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Archive for July, 2010

In the past month or so I have been to two or three workshops on disability and sexuality. All of these, to be clear, were wonderful. They were, however, almost exclusively focused on physical disability.

Now, I want to be crystal clear here: Conversations about physical disabilities and sexuality are incredibly important. I am glad they are being had, and that I have had the opportunity to be a part of several in the extremely recent past. However. I feel like my particular (almost entirely mental) issues definitely have an impact on my sexuality and sexual behaviour, and I haven’t been a part of as many conversations that centre mental issues (though I have no doubt such conversations do exist, especially Here On the Internet).

So this is an attempt to tease out my thoughts on how my experiences with disability shape my sexuality. I am very aware my experiences are not universal, and I welcome other people sharing their viewpoints and experiences in comments, as long as you are not simultaneously denying the reality of my own.

Oh, and in case it’s not obvious, this post will be talking about my sex life. Not in a gratuitously explicit manner, but, like, I’m going to be frank. Because of this, if you are someone who does not particularly wish to become better informed about my sex life (I could imagine this would be true of some people), I would advise you to click away. Save yourselves!

Okay, that was the longest preamble ever, am I right? Let’s get down to business. As you probably know (or if you didn’t, you will now!), I deal with depression and with something else that is probably ADHD, but hasn’t been diagnosed because I don’t have any money. These both have their own issues pertaining to my sexuality, and it’s pretty easy to discern which issues come from which source. So I’m going to divide them up!

Depression:
There’s one obvious impact being depressed can have on one’s sex life: when in the throes of a depressive episode, one’s mind isn’t always on carnal matters. Or at least, mine isn’t. I seek out companionship when I’m depressed, certainly–being around people has alleviated some of my bleakest moments. But sex is not on my mind at those particular times. Which, given how frequently those times occur, can kind of suck.

It can have an effect on relationships too. I’ll be blunt: I’m needy. Given my depression, and the fact that I haven’t (yet) hit upon a course of treatment that helps alleviate it reliably, I rely on people for support pretty heavily. I’m lucky that I have friends willing to serve this role. But if I ever get a long-term romantic partner, it’s very definitely going to shape our relationship. I mean, really, how could it not? It’s a big part of my life. But I worry that my frequent need for reassurance is the sort of thing that could put a strain on a relationship. Which, of course, exacerbates my worry that I will never find one, and feeds into this whole vicious-cycle kind of thing. It’s a problem.

The final depression-related issue I want to address is one I have, personally, been lucky enough not to experience to any great extent. But I’ve definitely spoken to people who have. And it’s one that I think gets overlooked a lot of the time: how medication can effect sexual desire. One pretty common side effect of SSRIs is a diminishment of sexual desire or sexual function. This can pretty drastically change someone’s sexual habits–I have at least one friend (who I’m not naming, because while I’m very open about my own issues online, I’m leerier about airing other people’s problems) who has, in her own estimation, been rendered essentially asexual by the combination of meds she is on. Obviously asexuality is not, in itself, a bad thing. Nor, in itself, is one’s sexuality shifting–that happens sometimes! But if it’s an involuntary shift caused by something you are doing to treat a wholly different problem? That’s the sort of thing that can necessitate some pretty radical reconceptualization of yourself. Which can be a scary or unsettling process. Even if you retain sexual desire, some medications can cause problems with sexual function, which is frustrating in the extreme, and can put a substantial strain on, again, long-term romantic relationships (or even short-term couplings). In many cases, the benefit of the antidepressants is worth this drawback. For other people or at other times…it may be a harder decision (I know it would be for me).

The Other Issues
Alright. I mentioned how my Other Issues are probably ADHD, right? Yes. I did. There’s a number of things bound up in that, but the chief one is a matter of focus. I have, to put it mildly, some issues with focus at the best of times–while writing this post, for example, I’m clicking away to do a half-dozen other things every minute or two–but rarely do they frustrate me as much as they do when I’m having sex.

The thing is, my mind wanders. Always. Most of the time, this is tolerable. But when I am actively doing something sexual, it really fucks with my ability to, well, fuck. Because even if I am really into the person with whom I am doing things, I can’t keep myself focused on what we are doing. I’ll be thinking about plans for the week. Or having a song run through my head. Or (as happened recently) obsessively wondering whether it is Wednesday or Thursday. And there are some things one can quite easily do while having all these thoughts run through their brain, but maintaining a state of arousal is not really one of them.

Because of this, a lot of my sexual encounters end without my achieving orgasm. I know orgasm isn’t the be-all and end-all of sexual experience. Believe me, I know that. But it makes me feel…well, kind of stupid, frankly, to have gotten off a partner, and to be doing things I quite genuinely enjoy with said partner, and to be thinking about the fucking day of the week rather than being able to, y’know, lose myself in the moment and, well, come. It is the sort of situation that lends itself to awkwardness, and is probably the single most frustrating sex-related issue I have.

—–

Uh. I don’t have a neat way to wrap up this post. As with so much of my longer writing, it’s kind of disjointed to begin with, because I don’t have the patience to edit my work (NOT JUST ON MY BLOG. This goes for academic work too. First draft generally = only draft, which I am aware is terrible, and which maybe I will write a whole post about sometime, but now is not that time). This is, not surprisingly, related to some of the issues I was just talking about!

But the one thing I was trying to do with this post is, well, share my experience. Because while I’ve had a lot of conversations about disability and sex, I’ve had very few that address my personal issues. And obviously I am not expecting EVERY CONVERSATION EVER, or even most of them, to be all about my specific problems. Like I said right at the beginning of this post, I think those other conversations are incredibly important. This is just an attempt to pick up on a different thread, as it were.

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“How are you?”

So, this is a pretty common question. It’s my standard conversational opener with people, and generally I do in fact mean it as an invitation for folks to tell me if something’s bothering them (if they’re comfortable with that). I’m aware, however, that most people see it as a sort of conversational nicety, the idea seemingly being that a certain ritualistic exchange (“how are you?” “fine, and you?”) has to happen before Real Conversation can begin. Because of this, I’ve been trying to find alternative ways of opening conversation, that don’t adhere quite so nicely to an exchange that’s basically become meaningless in our society, but it’s rather difficult to fight such a firmly entrenched narrative.

Lately, however, I’ve begun pushing back at this script a bit. It wasn’t even really intentional at first. I tend to answer the question fairly honestly, is all. But I’ve started thinking a bit about the response I’ve been giving recently, and people’s reaction to it, and I think there’s definitely stuff to talk about.

That response, since it seems an appropriate time to clarify it, is the one in the title of the post. When asked how I am now, I tend to answer along the lines of “depressed, but otherwise pretty good. And you?”. This…throws people off. It doesn’t fit the script. Firstly, most obviously, because you aren’t actually supposed to say how you’re feeling, but also because a lot people don’t see how both of those concepts (“depressed” and “otherwise not bad”) can co-exist. And that’s what I want to try and explore a bit here.

Here is, I think, the root of the problem: the word ‘depression’ means something different to most non-depressed people (that I’ve spoken to) than it does to me. To them, it’s a sudden thing. A bad mood that comes on for a couple of hours, probably with precipitating cause, and then goes away again. And while it’s present, because of its rarity, it’s consuming. They pay attention to it. When they’re upset, that is what is going on with them.

I don’t work that way. I can’t, and you know why? Because for me, depression is basically a constant. I’m never NOT in a depressed mood. Or at least, very rarely. Certainly, I also experience the more sharply-felt bad times that people seem to be referring to when they use the word, but depression is also my ground state. It’s just worse sometimes.

Because of this, I don’t have the luxury of wallowing in it. I don’t! If I did that, my life would be the most unpleasant thing in the universe, because I would do nothing else. I need to find ways to work through it, to enjoy myself despite feeling shitty. So, that’s what I do! I go out with friends. I spend time with people. I do things I enjoy with folks I like, and I do genuinely have a nice time.

But the whole time, I’m depressed. It doesn’t go away, which is what the people who are puzzled by my response don’t seem to get. I’m depressed. But I can also be fine. Certainly I don’t always pull off that balance, but often enough I do. I have my bad times, where being depressed really is all that’s going on–if asked how I’m doing during one of those times, I’ll most likely say so, too!

But most often, I’m just being honest.

I’m depressed.

I’m fine.

Maybe they can’t be both at once, but I must be. I have to be, because otherwise I would break.

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