CONTENT NOTE: This article covers topics of body image, emotional trauma, mental health and eating disorders.
If you’ve been following my posts, be it on COTQ or social media, you know that my mental health has been a little haywire lately. Anyone who’s susceptible to emotional lows, as I am, can understand the impact it has on sexual motivation. Basically it makes it non-existent. And as someone who is naturally sexually inclined, this also impacts my self-esteem, the self-esteem of my partner, and of course the connection we share.
Libidos vary. It’s a simple fact. For some people, having a low libido is a very common thing for them, and any spikes are just added bonuses. Of course, one of the main issues a lot of couples face is differing levels of sexual interest. Generally speaking, men tend to report having higher interest in sex than their female partners (specific to heterosexual, cisgender relationships). I personally believe there are ten thousand reasons for this – you know, historical sexual repression of women, the incorrect definition (and therefore, understanding) of sex (penis + vagina = orgasms for everyone!), as well as the orgasm gap, to name a few. But that’s a conversation for another time.
For me, my drop in libido is a direct implication of my overall wellbeing. I tend to lose interest naturally right before my period, and then it picks up during and immediately after my cycle begins. Other than that, my sexual interests tend to be consistent, and dependent on what is happening in my daily life. For example, if I’m working a 10 hour shift, it’s normal that my brain is focussed on that, and won’t redirect to sex unless there’s a build up of external stimulation. Those are common personal things I understand about myself. Now, when my sexual interest depletes for an extended period of time, I’ve recognized it’s usually due to an imbalance that has accumulated somewhere in my life.
Recent elements that have taken a toll on my capacity for intimacy are body image issues, missing my family and friends from Canada, disliking my current seasonal work, and the stress of speaking another language to strangers.
As most of you know, I’ve had my fair share of body image issues. Between having had bulimia, a complicated relationship with food, past partners making very blatant negative comments about my physical attributes, and unabashedly sharing their expectations of them… it makes sense I have baggage. Add on the global standards of female beauty, and we just about have everything we need to destroy any positive self-perception.
I’ve fought with this part of my identity for years, and I understand it will be a continuous battle. As Amy Poehler said, “it takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry about.” My apologies happened to be about my presence on this planet: my body, my words, my opinions. Writing has always been an easy outlet because it’s just the keyboard and me. There’s no one to argue against me, to put a different slant on my words. What I write is entirely my experience, my truth, without the influence of someone’s overhanging judgement or opinion.
I guess I go through phases where I suddenly feel I’m taking up too much space, and how dare I do that! My body has always been a representation of everything I felt was wrong with me. I am so outwardly feminine – I have curves, large breasts, long hair; I wear tight clothes, I love high heels – and the attention I’ve always received for that has made me uncomfortable. But in order to blend in or be invisible means I have to forfeit my external identity; the things I enjoy or feel good in. It also has made me hyper aware of how I show up in the world. It’s like I’m always trying to reach the standards other people have created for me. I don’t really know which ones are my own anymore.
Now, on top of all of that internal shit, add a bit of weight gain – or at least the illusion of weight gain – and suddenly I feel like my world is falling apart. Yes, I am susceptible to this. So susceptible. The idea that my appearance – the thing that everyone always identifies me as first: beautiful – is at risk, is terrifying to me.
I’d like to take a moment here to express that when I speak about weight gain, I’m speaking about a personally perceived increase in my body size. I do not, by any means think weight gain or bigger bodied humans, are universally problematic or less attractive. Curves and the diversity of body shape and size is something we need to see more of in the media – the realistic variations of the female body. If this had been present during my upbringing, there’s a huge chance I wouldn’t have developed an eating disorder, and therefore these extensions of insecurity.
For the record, my issues here are about me, and the trauma I’ve dealt with as a woman – the diet culture, emotionally abusive relationships, the pressures I’ve put on myself due to the unrealistic standards I’ve adopted in the past, and am still working on moving away from. These are elements I know are unhealthy for my own wellbeing. I do not judge any other human for their appearance, lifestyle, what have you. This is solely my journey with myself, and has no inadvertent relationship to how I perceive other people. In fact, I tend to find myself envious of voluptuous women, because they carry their curves in a way I have often felt I could not.
So, long story short, the way I’ve recently been perceiving my body has had dire consequences on my desire for sexual interactions, simply because of the shame I feel before getting naked in front of Master J. The truth is, now that I’m nearing the far end of this torturous tunnel, I realize that my body has not altered in the slightest. It was my self-perception that had, and I believe it was triggered by other stressors. I ,unfortunately, tend to fall back into the cycle of body loathing when life becomes difficult.
And again, for the record, if my body had changed, I need to understand that this is okay! Fluctuation is a very natural phenomena, and can not be (should not be) stopped!
I’m living at the top of a mountain in the French Alps. I’ve been here for a few months. I’m shy to speak French to anyone other than Master J. Another insecurity of mine: I have a difficult time making mistakes due to the fear of feeling stupid. I am a perfectionist, it’s very rare that I will put myself into something unless I feel I have honed it. It’s an unrealistic way to live, and, again, I think it stems from the trauma I dealt with when having been diagnosed with bulimia; that out-of-control/take-back-control cycle I become so deeply engrained in.
Missing my family and friends – people who know my history, the way I function, my needs – has been difficult. I love traveling. It is by far one of my favourite things; however, during moments of intense struggle, not having that familiarity close by only increases my anxiety. I guess I have mild co-dependence when my anxiety starts to bubble up. I understand that pushing through this is the only solution: confronting it head on, but holy shit, is that ever scary! About a month ago I almost bought a plane ticket. I felt claustrophobic; I needed to get out. The thing that kept me in place was not wanting to be away from Master J for several months. But even though he helped keep me in place, wanting him became elusive.
The deep lows I found myself falling into left zero space for any kind of intimacy. In fact, there were moments when he’d simply hug me, and I’d just collapse in on myself. I would pull away, feel irritated, as if he was expecting more from me. I’m very good at “thinking for other people,” or so Master J says. Meaning, I always make up my mind about people’s intentions, and they usually aren’t the greatest. This is part of the reason I find it so difficult to speak my mind in daily life. I’m always ready for an explosive response to any opinion I have. Again, the fear of taking up space.
Luckily, this last week or so I’ve had a tremendous shift regarding my feelings about home. I’ve shifted my focus to the present, rather than putting so much attention on the future or the days I have left here. I’ve started planning things I enjoy, and making fun of myself when I make mistakes (harder than it sounds!). This may sound like a simple solution, but when I am in the depths of the darkness that sometimes overcomes me, the only thing that appeals to me is sleep. I’ve tried to be more actively aware of this, and shifting gears when the clouds start rolling in. I know it’s all temporary, and it isn’t my place to decide what others want of me. Again, another lesson I’m continuing to grasp.
WORK & FOREIGN LANGUAGES
I work at a hotel. It’s helped my French skills progress. As a Canadian, it’s a shame I hadn’t picked it up sooner. But childhood curriculums, and the disruptive students I shared a classroom with, did not grant me such access. Something I’ve noticed the older I get is just how fearful I’ve become. As a child we don’t overthink things. We try without worry of mistakes. We haven’t quite yet let our environment construct all the inhibitions that will one day flood our subconscious. I was such a fearless kid. It was something my grandma said about me constantly. It’s sad to think I lost that somewhere along the way…
I care what people think. It’s a serious burden of mine. It stops me, as I’ve mentioned, to speak my truth to people, especially if it goes against theirs. It has put me in awkward situations whereby I can’t tell, even a close friend, how uncomfortable their wrongdoing have made me. I have become a passive adult in many ways. Most of the people I know wouldn’t quite describe me in those terms, yet it’s how I feel.
So, having been living in a foreign country for a year and a half has put that part of my personality in the limelight. This has forced me to face some of my worst demons, causing, at times, severe turmoil. When this happens, I basically become a walking zombie. I have no interest in interacting with people, because I don’t see the point. They’ll never know who I am truly, because I’ll never be able to speak my mind. A dangerous and restraining thought process. Again, afraid to take up space. When I’m in this state, it’s even difficult for Master J to get through to me, because I become lost in my own inability of expression.
Recently I told my therapist about a moment I had with a friend. Her, my sister and I had gone to an all-girls wellbeing Meet Up. We took a free exercise class, spoke to the representatives…I was feeling great about it. That was until they sat us down in front of a screen, and played a video of all their products: weight-loss supplements. Diet culture, diet culture, diet culture.
They had backed us into a corner, saying, “you can pay us $20 by cash or debit, and you’ll get your starter kit.” At no point had they mentioned this during the first hour we were there. It was not in the Meet Up description, nothing. So, I told them I’d “think” about it. See, I couldn’t even bring myself to say no. As someone who had recovered from an eating disorder, and deeply resented diet culture, I couldn’t even tell these people, to their face, that in no way would I be supporting this.
Well, my friend had paid the $20. She hadn’t told me she was doing it, and I hadn’t told her I wasn’t. No big deal. Or so I thought. When the three of us left the event, I shared my horror with her, whereby she responded, “I wish you would have told me. Now what the hell am I supposed to do with this stuff?” She had very blatantly blamed me for her spending $20. She went on to tell me how she couldn’t actually afford it, but did it because she thought I was going to continue attending. I actually believed it was my fault! I even offered to give her the money for it. She almost accepted, but luckily my sister was there and, straight up, responded, “Mo, this is not your responsibility. You’re not giving her any money.”
Of course, the subway ride back was so awkward for me. It resulted in a very strange stare down between my friend and I, where my brain literally could not make sense of what had just happened. When my friend got off at her stop, we said “bye” fast, and never spoke about it again.
But for me, the entire ride home I felt anxious, and terrible, and a whole host of things that I now realize were not my fault. She could have easily spoke to me before making the purchase. But instead, she bought the product, assuming I had too, and then was furious when she found out otherwise. If it hadn’t been for my sister, I would have dished out $20 to make the problem go away.
My therapist concluded that as a result of my past relationship – constantly being put down, told I was stupid, and what I could/couldn’t eat/do – my brain was going into freeze mode, whereby I couldn’t form a coherent thought, yet wanted to solve the problem as fast as possible, even if that meant sacrificing myself to do so. Hearing that was…let’s just say I cried. A lot. And to be honest, I’m crying right now as I’m writing this. It’s probably the one thing that causes me the most pain in my life, the one thing that shuts down all of the good feelings I know I could be experiencing: the inability to speak my truth.
Why did I share all of this with you? Because I am a sex coach and sex blogger, yet my entire life isn’t exploding 100% of the time with wild and wonderful sexual experiences. In fact, a lot of my relationship is Master J picking up pieces of me, and gently putting them back where they belong. Or, you know, crushing them, because he knows how toxic and unnecessary they are.
I guess I felt compelled to write this article because I get so tired of scrolling through everyone’s highlight reels, feeling like a total loser, when really we all have stuff that brings us down. I’m not trying to depress you, or throw a wrench in your day to say, “I know your life sucks, too,” because, frankly, my life doesn’t suck (and I hope yours doesn’t either). My life is the best it has ever been, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. What I would do, however, is take more deep breaths in, exhale, and find that place inside of myself that keeps me stuck. Then, I would shift it an inch. Just an inch today, and maybe an inch tomorrow…and if I keep going like that, eventually I may feel like less of an imposter in my own life.
Mental health can be a heavy thing, but it’s a topic worth discussing, because none of us are truly alone. Regardless of how isolating our internal world may feel, there is someone out there dealing with the same shit. Or at least, there’s someone out there wanting to help.
So, tell me, what is one thing you could do today to create a little bit more freedom for you tomorrow?
Until next time,
Fuck well, friends, and breathe a little.