Being bipolar and a sex worker has been an interesting journey. If you missed my post about that, you can have a read here. However, this is about how harm reduction and peer education supported my work and life. It is about working my way with support and advice from other sex workers.
Part of bipolar for me is mania, specifically hyper-sexuality. Which means I am super interested in working and do not always make the best choices. When I was figuring out how to work and manage my mental health I was seeking support from Magenta peer educators. These people did not have bipolar, but they had been sex workers.
At first, I thought ‘how can these people, who do not live my life, understand’? How can these condom selling health experts give me any advice other than ‘just don’t work’, which I’ve already been told by my psychiatrist. My sex worker friends pushed me into reaching out. Telling me that it was worth it and suggesting there was no harm in asking. So, I did.
I was honest with the educator about my mental health. I was possibly more honest than I should have been, but I was using a fake name so I was totally anonymous. It kind of felt like going to a confessional. I told this educator about not charging for extra’s, running over time, doing services that I do not offer and taking health risks. I told her about the pressure I faced from clients who returned to see me when I was stable who then expected the same service and the aggression that could result if I said no.
This Magenta staff member did not judge me; in fact she listened and contributed similar experiences and a non-judgemental space. She even had advice on methods I could use to set boundaries. Things like; not working when manic, becoming a ‘touring’ worker with a different name and service description for manic periods, only seeing regulars and having a ‘menu’ of services that I don’t detour from. When I said something would not work for me, she listened to why and helped me to develop ways of working that would.
What I did not realise then is that harm reduction and peer education is not this super formal, complex approach. It is simply sharing information from the community and using the advice that best fits your way of working.