. I would literally get paralyzed in fear around the notion of not being perfect.
In college, I experienced wicked symptoms of depression and anxiety, but I was afraid to go and ask for help until my senior year of college. Even when I finally went to a doctor, I only made an initial appointment and never went back. I was too embarrassed to admit these flaws, even to a professional.
To make things worse, I was a victim of a pretty serious assault incident my freshman year of college. I went to the school chief of police and told him about the incident. Although he said he would look into it, I never heard back from him and the university employee (the assaulter) never was dismissed from his position. The incident took place over winter break when I was on campus for swimming. I ended up quitting the swim team for fear of another incident happening the next year. I never told anyone else about the incident except for one of my teammates, right after it happened, because I was embarrassed and ‘afraid to feel weak’ for letting that happen to me.
So why was I such a ‘weak loser’ back then? Why didn’t I stand up for myself and talk to someone or take action!?
If these things happened again now, I would surely stand up for myself and get help and support! But I did not have the support or self-confidence back then.
I was not someone who had strong role models at this point in my life. Additionally, I really feel that the lack of action the police officer took sent me into a sharp downward spiral in regard to self-trust, personal health, and reaching out for help in the next chapter of my life. I kept thinking to myself, “if a chief of police did not believe me, the ‘perfect’ student athlete, when I had clear evidence, then why should anyone else believe me or support me with things?”.
The downward spirals drastically continued. Over the next two years, my parents got divorced, I lost my first true love, and we sold my childhood home.
Even though I was dealing with a lot, I never once told anyone how stressed out I was or that I just needed someone to talk to and cry with. The Reason? I was afraid to appear weak.
*So, I just kept ‘swimming’
— 2011 – 2013 —
Real life started when I got my first full time job as a Health and PE teacher in NJ. I moved here the summer after finishing college and I was lucky enough to find a house by house-sitting for a family who was living abroad. In retrospect, all of these responsibilities were a lot for a perfectionist 21 year old. I would pull all nighters to write the perfect lesson plan and grade tests and quizzes in a timely manner and I would spend my weekends cleaning the house so that everything was pristine and perfect for the family. In my “free time”, I was teaching group fitness classes in the mornings and nights before and after school. I never knew that teaching would be one of the worst career choices for an extremely self-critical, perfectionist.
Even though I lived just a 35 minute train ride away from NYC, I did not allow myself to enjoy life. I would punish myself when I didn’t grade tests in a timely manner or messed up an activity while teaching.
My boyfriend at the time and I eventually broke up because I literally turned into a crazy, self-destructive person. I could no longer handle the pressures of life.
*But on the surface, I just kept ‘swimming’
— 2013 to present —
Amidst one of my most lonely hours in 2013, I attended a coaching clinic for swimming with my co-coach. We had a great time and learned a lot. I started to think. “Wow I actually don’t get annoyed by this guy – strange!” We ended up dating, getting engaged and getting married. One of the reasons I love my husband the most is that he is completely opposite from me in terms of demeanor. He never gets stressed and rarely is upset or angry. He has been slowly teaching me how to shift from a type A mindset of “extremes” and “self destruction” to a mindset of “enjoyment of life” by “not sweating the small things”. That is why, starting today, during Lent, a time of the year when goals and resolutions are more likely to stick (similar to New Years Eve), I am publicly giving up being a “Duck” — hopefully for good (for his sake and for mine!).
Even with all of his support, I still have a very long road ahead of me. Just this past Monday for instance, I thought I shipped a package to an eBay customer to the wrong address. I was beyond embarrassed and upset and started getting very defensive and self-critical when my husband tried to help me.
These little type A, perfectionistic, “Duck” tendencies are still a part of me, but I am going to try and consciously move away from them and start asking for help now. I figure maybe putting it out here will help to keep me accountable.
How did I get to be a Duck?
I have been thinking about this a lot this week. How did I get to be one of the biggest ducks I know? At this point, I am thinking it is a mix of genetics, nature, and nurture.
Here is what i mean…
Genetics: I think my perfectionist, type A personality is at least a LITTLE ingrained in me. I was the type of kid who would cry and think the world was over as a result of (literally) spilled milk. I was completely embarrassed whenever even the littlest of things happened. Although this could have been learnt behavior, since it is so encompassing in my life, I think some of it is just “in me” as well.
Nature: Yes, I know the technical terms of the nature vs nurture debate, but here is what I am thinking. I consider “nature” as the groups and habitats I was a part of. Bullies, I am talking to you! And school groups, clubs, peers, friends, bullies, enemies. All of these things combined, all of these “past experiences” account for the nature of my duck syndrome.
Nurture: This one I am attributing to my family life and daily upbringings. While I was never ever scolded for messing up over something small, or getting a sub-par grade in school, I was overly praised for doing good. “You’re the best”, “you’re perfect”, “you’re so smart, talented, lucky”, “you never seem to mess up” all led me to have unrealistic expectations of myself. In addition, when I did mess up big time, I was harshly compared to my peers and “other kids” who wouldn’t have done that and were so much better than me. I never understood how I was such a bad kid when I did almost everything right. Just recently, I realized I was simply told lies.
I know I am not alone in this journey, this world or this struggle, so I am hoping that maybe someone else who has been acting like a perfect duck all of their lives can be aware of it, and finally start breaking away from the pack.
Truth be told, though I act/may seem like I have everything together, I am still figuring 1,000,000 things out…
- I love my job but since I am never satisfied 🙂 , I still want more.
A higher degree, an advanced position, my own business, etc.
- I have major digestive/nutrient absorption issues that started in college and are only getting worse. I am constantly embarrassed and lose hours of sleep each week due to pain. I am always trying to figure out what my food “triggers” are since they are always changing.
- At age 26, I am just now starting to have a “normal” or lets say “functional” family life. And let me tell you, I am LOVING IT ❤
Two huge protective factors I think I have had in my life is my faith and, for the past decade, my love of fitness. Though I have transitioned away from a specific religion per-say, I think my spirituality has kept me safe from ever hitting “rock bottom”.
And even though I have always played sports and am competitive by nature, I have only ever compared “me” to “myself”. Even as a kid, I was WAY more worried about getting a PR (personal record) than necessarily getting first place. Today, I am not competing anymore, but sometimes when I am teaching a fitness class, there are participants more muscular, skinnier, or more fit than me…but that is okay! Exercise is an escape for me. Fitness is my fun, free, happy place!
Thank you to all of my friends and family for your support as I continue my journey ❤