Last night, my husband spoke the three most terrifying words in the English language.
"Take a break."
I was horrified. My blood ran cold.
"Let the dishes stack up. No laundry. And don't you dare touch that vacuum," he insisted.
"No buts about it. Take the day off. Why don't you have some fun?" he suggested, smiling.
Fun? Fun!? I drew a blank. And that's when I knew I had a problem.
Did you do worksheets in elementary school? I must've done a thousand in first grade alone. Apparently, I did 'em well because they landed me on the A Honour Roll, or "A On-A-Roll" as I called it. Mom praised me and taped my papers to the 'fridge. Dad showed off his little Exhibit A (me) to the relatives.
From that day on, I was an addict. A big, red A+ on my schoolwork became my crack. By third grade, my self-esteem and GPA were hopelessly enmeshed. I was my grades; my grades were me.
Dad may have been chronically dissatisfied with who I was, but he heartily approved of my grades. I didn't give a rat's ass about knowledge. Grades. That's what mattered!
And I wasn't the only one. When I met my Waterloo on fractions, Dad corrected my math worksheets before I turned them in for grading. When I refused to cheat on my eight grade science project, he punched me in the face. While I struggled with my tenth grade science project, he flew into a rage and threw a bar stool the length of the basement. There, but for the grace of God, flies me!
As long as I got A's, Mom glowed. Dad praised. My grandparents bragged. I felt like James Cagney in White Heat standing atop a gas storage tank screaming, "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!" just before it explodes. Kablewey!
My "kablewey" was failing my first driver's training test. My first failure... ever. It was devastating. Daddy had to lay down in a darkened room to recover from it. Terrified, I waited for the explosion that thankfully never came. I guess he'd exhausted his stock of screams while teaching this nervous wreck how to drive.
My work addiction segued seamlessly from schoolwork to "work work." As far as I could tell, there was no difference. I was still doing "worksheets," but now, they paid me! A co-worker need only utter the three magic words ("You're the best.") and I'd do all my work... and theirs, as well! Mom praised. My grandparents glowed. Dad forbade moving out and instated rent.
When I wasn't driving him to chemo appointments or running his errands, he insisted on long jam sessions twice a week. It seems when I started playing fiddle, he simultaneously rediscovered his musical talent. Between my workloads at home and work, plus insomnia, it didn't leave much time nor energy for fun... whatever that is. I quit fiddling.
"Perfectionism is probably the most common and also one of the most damaging characteristics of dysfunctional families."
Strangely, the proverbial crapola didn't hit the fan 'til 2012 when I traded my IT Software Implementation Analyst career for the wife/homemaker role I'd always dreamed of. For the first time in my life, I didn't have a 4.0 GPA. No job. No worksheets. No praise. Nothin' but 20 oak trees surrounding our "new" home... a 1912 cottage laced with cobwebs, dead ladybugs and 1970s wallpaper.
Failure! For only the second time in my life, I felt like a failure. This time, I was the one curled up in the fetal position in a darkened room.
But I'm a firm believer in "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps." And that's exactly what I did. Instead of testing software, I planted a garden. Instead of providing technical support, I painted our cottage. And instead of writing technical guides, I study psychology and adore writing feature stories, Delly's Doodles and this Huffington Post blog. The more work I take on, the better I feel.
Do we see a theme here? Yep, I'm back to "worksheets."
Dang it! Could it be that I'm a workaholic and a perfectionist!?! In An Adult Child's Guide to What's "Normal," I was fascinated to read that, "Perfectionism is probably the most common and also one of the most damaging characteristics of dysfunctional families... We get more and more addicted to 'doing' and trying to please by doing more and more, better and better because in a perfectionistic family enough is never enough."
No kidding, Sherlock!
Which brings us full circle back to my husband's hope that I'll take a break and have some fun. Yikes! Freaks me out! It requires extricating my self-esteem from my performance. Hanging up my quill and parchment for the day. Letting the dishes pile up and not taking it personally. Being convinced of my innate worth, regardless of my crunchy carpets. And trying to figure out what's fun. (HINT: It's not cooking.)
And that's why my sole New Year's resolution is to learn how to live, really live. Sure, work's gotta' get done and it will get done. But I'm not my work. It's just what I do... not who I am.
As Henry David Thoreau said, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." I've got the woods. Now, I need life!
In the meantime, consider yourself sworn to secrecy because I'm writing this on the day I was supposed to take off. Don't tell my husband! Pinky swear?
You're the best!
MORE ON HUFFPOST:
I love to go for a run. I'm the world's slowest runner, but I love it because that's the only socially acceptable thing left where you can unplug. If people can't reach you, you say, "Oh, I was out for a run!" It's my time for myself. --Randi Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO, Zuckerberg Media; Editor-in-Chief, Dot Complicated
Bubble baths, yoga, sitting and doing nothing. --Katie Couric, Award-winning Journalist, TV Personality and NY Times Best-selling Author
To recharge, I plug in all my devices! [laughs] But really, I try to get away when I can, and try to go within. I actually did a very provocative tweet recently, that said that everyone should meditate for 15 minutes every day, unless they don’t have time. Then they should do it for an hour. --Kenneth Cole, Chairman & CEO, Kenneth Cole
There's no question that for me a long, slow, steady bike ride, run, swim … flow is where you're in a rhythm and don't have to think about muscles or what they're doing. That kind of rhythmic movement helps me meditate. It gives me this safe space; it's almost like going into a bubble -- it's like a shower for my brain. After, I have to sit at my computer and data dump. It can be anything from 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half. It's not long long.
I would say cooking and gardening -- anything related to food! When I am cooking, I play music that I love, I light candles. And that sets the scene.
Taking a walk with the family and the dog -- a half Bernese mountain dog, half Pyrenees -- and playing tennis. I wanted to choose a sport that I could actually play into my ninth or 10th decade. --Dr. David Agus, M.D., Professor, USC Keck School of Medicine and Viterbi School of Engineering; CBS News Contributor
To relax and recharge, I need to sleep. I exercise. I like active things; I run, bike, swim, skate and do Bikram yoga -- but most importantly, I need to kiss my son. He’s 6. --Federica Marchionni, President, Dolce & Gabbana Inc.
I have an array of activities that I use to help my body reset and to get connected to my source, including yoga, meditation, [and] running. And I like to do hot baths at night before I go to bed. --Dr. Mark Hyman, M.D., Authority in Functional Medicine; Founder, The UltraWellness Center
I rest in the awareness of my breath. [Breathing] has transformed life into a living meditation. --Panache Desai, Spiritual Teacher
I put my feet up and I meditate, even if it is two or three minutes during the day. The other thing is taking baths, I love taking baths at night with lavender salts and oils. And I just find that a bath before you go to sleep is amazing. --Agapi Stassinopoulos, Best-selling Author and Speaker
Reading, exercise, TV. --Adam Grant, Ph.D., Author and Professor, The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania
I have three: I meditate, but that's a bit predictable, given what I do. Surfing is the big one -- I try and surf every single day. And then at the moment, I spend a lot of time with my wife, putting my hand on her stomach. [Puddicome's wife is six months pregnant.] --Andy Puddicombe, Headspace Co-Founder
I watch TV! And then before I get back to whatever it was that was driving me crazy, I make a list of everything I have to do. First the TV, then I make the list because otherwise I'm just going back into the chaos. --Maysoon Zayid, Actress, Professional Standup Comedian and Writer
Follow Lenora Thompson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lenorathewriter