Today has decided to withhold joy until further notice and without explanation.
While I’m good at parsing information as long as I have it, there’s nothing I can do without relevant data. The absence of data alone and having no means to get it is enough to cause my brain to short-circuit.
For five years, I had to contend with isolation and rejection as major depressive disorder destroyed everything. As a result, anything that remotely intimates it could be happening again in any way sends me in a blind panic I’m powerless to control.
As I slowly emerge from years of emotionally untethered, loveless, and sexless living, I find that I still have a lot of toxic and self-destructive patterns to unlearn. Figuring out how to be a human in the world again has taken me a year so far and while I thought I was finally getting the hang of it, it’s obvious I’m not quite there yet.
I’ve always had the knack of building a quick rapport with people at all levels but the flip side is that I struggle most with the ones closest to me.
Communication breakdowns cause raging anxiety. Such as when a friend ran out of phone credit after we had spent countless hours sharing the contents of our hearts and heads with no-holds-barred. Everything seemed fine but they went silent on me from one minute to the next so I spent a long train journey from Germany to Paris in purgatory.
It felt like I was coming undone piece by piece again, I couldn’t understand what was happening, and it was both unsettling and terrifying. It felt like I was being flayed alive, all vulnerability, zero protection.
This is because my mental balance remains hard-won and a daily fight that starts anew every morning without any the guidance of any medical professional or medication, at least until I can afford them.
Today has inexplicably gone the same way as that fateful train ride, but I’m not on the move. So after my usual coping mechanisms failed me and a silly thought disrupted the depressive propaganda blaring in my harried brain, I ran with it.
Or rather, I quietly made my way back to my room and engaged masturbation mode out of desperation.
Can the human body respond instinctively to targeted stimulation?
To me, sex is a highly cerebral affair that engages all senses so bypassing the brain presented quite a challenge but I could see no other solution. Cups of tea, invigorating Portuguese music, 99% chocolate, and even CBD oil didn’t help; hypertension, meanwhile, was in full swing.
Unusually perhaps, I can feel it when my blood pressure goes through the roof, something a former GP has witnessed many times. The skin on my cheeks, forehead, and at the back of my neck starts burning, I get shivers plus ice-cold hands, and the hockey puck in my throat threatens to choke me. My heart starts beating faster, I become uncommonly thirsty, and my stomach turns into a punching bag for myriad invisible fists.
This is about the least sexy state I can think of and it certainly isn’t conducive to the kind of wild imaginings that might expedite orgasm. My brain wants nothing to do with the process; instead, my inner dialogue urges me to get it over and done with.
Masturbating like this is about as stimulating as scrubbing a pan; it turns sex into a chore.
But my body swiftly delivered the relief I was after and brought my blood pressure back down long enough for me to gather myself and get back to work. In short, my fingers performed as expected, allowing the release of dopamine and oxytocin.
One the one hand, dopamine — the happiness hormone — took care of keeping me switched on and motivated but it failed to make me smile. On the other hand, oxytocin — the bonding hormone — had nothing to bond with but sticky fingers.
It was the most dispiriting sexual experience I’ve ever had and one I already know I won’t seek to replicate; it’ll only exacerbate symptoms.
Right now, it feels as if I had done nothing at all; while masturbation did help, the mental respite it provided was very short-lived.
Masturbation is like applying a small adhesive strip to a giant wound.
For me, it has been more helpful in deflecting insomnia and inducing sleep for a short while than with managing anxiety. As experiments go, it was a successful one but the mental repercussions aren’t particularly pleasant to deal with.
Instead, it just broke my heart a little more as I was forced to realize how precarious my current emotional and mental equilibrium still is. While this is par for the course with chronic depression, it can sometimes feel you’re stuck once more with no way out. This is when darkness takes over again and it can takes hours or even days until you manage to pull yourself back up to the light, playful fingers optional.
Today, the brackets that hold together my daily joy are missing and I don’t know why; nothing makes sense.
All I can do is sit through this episode and wait until it passes while attempting to remain functional in the meantime. Writing and editing bring me solace and purpose, a hot shower will help, there’ll be a family dinner later although I’ll struggle to swallow anything, and perhaps the data I need will arrive toward the end of the day.
Or not, as the case may be.
We can’t navigate anxiety and resist entropy without being a friend to ourselves first; we all have a responsibility to one another to endure, somehow. And if we’re never mildly embarrassed by the silly things we do to cope then we’ll never quite know what we’re capable of.
Or laugh at ourselves.
Anxiety will humble you; let it. It always passes in the end, even if it takes time.
What if instead of a hindrance you thought of it as the reality check you never knew you needed?
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.