Anxiety has impacted my life for as long as I can remember. At 18 I left university because of it. With my rent past due, no food in the fridge and a crippling fear of failing at living out of home I borrowed a phone book from the next door neighbour and searched for a brothel. I figured one weekend would cover my expenses while I figured out what I was going to do with my life.
My first shift as a naïve plus size sex worker was terrifying. I had barely any sexual experiences, no confidence and was shaking like a leaf. I was expecting the worst. I found the work easy. Don’t get me wrong, I threw up before my first booking, a horrible physical symptom of my anxiety. But he was lovely, it was a lot of fun and my rent was covered!
Parlours became a refuge from my anxiety. A place where I was normal, where my nervous giggle was appreciated, my anxiety read as adorable. But I faced new triggers, like the question ‘What do you do?’ and ‘how’s work?’. Interacting with friends, family and dating became foreign, scary and I became isolated. Stuck in the fear that people would find out I was a sex worker.
At 20 I had built friendships with other workers and told a few friends. I had a supportive partner. I had become less isolated. I was still an anxious person, however routine, structure and a sense of belonging had made me complacent. I was no longer continuously self-checking my anxiety, or working with it. I was functioning and wholeheartedly believed I was cured.
However, I had put on more weight and what little confidence I had dissipated. Parlours, that once were my safe place, became a place of anxiety. Unstable income, comparing my squishy self to the perfection of my co-workers, fear of losing my regular client and my bosses well intentioned comments on my physical appearance meant my anxiety was back. I retreated into anxiety. I stopped going to work, I spent my savings.
At 21 my supportive and loving partner dragged me kicking and screaming to the emergency department. They knew I was a sex worker. I was admitted to hospital and given referrals to mental health professionals. The next 3 years were me finding mental health professionals who would help me without blaming sex work. Most refused to believe that my anxiety and at the time undiagnosed bipolar could have existed prior to me becoming a sex worker.
Over this period, I transitioned into private work. Which gave me more control and less structure. I used the sex worker community as a place of non-judgemental support. I listened to real advice and took referrals. I also kept working. If I had not of worked I would not of survived. Medications, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, counsellors, GP’s, gym memberships, good food, a stable place to live all cost money.
Each time a mental health professional blamed my work I would not return and I moved onto the next. Finally, I found people willing to understand that sex work, may be a cause of stress, but so is employment or managing any small business. It was then I was diagnosed with Bipolar, OCD, social anxiety and general anxiety disorder. I had medication, I workshopped coping techniques. I set rules. I found routine.
It took me treating my mental health as my full time job for three years to get to where I am now. It took me fighting to find mental health professionals who would listen and provide non-discriminatory care and building a strong support network to get me to a good place. It took me accepting myself, my sex work, my sexuality, my mental health diagnoses, asserting my boundaries and putting the care of myself as a priority to get well.
Today I consider myself well. I work within my limits, I am aware of my triggers and yes I still get it wrong. Recently I entertained the office with a mismanaged manic episode, but our resources have never been so organised! I check in with myself frequently. I have both firm and flexible boundaries I use to ensure I look after myself. My partner, my GP, my colleagues and my close friends all know that I am a bundle of emotions and support me in looking after myself. Mostly I value my happiness, safety and existence. By placing value on these things I have found a way to work with the slightly atypical nature of my brain.
If you want to chat mental health and sex work, advocating for yourself with mental health professionals or silly self-care techniques (lists FTW!) please pop into Magenta, email me or give me a call.