I didn't plan to perseverate so much on the difference between my public self and my secret self, but it's just sort of flowed that way. I've appreciated the comments.
Today in the library I happened to see a book that had been pulled from the stacks and set on top of one of the shelves. It was about gifted children and how telling them they're special can sometimes lead to all sorts of problems. If there's one message I took away from my childhood, it was that I am special. And, really, I suppose it was true in a way beyond the standard "every child is special" line. But just as this book seems to warn, I ended up feeling like I had to perform a certain way to measure up. Constantly performing turned my life into a performance.
Perhaps the best therapy for my perfectionism was med school. I learned to be happy with passing rather than acing tests. Very happy. Thrilled. And as much as I hated it, I had to face the fact that I was no longer the brightest person around, no longer a star, no longer "special". It was drilled into me constantly for four years.
I haven't really lost my perfectionism, but it has been thoroughly tempered. I'm okay with failure in a way that I've never been before. I'm okay with faults. I'm okay with personal fallibility. I can even honestly criticize myself in this blog space--this weird half-life between public and private--most of the time without acquiring bruises that would otherwise make me withdraw.
And while this post is mainly about my past, and what has got me to where I am, I'm happy that I'm in a place that doesn't settle with character flaws but doesn't demand liberation overnight either. I've found the zone well distanced from overly wrought suicidal on the one hand and complacently damned on the other, and it feels sort of... perfect.