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What dizziness taught me about perfectionism

kinda made my head spin


I come from the primary care world. You know, the world where anything goes (kinda) - in that patients can come to us with pretty much ANY concern and we are either supposed to be able to handle it start to finish, or know exactly where to send them if their concern exceeds our knowledge base, scope of practice, clinical setting, etc.


I haven’t seen it all, but I have seen a lot. I’ve seen my share. Chest pain? Unilateral leg swelling? Warm, red rash? Fruity breath? Pain with urination? Low back pain? Acute back pain? The list goes on and on. Vertigo? Yup.


But this time, it was my turn to be the patient.


The HPI is simple: I was rolling over in bed, my hair was in my face, so I tossed it out of the way with a head jerk. All of a sudden, the room was S p I n N i N g. I was pretty sure I was going to vomit. I held on for dear life and thought, “Huh, that was a weird moment.” It lasted a minute, maybe, and then I fell back to sleep.


I woke up in the morning, and it was still present. I rolled over from my left side to my right side and felt like I was about to sail off the edge of the world. “Holy crap,” I thought. “How do my patients handle this?” I gave myself a moment to come back down and realized that this must be BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, if you need a little refresher). Nothing to worry about, no other symptoms, but this was enough. This was a lot.


Some meclizine helped, but it knocked me out. (Again, I thought: “How do my patients handle this?”).


Here’s where it gets interesting.


I had a speaking engagement last night; I was talking about time management with a group of dentists. We were scheduled for about 90 minutes. There was no way that I could drive, or that I could even stand upright for that long, with the vertigo; add to that the fatigue from the meclizine, and I knew that we needed to shift the plans.


I reached out and offered to switch from an in-person presentation to a zoom presentation. Not ideal, but the message would translate and we wouldn’t need to reschedule or cancel. We ended up going in that direction.


In my talk, I went over some things that we share, us Nurse Practitioners and those Dentists.


Three big ones that can really get in our way: perfectionism, imposter syndrome, and the comparison trap. The perfectionism one really hit home for me last night. Let’s explore.

  1. The immediate guilt I felt when I woke up yesterday morning with this profound vertigo. The first feeling I had (once the world stopped spinning) was guilt. I felt guilty for getting vertigo! Like it was a choice? I was so disappointed in myself for the timing. I kept thinking that if it had just happened 24 hours later, it wouldn’t be a big deal (yes it would); why couldn’t it just be COVID or something that would be an unequivocal reason to have to change plans. “It’s just vertigo,” I thought, then tried to keep myself from toppling over.

  2. The guilt that I felt for letting everyone down. Let’s be real for a minute here; these folks haven’t met me before, so they don’t really know what they’re missing. Also, guess what? The content of the presentation is the same regardless of how I deliver it. Yes, I might be able to crack more jokes in person when I can read the room, but they are not here to hear my standup routine (I don’t think). Get over yourself, Jessica.

  3. The difference between what I had envisioned for this event and what would now need to be the reality. I was so ready to be walking back and forth, gesturing with my hands, being very expressive. I was going to look here, and then I was going to look there. I might make them answer some questions by raising their hands. And now? Guess what: …and now that would need to be a little different. And guess what else: everyone would survive (and as far as I know, they did).

It's been said that perfectionism is a response to anxiety.


That definitely tracks in this case. I was anxious already about speaking to a group of dentists (have I ever mentioned that I have extreme dental anxiety?), mainly because it’s a different twist on healthcare and I’m not as familiar with the challenges that they face in clinic. Then I had this opportunity to shift my anxiety to having to deliver my message a little differently. I could freak out all morning about whether the meclizine would work, and THEN I got to freak out about whether they would be okay with streaming my talk, and after that I got to freak out about whether I would get the spins during my talk and feel super nauseous.

And all along, right by my side for the duration: perfectionism.


Am I a bad speaker because I got vertigo? Of course not. Am I a bad time management expert because we had to switch to doing this virtually? Nope. Did I fail to deliver thought provoking, helpful, strategic information that had the potential to make their clinical days more friction-free, and to help them as leaders within their clinics to level up the functionality of their teams? I dont think so (although they are the judges of that, in all fairness).


I got close to falling into the perfection pit.


Because of vertigo. The good news is that I recognized it in the nick of time, and was able to stop that negative self talk that really wasn’t constructive. I even wove it into my talk; a little primer on BPPV (I don’t know how familiar dentists are with it), and a little Personal Example of how perfectionism can show up anywhere, anytime.


Perfectionism is always up for the task. It’s up to us to shut it down, to see it coming and like a bouncer at the door, tell it that it is not welcome and needs to go somewhere else. We can do that for ourselves, and we can help our peers when they need a bouncer. The first step is recognizing it.


Take care,




 

P.S. Happy Nurses Week

I came across this meme this week. Uncharacteristically, I’m not sure of my opinion, but there does seem to be a “pizza in the breakroom” kinda vibe around Nurses Week. What are your thoughts?


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