Illustration by Jennifer Martinez-Flood

All or Nothing for Me by Jamie L. Rotante

Jun 08, 2023

One Punk’s Look at Social Anxiety, Neuroticism, and Other Fun Stuff

In the immortal words of a wise-beyond-his-years young man: “Everybody seeks happiness! Not me, though! That’s the difference between me and the rest of the world. Happiness isn’t good enough for me! I demand euphoria!”

I’m a Calvinist in the sense that I strictly follow the doctrine of Calvin and Hobbes.

Yes, I’m a Calvinist in the sense that I strictly follow the doctrine of Calvin and Hobbes. And, like our titular imaginative hero, I, too, demand euphoria. Because I want it all and I won’t settle for less.

Unless less is all I can get, in which case I’ll settle for nothing. You might be starting to see what the problem is here.

It’s taken me a long time to realize it, but I have an all-or-nothing mindset regarding most things. I demand the most, mostly of myself, and if it can’t be reached, I settle for less than the bare minimum. It’s a binge-and-restrict approach toward life that’s just not sustainable. It’s also not necessarily about what I consume, but also what I exert, both physically and mentally.

Here are some scenarios to better illustrate this point: let’s say I’ve gotten myself on a better track; maybe it’s healthy lifestyle changes—daily movement, moderation in practice, the increased practice of self-care, and self-improvement. If I fall out of that routine, instead of picking myself up and getting back to it, I allow myself to fall further and further off course. If I have a “cheat day”—whether it be food, booze, shopping, or what have you—I’ll treat it as “just one day of excess,” almost as if it’s a reward for prior good behavior. Once moderation has flitted past me, I’ll keep going until I have good reason to get upset with myself.

And that’s just indulgences—the same can be said for inactivity. If I miss the gym once, I might as well take the whole damn week off. If I miss journaling, following a healthy habits app, one day off from a novel writing practice, I can’t just jump back into it. I need to take an extended break, making sure I don’t accidentally remind myself of what I’m not doing, avoiding the apps I use, the notebooks I write in, and even my laptop, like the plague. Their existences act as constant reminders of my failures. Then the guilt builds and builds and builds because… well, why not? If I’m going to feel a little guilty, I might as well just take the weight of the world on my shoulders. These are constant triggers for my thought spirals.

And I don’t like thought spirals. So you know what I try to do to mitigate them? Restrict them. Cut them off before they can begin. Don’t even give them an inch, knowing full well that if I do, they’ll just go on ahead and take a mile.

This might, at face value, seem like a good approach, but over time it’s become abundantly apparent it’s not. Attempts at restricting negative thoughts just allow them to hover, like a petulant child playing a game of “not touching, can’t get mad.” So what is it that I do here instead? Overindulge. Yes, this is one of the few times that going for excess, as counterproductive as it may seem, can be the right choice.

When I allow those thoughts to spiral, unrestrained, until they can’t spiral any longer, there comes with it a feeling of release. Letting the worries and fears just keep perpetuating until they can’t go any further sounds scary; I know it did to me the first time the idea was presented, but it’s really not so bad. Ultimately the worst case presents itself, and I have an emotional reaction—be it fear, anger, sadness, any of which will ultimately end in me crying. Once that happens, all of the emotions pour out of me in a physical way, and that actual physical release feels like the weight of the world is rolling off my shoulders, down my back, and crumbling at my feet.

Then it’s done.

I’m still standing, I’ve survived, and I can assess how absurd my extreme reaction may have been and look at the situation from a clearer headspace.

What I’m still struggling with restricting, conversely, is my self-shaming. Stopping myself from getting so bent out of shape when I have missteps in my routine. Putting a hard limit on the negative self-talk that comes when I don’t accomplish the near-impossible amount of things on my to-do list. Learning to live with not always being perfect—see, that’s where the all-or-nothing really comes into play. It’s this sense of striving for “perfection” and being so damn hard on myself when I don’t reach it that I allow self-sabotage to take over completely.

And there’s something key in what I just mentioned, something I’ve only started to realize about myself: that all-or-nothing mindset also tricks me into believing that not only should I over-extend myself on a daily basis, but that I actually have the time and capacity to do so. My to-do lists, both at work and for my own personal needs, can run as long as a coupon-filled CVS receipt. Even when I pare them down, I still fill them with “big ticket” items. “Write a short story! Re-organize every room in your apartment! Keep up with your hobbies and find at least two more! Do more volunteer work!” If only one of those items gets checked off, I should be proud, but seeing only one out of four, or three out of ten makes me feel like I’m losing.

I’m setting myself up for failure by thinking I have the means to accomplish all of my dreams every single day.

I’m setting myself up for failure by thinking I have the means to accomplish all of my dreams every single day.

The hard part in all of this, of course, is the unlearning. I’ve been this hard on myself for as long as I can remember, but it’s increased in adulthood. I equate productivity with living a meaningful life, when it’s in stillness and respite that I only ever truly feel alive. If I’m not burning the candlestick at both ends, I’m wasting my time, but doing so only jeopardizes my sleep and my ability to actually be a functional human being. All-or-nothing. I want to turn all of my hobbies into side hustles so I can have security while doing things I love, without realizing that it’ll only turn the things I love into things I fear and hate. All-or-nothing. If I don’t give back by sacrificing myself, my time, and my well-being, I’m not being a good citizen, allowing my boundaries to be eroded in the name of volunteerism until it turns into resentment and self-loathing in my inability to be truly selfless. All-or-nothing.

What I truly want is security. Stability. Peace of mind. Things most humans want. What I get is debt. Instability. Unease. Even when I achieve reasonable and measurable levels of success, I can’t quite allow myself to accept them because I’m either too burned out to notice or too busy with the next thing to care. All of those goals could be within my reach, but if I never accept certain things as enough, and I’m unwilling to recognize what’s working without focusing on what more I could be doing, how will I ever achieve any of them?

But screw it, I still demand euphoria. That one I won’t compromise on.


Jamie L. Rotante is a writer/editor/proofreader/mentor/Jill of all trades, so long as those trades involve words. She works full-time as the Senior Director of Editorial at Archie Comic Publications, Inc., and has also written a number of series for the legendary company. She enjoys doing hands-on work with youth, teens, and mental health organizations and doing all she can to make people smile. She’s also a recently converted wrestling fan and would love to talk your ear off about it if you’ll let her. She’s proud to call the near-outskirts of New York City her home, where she lives with her husband and their small-yet-thriving window plant collection.

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