Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Monster Under My Bed: How Sex Has Helped Me to Manage Anxiety and Depression

First of all, I need to credit the title and inspiration for this post to a panel I attended at the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit this previous weekend. The panel featured JoEllen Notte (The Redhead Bedhead), Stephen Biggs and Crista Anne. One thing that was talked about during the panel, and something that really struck a chord with me, was the need for more folks who live with mental wellness issues to speak out on sexuality, and it's importance in our healing and dealing processes (if we do use it for those purposes). I could not agree more, and even though I've already spoken extensively on my struggles with anxiety and depression- and my use of sex, masturbation and orgasm as a coping mechanism- on this blog, I think it's time to delve into the topic once again.

I was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder when I was 7,  and panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression when I was 13. These monsters have always been with me, though- I cannot remember a time in my life when they did not affect me. I began taking an SSRI when I was 13, and while it helped A LOT it has still always been a battle. I felt like I had finally reached a place where I felt "even" and capable when I started using cannabis regularly I quit my job to do sex work, and stopped taking the SSRI. That led to about a year of really bad mental and physical health, and when the disastrous stomach problems I was having were finally diagnosed and linked back to my anxiety, I finally got back on a different SSRI. I am feeling even and capable again now, but only just barely. I struggle a lot with depression especially right now. (For those curious I switched from Paxil to Zoloft).

For me, anxiety and depression are like two sides of the same coin. They actually don't feel that different to me, except for when I am experiencing anxiety more keenly I have a much harder time. Depression feels really manageable to me, and almost a relief in comparison. I actually only experience suicidal thoughts when I'm in the worst depths of deep, dark anxiety. I have a lot of somatic symptoms that go with my anxiety, meaning I get extremely physically ill and can't control it. I've been told by about a million people (including by therapists who aren't very good at their jobs) to just breathe deeply, imagine myself in a peaceful meadow, exercise, etc. and I'll feel better. Ha. Those things work for me to manage mild anxiety and depression, but when my panic attacks start to happen almost 24/7 there is really no way to manage that. I cannot emphasize that enough.

When I was going through my bad times last year, I did find one refuge that helped me to forget my problems, if even just for a few moments. I remember a moment when I had completely broken down and need my mom to come hold me while I cried and feed me and help me go to the store to get my medicine. As she was leaving she asked me what my plan was to get through the rest of the day, and I perked up and said "oh, I'm seeing a client and I should be able to manage that just fine!" My mom, who has had difficulty understanding my relationship to sex and sex as work, was nonplussed by this statement. I will admit that it is pretty weird, and it must have been real strange to see her daughter go from and absolute mess of an adult to someone who was looking forward to working. But she was nevertheless supportive and encouraging, which is the sort of reaction I'd like to see more people have when I share my inner sexual healing process with them.

If you've kept up on any sexual science at all, you'll know that orgasms cause humans to have a dopamine rush. Some people look at this and feel concern that this could lead to addictive behavior; indeed, many people are diagnosed with sex, masturbation and porn addictions. I know a lot of people struggle with the ways in which sexual compulsion can ruin other aspects of their life, but I often wonder if that's necessary. If we had more room in our society for compassion and understanding about how fucking hard it is to get through the day for some people, perhaps we could not be so quick to judge those who need/ want dopamine or other rushes. Perhaps we could have more room for consensual, safe and friendly sexual exploration. Perhaps we could stop punishing those struggling to survive with mental wellness issues for their sex, drug, or other "addictions," and we could start facilitating healthier personal approaches to those dependencies.

For me, orgasms have always been a refuge. They have been the one physical thing I could do that has most consistently helped throughout my entire life. Whether I have had them with myself or with others, orgasms have given me much deserved relief for just a few minutes or sometimes hours or even days if I'm lucky. A sense of calm and rightness in the world always comes over me; a sense that I actually can handle whatever life throws at me. So, as you might imagine, the whole idea behind sex addition or people having an unhealthy relationship to sex really burns my biscuits. Sex is the only reason (besides drugs) that I am still alive today. Sex work too. I know that's a hard one to swallow, but trust me.

I'm glad that it is so much easier for a lot of other people to move about this world, and that they don't need drugs or sex or other dopamine rushes to be OK. I'm also really, really sad that there are so many other people in this world with much more severe mental wellness issues than I, and I refuse to apologize for being depressed about how society treats mental wellness overall. I'm sick and tired of it. While this anxiety/ depression issue I have may originate from my terrible brain chemicals or genetics, the way I and others who struggle are treated as weak and less than human makes me feel terrible. I battle demons over these thoughts every single day. Please just let me have my sex and drugs so I can get through this.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Meaning Behind My Tattoos Part #1: 冬

In case it isn't implied in the title, I have decided to do a series that explains the origin of my tattoos, along with a sexy story that is associated with each (because they all have a sexy story that goes with them). Many people like to know about what inspired me to get my tattoos, so you will now find those stories right here on this blog and it will be a great test as to whether or not you've been reading ;)

(I've also already explained one of my tattoos on this blog before, so I guess this is actually part 2?)

Most friends know that I lived in Japan for about a year when I was 24 and 25 because I mention it frequently. In fact, when I returned I wouldn't shut up about how I had just returned from Japan and I can only imagine how annoying it must have been. But ICYMI, I lived in Sapporo, which is the capital city of Hokkaido, the northernmost island and prefecture. Hokkaido is a lovely little island, a land of volcanoes and hot springs and near perpetual winter. Sapporo itself is the 2nd coolest city I have ever lived in, with Denver being the 1st most cool. Sapporo has a snow and ice sculpture festival every February, and a beer festival every August. I credit Sapporo beer specifically for giving me a taste for beer and ultimately leading me into a 3-4 year period of mild alcoholism. Or whatever- alcoholism isn't even really a thing in Japan like it is in the US. Drinking is a huge part of their corporate and work culture (not that they drink and work, but they have endless drinking parties after work that you're semi-obligated to attend) (My boss also brought Sapporo to work one day and announced it was "beer o'clock" when we were done for the day and gave us all one).

Culture shock and my inability to learn anything beyond the most basic Japanese made my first 6 months there particularly difficult. I was teaching English to 3-14 year old kids for an after school English tutoring program, and they didn't want us to ever use Japanese in class so my language acquisition problems weren't a huge deal. But I had a difficult time adjusting to their work ethic and expectations around that. I once had a migraine and tried to call in sick for work, which didn't go over well. After that I went into work once when I was extremely ill and shouldn't have gone to work, but rather than send me home my boss drove me to a pharmacy and got me some cold medicine and a face mask.

I also had trouble adjusting to the cold of the winter there, and the ridiculous amount of snow that never melted. People tend to think Colorado is the same, but in Denver our winters are relatively mild and temperatures only dip below 0 Fahrenheit every once and a while, if ever. That year in Sapporo it was consistently below 0 from December through April. On my way to the school I worked at every Friday we drove past the pile of snow that the city had collected from street snow removal. It was about as tall as a 2-3 story building.

Still, I did adjust to the winter, the work ethic and the language. I was very poor and my benevolent middle class friends bought me a pair of good snow boots and snow pants. One of the teachers at the after school school who really disliked me quit, and they hired new teachers who were much kinder to me. I created a beloved teaching persona where I encouraged bad kids to vocally rebel in class in English, which ended up working well for everyone involved. I never learned to speak Japanese, but I was able to comfortably get my needs met when interacting with non-English speakers, and I was able to read and understand the language ok. I never learned kanji, the more complex form of written Japanese. But I was able to learn hiragana and katakana, which are the 2 more basic forms of written Japanese. It's sort of like I was at the equivalent of what a 5-year-old Japanese kid could read. I also learned about 3-4 kanji characters, one of those being the kanji for winter, fuyu in Japanese. It looks like this 冬. Isn't it pretty? I think that's why I was able to learn it- it's so simple and yet aesthetically pleasing.

I also used to like winter a lot more at the time I got this tattoo. lol.

I began considering getting a tattoo that featured a snowflake and 冬 around the time that my long-distance boyfriend from the US came to visit for my birthday and the snow festival in February. The period between when I left Colorado in August and then saw him in February was the longest period I went without partner sex in my adult life. We had agreed to allow sex outside our relationship while I was in Japan (this was one of my pre-poly non-monogamy experiments), but I hadn't yet met anyone to have sex with. Or rather, I didn't meet anyone who wanted to have sex with me. I was friends with the JET community there, which was the group of native English speakers contracted to teach English through the Japanese government. I will admit that I had a crush on pretty much every male JET during that time period, and also a few of the female ones as well. I even managed to make one of them extremely uncomfortable when, upon finding out he was a virgin during an evening of drinking, I offered to take his virginity with absolutely no hesitation or pretense. I think he was a little intimidated.

My sexual desire was only just barely satiated by my boyfriend's visit, and then again when I had terrible casual sex with an Irish dude in Tokyo. Everything changed when I met a 42 year old Japanese guy with passable English and cute glasses at a bar one night. We began emailing to "practice English," and then eventually ended up making out on a ferris wheel and going to a love hotel to fuck. I wasn't at all interested in him for anything other than sex, which is actually sort of unusual for me. I was expecting the sex to be just as disappointing as my Tokyo liaison, but it was surprisingly decent and was probably the kinkiest sex I had had up to that point my life. In what will probably sound like the most stereotypical sex experience to have with a Japanese man, he very politely asked me if he could tie me up and then used the belt of one of the robes in the room as a rope to do some complicated kinbaku on my wrists. I was super impressed, seeing as how he didn't have much "rope" to work with.

Since I had been impressed and orgasmic during our first fuck, I continued to agree to meet with him even though it was clear he was in love with me and we were heading for trouble. He did more elaborate kinbaku on me each time I saw him, and said funny things while fucking me like "piss out!"... which I was never sure if he meant squirt/ cum or if he actually wanted me to take a piss? It didn't really matter, it worked for me at the time. I asked him if he thought it would be offensive for me to get a tattoo of kanji when I didn't really speak the language, and he was adamant that it would be totally awesome and he hoped I would do it. So it could be say he's somewhat responsible for me going through with it, though I'm sure the opinion of one Japanese man who fucked/ loved me is no exoneration from how culturally appropriative this tattoo probably appears to most Japanese people.

He began texting me regularly and asking if I loved him and where our relationship was going. We had been together for about a month when he began talking marriage. It occurred to me that he might want to move to America, and thus was maybe just trying to use me for a green card, but then he started talking about me moving to Sapporo forever and meeting his family. I didn't even know what to say to get myself out of this situation. Eventually I explained to him that I actually had a boyfriend back in America, and he was heart broken but not deterred. I ended up breaking up with him in a subway station and then running away, saying I "had other plans and had to go," when he started to get emotional. Hey, I was 25. And he was 42. Don't judge.

I had meant to get the tattoo while still in Japan, but tattoo artists are hard to find there and I suppose I still had some embarrassment about how culturally appropriative it would be to have to bring a translater into the shop with me to explain the Japanese language tattoo I wanted to get. I got it done in a shop in Denver by a guy who was pretty pissed off at me for almost passing out during it because I had forgotten to eat before I went in to have it done. I believe it was my 4th tattoo, after my ankle cat, my shitty prison-tat armband and my little mermaid half sleeve. I always forget I have it because it is on my back and usually covered by my hair. Everyone else forgets I have it, too, which is perhaps for the best. But I do love it, and love the period of my life that it represents. Many of my tattoos represent my ability to overcome adversity and to grow as a human being, and this one is no exception to that.