In mid-2019, I suffered from a mental health breakdown.
A number of factors converged all at once. I was in a seriously toxic employment situation (and job-hunting was proving fruitless), my body-image was at an all-time low, and, well, sometimes my brain just hates me. I held it together as best I could for as long as I could, but one morning in May, I found myself sobbing to a mental health nurse that I just couldn’t do it any more. If I didn’t get a break, I was a serious suicide risk. I was signed off work and for a few weeks, I was genuinely quite afraid of myself.
Depression is an insidious, evil fucker. It steals from you sneakily. It steals your joy, leaving you instead with the kind of bone-aching, mind-numbing sadness and emptiness that just makes you want to stop existing. It steals your energy, making you want to do nothing but sleep every moment of the day and night. It can steal your relationships, either by causing you to lash out at the people you love until they leave you, or by causing you to cut yourself off because you’re convinced everyone secretly hates you.
The other thing this latest bout of depression stole from me this year was my sexuality.
‘What happens when a woman who has built a career oversharing about the way she likes to fuck… stops wanting to fuck?’
I’ve always been a very sexual person. I have a high sex drive and my ideal quantity of sexual activity is several times per week with a partner, plus solo sex time. It took a while to shed my shame and appreciate this about myself, but for the past few years – and especially since I started writing about sex – it is a trait in myself I have valued highly. So when that all went away, I didn’t know what to do.
I mean, I’ve built up this entire persona as Amy Norton – sex blogger, kinky community organiser, dildo collector and filthbeast extraordinaire! What happens when a woman who has literally built a career off of oversharing about the ways she likes to fuck… stops wanting to fuck? At all?
I wrote very sparsely for several months of this year. From probably April to August I literally only wrote when I had to, because a client had already paid me or because someone whose product I had promised to review was hassling me to make good on it. My blog is about sexuality, after all and, thanks to depression, for a while I simply didn’t care if I never had sex again. Even on the rare occasions I did force myself to write something, I felt like a fraud. How could I advise others on sex when I would have happily completely forgotten that I even had genitals?
‘Pleasure felt like this alien thing that had existed in a former life’
I felt as though a part of myself had been cut away. Where my sex drive – my ability to connect with my body and with my partners’ bodies – had been, there was just this gaping black hole of nothing. I remember lying in bed by myself one night, unable to sleep, thinking how nice it would be to be able to masturbate as a means of drifting off to sleep… but feeling physically repulsed at the thought. Pleasure felt like this alien thing that had existed in a former life, but was now as inaccessible to me as the moon.
I remember my beloved secondary partner making overtures towards sexting or flirty chat a few times, and I just recoiled and retreated. Not because I didn’t love or desire them (I did and I do!) but because the idea of any kind of sexual touch of my body or even any sexual feelings coming from me just made me want to crawl into a cave and die.
Again: depression is an evil fucker.
‘Getting into a submissive headspace and conceptualising sex as something I was doing to be a good girl was hugely helpful’
So does this story have a happy ending to share for World Mental Health Day, after all this? The answer is… sort of. The good news is that, perhaps inevitably, my sex drive did eventually return. Not all at once, and not always consistently, but it did come back. When my mental health improved (thanks, in no small part, to quitting the toxic job for a much better working environment) I slowly started to feel safe to begin gently feeling into sexuality again.
A major factor that made it easier for me, at least initially, was sexual submission. If I wanted to have sex but the idea of receiving pleasure (and therefore having to face up to my depression’s assertion that I didn’t deserve pleasure) was too much to deal with, getting into a submissive headspace and conceptualising sexual activity as something I was doing to be a good girl for my partner was hugely helpful.
One of the very few positive things I got from this breakdown was new medication, which seems to actually work without having the orgasm-impeding side effect of so many antidepressants. This has, of course, been hugely instrumental in my healing process and will, I hope, prevent such an intense mental health collapse from happening again.
‘The likelihood depression will raise its head again at some point is high’
However, I also know that depression (and its close cousin, anxiety) is something I will have to live with for the rest of my life. It’s encoded in my brain and isn’t something I can completely get rid of, however hard I try. Therefore, I know that the likelihood it will raise its head again at some point and attempt to steal joy, love and pleasure from me is very, very high.
And I’m scared about that. I haven’t forgotten a single moment of that relentless, black despair and how close I came to the edge. Knowing it will most likely happen again is a difficult reality to live with.
I just hope I’m a little better equipped to handle it next time. I have the aforementioned new medication, the impact of which I cannot overstate. I have an absolutely amazing and sex-positive therapist. And, perhaps most importantly I have the knowledge that my sexuality ebbs and flows along with my mental health, and that I can survive.
Amy Norton blogs about sexuality, sex toys, BDSM and mental health on her site, Coffee & Kink. She is also a regular columnist for The Big Fling, discussing consensual non-monogamy, and her work has appeared on a number of major adult platforms from Sex Tech Guide to Lovehoney. She lives in the UK with her primary partner, two very snuggly cats, and a frankly ridiculous collection of vibrators.