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.

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