I'm not sure where it all started to go wrong.
I had a great childhood. Parents who pretty much let us do everything and anything. An older brother who beat me up. A younger sister who I bet up. I couldn’t have asked for more!
I always knew I was smart. I’m not being smug, even though you may think I am. I remember in Junior Infants as a 5 year old when Sister Veronica used to put the maths on the blackboard and I would sit back and patiently wait and let others answer before me.
But they never did. I always got it right, before anyone else did. Always.
From the age of 5, I liked things to be right. I liked the praise that came along with getting my sums right. Even as a child, it somehow reinforced my worth in this world.
Being right meant I was good, it meant being acknowledged, and accepted.
My obsession with wanting things to be right soon turned into wanting to be the best, at all times. And if I wasn’t? Well by God you would know all about it.
I turned into one of the most moody children of all time. If things didn’t go the way I wanted it to (the right way doncha know) then everyone would know all about it.
The puss on my face would be enough to the turn the sweetest of honey sour.
But I couldn’t help it. That’s just who I was. Or so I believed.
When I changed schools from primary to secondary, I already had a reputation for being a complete bitch. A self-righteous one at that.
In primary school, we had played the now secondary school class mates in hockey a few times. Apparently I scared the shit out of them on the pitch. By just being my usual self, wanting things to go right, wanting to score goals, wanting to win the match.
Wanting to be the best. Wanting to win. So I could be praised, acknowledged, and accepted.
A few months passed and myself and my old rival hockey players became great pals. The surface self-righteousness was soon saw past by some great women who are still a predominant feature in my life. Thankfully.
Secondary school for me had its massive highs and lows, both academically and personally. Two huge life events happened that made me, or should I say forced me, into question just how perfect of a person I was.
One particular accusation, questioned me as a person by others. My character, my integrity, my motives, my loyalty and honesty were questioned. But it carried no merit, and those that truly knew me knew that.
But that didn’t stop me from questioning it myself for the next 15 years.
Then I lost something, or rather someone, really precious to me, which I believed at the time, was my own fault.
I wasn’t praised for it. But it was undoubtedly acknowledged, although definitely not accepted. Not so perfect any more, eh Karen?
College was ok. Not brilliant. Certainly not perfect. I went so off the rails after trying to achieve the perfect leaving cert that I actually failed my first year in college.
Passed in the repeats, phew.
In college, I realised that there was a bigger world out there, with more people in it, which meant there was actual people out there who were better than me. How dare they!
I wasn’t the best any more. Others were better. I wasn’t ok with that. I wasn’t ok with achieving a first class honours degree because it was only the 7th highest in the class. I wasn’t first. This was not good enough.
I was not good enough.
I’ll show them all that I am good enough. That’s what I told myself when I enrolled to do a PhD. I’ll redeem myself. I’ll prove to myself and others just how good I am.
If they expect me to be the best, then I will be the best. God dammit.
And I off went. Six years later, my external examiner congratulated me on a “perfectly written” thesis and how it was a “pleasure to read”.
Little did he know that my PhD supervisor had asked me twice, TWICE, to finish up with a Masters before I actually wrote the blasted thing.
Jesus Christ, did I struggle. I scrutinised over every single word that went into that thesis. Is it perfectly written? Did I say it right? Will they think that it is good enough?
I persevered. I struggled. I coped. This is what was expected of me. This is what I had to do so everyone would think highly of me.
This was what I had to do to earn my worth.
So I could be liked? So I could be acknowledged? So I could be respected? So I could be accepted?
Ok, waffling beyond belief now, so there might have to be a part 2 to cover my years from post-college to now… But the picture is starting to be painted.
I was driven by perfection. I was driven by being right. I was driven by being acknowledged by others. I was driven by being approved by others. I was driven by being accepted by others.
I drove myself into misery. I drove myself into an unrealistic expectation of who I should be.
It was a downhill spiral, but at a guess, I was mildly unhappy from my mid-teens, and full on unhappy from my mid-twenties until the age of 31. I turn 35 this year.
Of course there was moments of happiness during the unhappy times. But they were always momentarily and always short lived.
I wasn’t depressed. Not clinically anyway. Just unhappy.
That’s a long bloody time to be unhappy. But I was the one behind the wheel, I drove myself to it.
I had to stop driving.
I had an internal combustion moment in April 2013, where I realised I relied on everything and everyone else for my own happiness. The last person I ever looked to for happiness was me.
So I stopped driving. I put on the brakes and I took the back seat. I simply started to give myself a break.
I stopped looking to others to approve my actions.
I stopped seeking acceptance by others.
I stopped wanting to be right all the time.
I stopped comparing my accomplishments to others.
I stopped striving to be the best.
I stopped putting others before me.
I stopped worrying what others thought of who I was.
I stopped trying to make others happy believing that would ultimately make me happy.
I stopped pursuing perfection.
So what happened when I stopped?
I started living my God damn life.
A happy one at that.
Thanks for reading,
(Picture is of the Coghlan Clan a few days after my sister's wedding in December 2015. A week long of celebrations where we were all well and truly living.
From L-R, Mam, brother-in-law Greg, brother Allan, sister Grace, Dad, and me.)