I hate taking pills. In fact, in another lifetime (before I had kids) I declared that I’d better stay healthy when I got old because there was no way I could EVER take a pill a day, let alone several.
Then I had kids. Kids taught me, in so many ways, to never say never. After my second pregnancy, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. The treatment? A pill a day.
Treating thyroid conditions requires consistency. The medication is slow to build in the body, so it takes about 3 months to reach peak efficacy. This means that you can skip a day without much negative effect. I tried taking the pills. It would work for a day, a week, maybe even a month. But then I’d forget for a day. One day became two, then four, then 20. Failure. I’d try again, but inevitably, I would fail at taking my pill consistently, which meant that the pills weren’t really going to help me. They were a mental pain, a sign of weakness and failure. I hated thinking about them every day. I felt demotivated, sick, and old – at age 31.
I did some further research about hypothyroidism, educated myself thoroughly, and decided that my condition wasn’t worth treating. (Or at least, that it wasn’t worth treating if I couldn’t treat it perfectly). My case was mild, my symptoms minor and not at all bothersome, and the pills seemed to be taking over my life. My doctor didn’t understand or agree with my choice, but he acknowledged my autonomy as a patient. I continued to have my TSH levels checked yearly to make sure nothing was changing. I didn’t deny that I had the condition. I just chose not to treat it, because if I couldn’t treat it perfectly, I wasn’t going to treat it at all. And this way, I didn’t have to face the daunting spectre of imminent failure every singe day.
This coping mechanism worked fine for 8 years or so, but then in 2009 early pre-menopause and hypothyroidism became contributing factors in an apparent radical hormone imbalance that resulted in depression. As I got on the road to recovery, it became clear that I really needed to start consistently treating my thyroid condition to maintain good mental and physical health. So I started taking a pill a day.
The first year was on-again, off-again – just like before. But this time, I was also seeing my lovely therapist who helped me examine what I was doing and how I was feeling. Somewhere in our conversations, I had the idea that I could change my definition of “success.” Maybe “success” didn’t need to be synonymous with the “perfection” of taking a pill a day and never skipping. Maybe I could lower the bar and re-define success as “taking a pill a day until I didn’t – THEN taking a pill a day even after a skip.”
So in January, 2011 I started a chart because I’m a firm believer in the concept that you pay attention to what you track. I made a little calendar that could fit inside my pill box, and I started writing “P” every day that I took my pill. I did pretty well! I went a whole 37 days before I missed a few days from being sick. Ugh. I gritted my teeth and started taking the pill again.
This “failure” was now progress – and success! All of a sudden, the very thing would have made me feel like a failure – missing a few days of pill taking – made me feel successful – all because I’d changed my definition of success and accepted the inevitability of human imperfection.
I went 47 more days without missing, then I missed a day, took pills for two more days, and missed an entire WEEK. Here was a challenge. Could I stick to my new definition of success and start again? I could, I did, and life was good. It was summer of 2011 and I wasn’t perfect, but I felt successful – I WAS successful!
Or was I? Maybe I was cheating. Is changing the definition of “success” to make it less than perfection really succeeding? It sure is. And in a weird way, it enabled perfection. Because you see, I didn’t every give up the notion that taking the pill a day, every day, was the ultimate goal, the perfect goal. I just stopped making it the ONLY goal.
I am a Christian and my Lutheran faith tells me that Jesus died for my sins so that I could be perfect in God’s eyes. God wanted perfect obedience from his creation, but he also wanted it freely given from us, so he gifted us with free will and the ability to choose obedience – or not. Satan is real and Satan is allowed to tempt us, try to part us from our loving creator God. Sadly, from the very first human, we’ve chosen temptation and disobedience over perfection. We are a corrupted creation.
But God changed the definition of success for us through Jesus. Instead of heaven being reserved for beings who never make a bad choice, heaven is now for those who acknowledge their failures, regret them, and come to terms with the inevitability of them. To attain heaven, we must let go of our human lust for pride and power, admit complete defeat, and accept God’s superiority over us by accepting Jesus as savior. We can’t even do that perfectly, so we have to do it over and over again, never losing faith that through God, our imperfection can be made perfect. In holy communion, I accept Jesus as my savior again. I acknowledge what I have chosen to say and do (and what I have chosen to NOT say or NOT do) that goes against what my omniscient and omnipotent God knows would ultimately make me happiest. My sins are forgiven and I am made perfect.
In other words, when you are a Christian, every day is New Year’s Day.
I continued trying to take my pills. I missed most of April, May, June, and July, 2012. In the past, I would have considered that an EPIC failure. But because of my new definition of success, I instead had the opportunity for epic success. I started taking my pills again on July 26th. And this time, I didn’t stop. So today, December 31, marks the last day of 5 consecutive months of not missing one day of pill taking!
Today I am perfect.
I know that I will fail again. Maybe not tomorrow, but some day. I am human and I simply am not capable of attaining perfection in my present form. But now I know how to shrug off the curse of perfectionism that tells me I will never succeed, change my definition of success, start over, and achieve. I wish you nothing less in 2013.