Failure to launch

I have been very successful in my professional life. I set a lot of long-term goals when I was pretty young and achieved them all. I am really proud of my career and teaching has been my passion for over two decades.

My personal life, however…that’s been kind of a disaster. I think most of my colleagues would be surprised at how much I struggle outside of work. My relationships, for one, have been less than successful. My marriage ended within five years. My ten year long relationship with my exboyfriend, M., was a series of disasters and heartbreak. My current relationship is BY FAR the healthiest one I have been in. However, it is currently being tested by my anxiety and agoraphobia.

My struggles with mental health are such an area of shame for me. I think because it creates such a dichotomy between my professional life and my personal life. I know I present myself as being totally in control and confident at work, and yet the opposite is true in “real life”.

I met my therapist this week and we were discussing my relationship and how I feel envious of my boyfriend’s ex wife. That sounds crazy, so let me expand on that! He and I have been together for several years and have not made a ton of progress in our relationship. We are very committed to each other and very much in love, but sometimes our lives are still disjointed. He is with me half the week and the other half of the week, he has his two teenaged sons. Luckily, they have been very accepting of me and are amazing kids. But when he’s with them…he’s with them. A lot of that is my own fault, though. He always includes me in their activities, dinners, etc. Oftentimes it is out of my comfort zone and I do not attend. I do see the boys a good amount, but it isn’t as often as it should be. His ex wife has been dating her boyfriend for only about six months, but he has become a permanent fixture at her house and with the boys. They integrated him pretty quickly into their family.

I often find myself envious of this and then immediately feel ashamed because I know it is my own fault. My boyfriend is wonderful and always assures me that everything is fine and he is happy in our relationship and with me. My therapist basically said point blank that he is trying to include me and make me feel like a part of his family and I am “failing him”.

This was like a punch to the gut for several reasons. The first being that feeling mike a failure in general just sucks. The second is that my boyfriend is honestly such an amazing person who cares so much for me and is so, so good to me. He is the last person I want to disappoint. I love him and I love his kids and I want to be with them all more than I am now. It is important to me to create more of a family structure with him and I feel like my mental illness is preventing me from being able to make that a priority.

A third reason is M. His illness and his subsequent death will always feel like a failure to me, no matter what anyone says about it not being my fault. Logic tells me that there was nothing more I could have done, that I went above and beyond to help him, and that I was powerless. But, as with most matters of the heart, logic doesn’t win. I will always feel a pang when I think about M. and his final days. I will always wonder what I could have done differently and if he would still be alive if I didn’t give up on him. I will always feel like I failed him.

I know “failing” my boyfriend now is not a literal matter of life and death. And he acts like the issues with my anxiety are no big deal. But I can already predict what will happen…each little disappointment will chip away at his love for me. Each “no”, each “I can’t”, each excuse I make will cause him to take a tiny, almost indiscernible step away from me. It won’t be noticeable at first, but one day he will suddenly be very far away. I will most likely lose him at some point. I think that is why I have never allowed myself to really, truly feel comfortable in our relationship. The pain of losing him will be too much, so I protect my heart.

It was hard to hear it, but I know my therapist is right. I am failing my boyfriend. And I probably did fail M. in some way. But, most importantly, I am failing myself every single day that I let anxiety control my life. And that is the most difficult failure of all, because I can’t blame it on anyone else. I can’t ignore it, run away from it, divorce it…I carry it with me constantly.

One step forward, two steps back…

I know I do not push myself enough when it comes to my anxiety and agoraphobia, but I do try. Ever since the summer when I had a semi-nervous breakdown, I have just been really focused on getting back to the semblance of a baseline. I am pretty close to that, but my comfort area remains really small. It is really hard to push myself when all I really want is to feel normal and I am scared to rock the boat. But in the past couple of months, I have drastically reduced the amount I take Xanax, which feels good. I am back to taking it on a as needed basis and I rarely need it (but that is because I don’t really go anywhere…)

Today, my boyfriend’s son had an important athletic competition about 30 minutes away. I have only driven that far a few times since the summer, but fortunately it was in a direction and on highways I am really familiar and comfortable with. My boyfriend went early and I met him there a couple hours later. All of the expected responses I normally have did not really happen. I did not wake up during the night thinking about the drive and I felt relaxed and in control all morning. I did check the traffic a few times to make sure it was smooth sailing and I did take a Xanax about a half hour before I left. But, I drove there with no problems!!! The last couple of times I have had to drive that distance, I had panicky feelings and was tempted to turn around and go home and that did not happen at all. I really did not feel anxious and I was really pleased about that. It felt like winning a small battle in a very ginormous war, but a win nonetheless!

When it became pretty evident my boyfriend’s son was going to be the champion of the event, I mentioned to him that maybe we should ask his ex-wife (who was also there) if she wanted us all to go out to dinner to celebrate with their two sons. I asked him if maybe we could meet in between my house and hers or have them come down a little closer to my house (she and I live about 20ish minutes away). He won (hurray!!!) and afterwards it was decided we would all go out to dinner. My boyfriend and I went back to my house and his ex-wife and son went back to her house to let him shower and get their younger son, who was home. The kids decided they wanted to go to a restaurant that is about 10 minutes further away from their mom’s house, which made it about a half hour away from my house, but in a direction I am not really comfortable driving.

I just could not do it. After pumping myself up for the original drive and then sitting in a gym for five hours (which was REALLY overstimulating with a tournament going on), I just immediately shot the idea of going out to dinner down. Of course, I told him I wanted him to go and because the kids chose the restaurant, I did not want to request a different one. I honestly NEVER want anyone to be negatively affected by my anxiety and I have so much guilt all the time about how it does hurt the people I love, whether because they are concerned about me or disappointed I can’t go somewhere.

It just felt like a real anxiety rollercoaster and because I always, always focus on my losses over my wins, all I am thinking about now is that I couldn’t make it out to dinner. I am so upset and disappointed with myself. I feel so bad about myself. I don’t feel worthy of being with my boyfriend. I am embarrassed that he has to make up an excuse for why I am not there, although I told him to tell the kids the truth. They are teenagers and I told them about my mental health issues in the fall and I never want to lie to them. Having this problem makes me hate myself. My therapist said something this week about how I make anxiety such a huge part of my identity when it really is just one thing about me. I don’t have a good answer for that. I just am so disappointed in myself right now and I feel like even through I should focus on how I was successful for the drive that I did, I am just upset about the one that I did not do.