Being a sex worker who lives with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic, and anxiety has been...interesting. The man I planned on marrying knew all of what I lived with and didn't so much mind my issues (my word, not his). Until the end. He very much minded at the end.
I was going to say something like, "I always laugh when I tell people about this," but then I realized that's not true anymore. I don't tell people about sex work or my ex-fiance anymore. At a certain point, I guess I came to realize that talking to people about the sad parts (because that's all they ever ask about in regard to trading sex and aren't all breakup stories sad?) doesn't help me deal with my issues.
So why am I talking about it now? Because I wanted to talk about how I cope with PTSD, panic, and anxiety. You see, in the beginning I coped well because I had someone to constantly lean on. I had a corporate job with corporate insurance, I was taking my physician prescribed medication regularly, and I had someone who loved me -- even with my faults (like, say, my odd fear of anything creepy crawly or my constant obsession with my own demise).
We were both in our finishing years of university education, we'd both found great jobs, and we were pretty free. Life was good. We took trips and burned through money. We bought each other extravagant and totally unnecessary gifts. We told each other that we loved each other almost a million times a day. Hindsight being what it is, I actually can't figure out how I couldn't have coped well with my issues in this context. I mean, everything was nearly perfect. How could I not have been practically perfect too?
But fast forward a few years, two layoffs, leaving sex work (then going back, leaving again, and going back once more), three episodes of infidelity, one cross country move, and a million other incidents later, and I don't have anyone to lean on anymore. That may not sound particularly terrible...except I'm the kind of woman who wakes up from a bad dream, notices I'm a little sweaty, does an internet search for "night sweats," clicks the Internet Doctor Website, and zooms in on Cancer before anything else. Some people need someone to lean on (and there's nothing wrong with it), and I used to be one of those people. Don't get me wrong; I'd like someone to lean on, but I don't have that. I had to learn how to live without it because I finally figured out that if I couldn't do without it, I wouldn't make it much longer.
So, now single and on my own two feet, I had to figure out a way to get through it without the security blanket my ex fiancee had become to me. I wrote a post about coping mechanisms (if you haven't read it, click here to catch up) and it was a long time before I learned how well deep breathing works. It was a long time before I learned my triggers and how to clock my heart rate, how often I bounced my leg absentmindedly, or how I start itching or picking my nails when I'm anxious.
After I learned to clock my own panic before a real attack set in, things changed drastically. I was able to think, "Ok, I've been picking at my nails with a cuticle nipper for over 15 minutes now. There's something wrong."
I learned how to demand respectful treatment from the people I let in my life, and beyond that, if they wouldn't give me respectful treatment, I learned how to cut them out quickly. Yes, some of these learned lessons came with pain and negative emotions, but I learned exactly how important it was for me.
It's not as if I never stress, panic, or freak out anymore -- believe me, I do. I still live with PTSD. I don't know if I'll ever not live with it. I don't know if a day will come where I don't feel myself tense up in certain situations. But I know now how to handle it, and most of the time, I can handle it.
One of the hardest things for me to learn to cope with was triggering situations with clients. I work in quite a few different areas of the adult entertainment business and in more than one of them, I have absolutely no control over my clients or what they want for that session or encounter. This can feel incredibly frightening, to say the least. I went through a few years having panic and anxiety attacks every day; when dealing with the isolation we often experience in this business and solitude, the seriousness of my attacks were magnified. So I learned to make myself go outside every single day. Even if I had no errands or money to spend, I left the house daily.
I also learned how to better control my interactions with clients. At first, it was a terrifically painful experience. Clients left, pushed harder, and even became volatile from time to time because I wasn't quite sure yet how to really control the interaction while simultaneously making them believe they were actually guiding our ship. I can't say how long it took me to learn that trick, but it's one I use every time I'm working with every client now. I've learned if I begin the session with total control, in the client's eyes it is simply my personality. It is who I am to them, so there's no need to question it or push my boundaries. I learned it doesn't always take a Strict Mistress attitude to control the interaction either; I can do it with honey just as easily as I can do it with vinegar.
Living with PTSD and being a sex worker is difficult, but there are ways to make it work. I make it work. It has to work. After all, I don't have a security blanket anymore, do I? No, I don't.