Sex & Depression, Part 1: My Backstory
I didn't want my first posts about sex to be about not having it, but, well, here we are.
I long to be the Slutty Bisexual™. I aspire to having so much more sex than I am currently having. But that often seems to be in my head, in the future. In the present, my brain and body have been having trouble getting on board.
That's true with basically everything these days. Art, work, sex, this blog. I want to be doing more of these things, but I am struggling to see how that can happen in any given moment. My stomach twists, the familiar patterns of self-doubt start to kick in, and I go into triage mode. Take a walk. Lie down. Make some food, but only if it's easy. Don't do anything that might end with me in a puddle crying or hating myself more than I already do.
You see, on top of anxiety disorder, I have good old fashioned depression. It feels a little silly to even be talking bout this stuff (who doesn't have some kind of mental health issue?) but it's been something of a personal mission ever since I was diagnosed in 11th grade to be very open about these brain things. I have it much better than some. My father has pretty severe depression, as do many of my relatives. This meant that in high school, when I went for weeks without sleeping, when looking at my homework made me feel sick, and there was rarely a day that I didn't dread going to school to the point of crying and shaking, my parents noticed and promptly made me a psych appointment. I hated it at the time; wasn't I just a normal teenager? Just because I cried a lot, read an obscene amount of Sylvia Plath, and fantasized about getting into fatal accidents... oh. right. Maybe all teenagers didn't routinely worry that they were literally going insane.
I have issues with the way my parents raised me, but they did a lot of things right. I am forever grateful to them for catching my depression and taking my mental health seriously.
And so, just before I turned 17, I saw a therapist and went on medication. As far as I knew my best friend and I were the only ones dealing with this kind of thing, and I worried a lot about taking medication. Would it change who I was? Was I just being weak? What makes me me? In many ways, I am glad that I was made to consider these questions at such an early age, in such an urgent way. I had to make a decision. I decided I was more than an illness, more than my brain chemistry. If there was a soul, I would not be able to fuck it up. And if I were made up of only brain chemicals? Well then, so be it. I might as well have them be slightly nicer brain chemicals.
Just about a year later, for our Human Biology class, I did a research project on depression. The split second before I got up to present, I decided to speak from a personal point of view. I told my class I had depression and anxiety, and that I had been taking medication for it. I explained how doctors understood these mental health conditions to work, and what that meant for me, personally. I talked about my fears, conclusions, and decisions. I welcomed any and all questions. Someone asked me if I had prayed (ah, religious school). I said that yes, I had prayed a lot, and that's how I knew something was wrong; no matter what I did, I could not feel comfort. That made sense to her, and I think I changed some opinions regarding the nature of medication.
That day I decided to never again be ashamed of my mental illness. My struggle with mental illness has given me understanding and insight into the struggles of others. It has strengthened my ability to empathize. My ability to talk about my experiences and help other people understand, makes me feel like there is some purpose to dealing with this neurological shit storm.
I thought a lot about how my mental illness affected my life in various ways. I thought I had it pretty well figured out. Of course I didn't. Among other things, closeted, repressed 17-year-old me did not consider how depression and anxiety affected my sexuality. I was not a very sexual teen, period. I had a lot of urges I didn't know what to do with, but instead of learning to masturbate, I learned to hurt myself. When the doctor told me medication might decrease my sex drive, I blushed and stammered about how that wouldn't matter. If anything, I would be relieved.
As an adult, I have endless questions about how my history as a depressed teen has affected my experience of sex, and so many thoughts about how my experience as a depressed and anxious adult influences my understanding of sexuality. I have even fewer answers around this topic than most, but I think it's high time I think about this intersection, explicitly and publicly.
So, dear blog, get ready.
(But slowly, because depression.)
Feature image by Erica Lockwell