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.