This is my last post for the "Relationships and Mental Illness" blog. I'm grateful for the opportunity I've had to write about my experience with mental illness for HealthyPlace. As I leave this blog, I'm determined to keep learning about how to love myself and others better. When it comes to writing about relationships, if there's one thing I've learned, it's that I still have a lot to learn.
Relationships and Mental Illness
Ever since I started my part-time job at an art supply store in August, I've noticed a boost in my mental health. I love working at the store -- it's a good fit for my personality, strengths, and interests. I'm an art school graduate who spent several years unhappy in the corporate world. It's a breath of fresh air to be amongst fellow artists again, finally. I now realize how good it is for my mental health to be happy at work.
Living with mental illness for many years, learning to love myself has been an ongoing challenge. I've read many books on the topic and discussed it with many therapists, but the key to self-love has remained a mystery. Something I didn't take enough notice of, however, was the fact that I've spent years not doing the things I love the most.
For the past few years, I've decided to prioritize my mental health and not visit my family over the holidays. It's a decision not everyone may understand. Aren't the holidays about spending time with your loved ones? I do love my family, but the most loving thing I can do for myself is to take quiet time alone to rest and relax. Time with my parents and sister is often stressful and triggering for me. I've decided that my mental health is more important than anything else.
In August 2021, after watching my performance deteriorate for months, I decided to quit my full-time government job to deal with burnout and take care of my mental health. Living alone in a basement apartment during the pandemic had made my depression and anxiety worse, and I'd been finding my job increasingly stressful. Leaving without another job lined up was risky, but I felt I had no choice. I'd reached my limit.
I sometimes wonder if I would face the same stigma for dating men a couple of decades younger than me if the genders were reversed. It isn't that unusual to hear about men in their 40s dating women in their 20s. However, when a woman in her 40s dates a man in his 20s, the main assumption I've encountered is that she must be a "sugar mommy." It's almost as if it's unimaginable that a young man would be sexually or romantically interested in an older woman for any other reason.
In "Dating Like a 'Cougar' Is Leaving Me Lonely," I discussed my mixed feelings about continuing to identify as a cougar. I was worried that the term might be too small of a box to fit myself into. Having thought about it more, I now see the term more like a shoe that fits. It might be a tight fit, but it still fits.
Living with borderline personality disorder (BPD), many aspects of my identity have felt unstable over the years, including my sexuality. I came out as bisexual in 2000 or 2001, but after about a year of dating women, I went on to date cis men almost exclusively. My sexual attraction to women never went away, but the way I feel about it has fluctuated. I had trouble accepting my bisexuality.
Sometimes I wonder what my life would look like if I didn't have borderline personality disorder (BPD) and complex posttraumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD). It saddens me to think about the experiences and accomplishments I may have missed out on due to my ongoing battle with mental illness. While it's impossible to know the life I could have had, it's an interesting thought experiment to look back and imagine how things could have turned out differently. What if I'd led a life without mental illness?
Something happened when I turned 40: I pretty much stopped dating my age. Over the past four years, almost all of my dates have been with men in their 20s. I believe the term for a woman like me is "cougar." While dating men so much younger than me has been exciting and fun, it's also been incredibly lonely. So, why have I been clinging to the cougar life for so long?