Anti anxiety medication and poly

I was on Lexapro (an SSRI) for about a year for anxiety (related to body image and the fact that I started having panic attacks while driving and related to death)- coincidentally, the same year I was not posting on here. I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, and it’s still not entirely clear to me what I want to say.

During the year I was on Lexapro, J started dating my best friend. I think I surprised everyone when I didn’t have any huge reaction or need for reassurances from J or her. It was relatively easy for me, which at the time I chalked up to the fact that because she is my best friend, I felt highly secure, respected, and heard, and confident in my ability to communicate with both her and J when things came up. I think these things are true, and now I am also wondering if being on meds gave me a boost in managing intrusive and obsessive thoughts related to jealous feelings. I went off of Lexapro in late September, hopeful that my year of medication had perhaps reset some of my brain chemistry. I went back on it a month ago after a really hard weekend of body image anxiety and some ramping up of anxiety related to poly stuff.

My fear is this: do I need to be on medication in order to be a “successful” poly partner? (Which also clearly begs the question- what does “successful” even mean?) It has given me an extra hand in managing my hard feelings- I still have hard feelings, but the thoughts are less intrusive and obsessive and I’m more calm even in the midst of having shit feelings. In the fall when I was off of them, I managed things just fine- I also, however, was in full blown NRE with my boifriend. NRE is like the highest dose of Lexapro I can imagine being on. Things were easy because I was loving the shit out of him and my life. Now that my relationship with him has cooled off a bit, and things have heated up between J and his person/my best friend, I’ve noticed an increase in my shit feelings. 

Now that I’m back on Lexapro, things are starting to feel more even again. I like it. Part of me is fine with the idea of being on it for my whole life (why should my relationships and life be so much harder if they don’t have to be?) and part of me hates that idea. 

I’m curious about the prevalence of anti anxiety mediation use among folks in poly/open relationships. I’d imagine it parallels use in the general population, and I would never suggest that poly people are more anxious. I’ve dealt with anxiety my whole life, and my feelings of jealousy were perhaps more intense when I was in monogamous relationships than they are now, and I’m also highly conscious of the fact that being part of marginalized communities increases one’s sense of otherness. Anxiety can heighten when you need to be more on guard about who is going to include you and exclude you, and if you’re constantly trying to navigate who knows all of you and who doesn’t. 

Boundaries in Sex Work

Apologies for lack of posts this week! It’s been crazy. Also, apologies for brevity and possible typos as I am typing from my phone!

I had the concept of boundaries come up in various ways last week, in relation to sex work…

First, my new supervisor asked me to step down from my involvement in the support group for sex workers that I just recently got up and running. It has been interesting for me to navigate this conversation, over email. I’m not definitively stepping down yet, although it looks like I may have to. I’ve done all I could so far in asserting my preferences. The confluence of sex work and professional boundaries is interesting, for sure, and I’m intrigued what may lie ahead in terms of creating a safe space for sex workers at my place of employment.

I also was interviewed by a fellow worker about how I view stripping and sex work. In particular and most relevant to this post, she was curious about how I identify (as a sex worker, stripper, etc) and what kinds of boundaries I’ve asserted with customers. The mental and emotional boundaries I have around my personal identification with sex work feel like a moving target, like I can’t quite grasp them. Needless to say, it made it difficult to explain to her that at times I’ve identified as a sex worker, stripper, and dancer for different reasons.

Most recently, I was approached by a customer to engage in some nonsexual escorting: he wants a muse, someone to tease him and turn him on, but he also wants this person to hold firm on his boundary of not having sex (because he wants to remain sexually monogamous to his wife). In the past I have been very clear with myself and customers that I keep my business at strip clubs, but this particular person piqued my interest. So I’m exploring what it could be like. Tonight we are mini golfing and getting dessert.

More to come, on all of this.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a piece that I adored; it’s a concept I have thought much about, and illustrates how social norms and boundaries from monogamy influence intimate partner violence and how sex workers are treated :

Jealousy Is Not An Excuse: Monogamous Norms and Partner Violence Against Sex Workers

 

Community v Individual Solutions to Jealousy

This post is inspired by a recent read, Jealous of what? Solving polyamory’s jealousy problem.

Basically, the author argues that all modern polyamory resources offer solutions to jealousy based on an individual’s responsibility for taking care of themselves. In my public health program, we often talked about “portrait” versus “landscape” stories: in a portrait, you see one person. In a landscape, though, you see not only the person but their environment. This framing of stories and the problems within them pushes the reader to understand a specific set of solutions. This is my long-winded way of saying: if you see jealousy as an individual problem, you are likely to see the solution as individually specific.

The author offers an alternative: viewing jealousy as a structural and community challenge means we have the opportunity to see structural solutions to managing jealousy.

This article was a complete breath of fresh air to me. And not because I dislike the typical advice offered by poly advice folks, but because it offers a broader lens from which to view jealousy. It reminds me, too, of my brief counseling program experience and learning about the importance of how both people in the dyad shape relationship function. One person can never be 100% responsible for what happens in a relationship; the division of responsibility is inherently divvied up as there are multiple people shaping expectations, communication, “rewards,” and “punishments.” To say that jealousy management is 100% my responsibility has definitely left me feeling overwhelmed, disheartened, and lonely at times. I agree that I am responsible for how I respond to my thoughts and emotions and how I behave, but I appreciate the space this view allows for looking at how and why jealousy manifests in poly relationships.

The author’s thesis that intimate social networks build trust which alleviates jealousy makes a lot of sense to me. The more distance and unknown there is with regards to my partner’s partners breeds doubt, uncertainty, fear (for me, anyway). The more closeness, the more I am able to understand.

Quote of note:

“My hypothesis is that the more shifts that occur within a polyamory network, the more jealousy that occurs, which then requires higher degrees of individualistic emotion management.  In other words, individual freedom in relationships has an evil twin of individual constraint of emotion.

For those for whom individual freedom in relationships is the highest value, it may be worth the individual jealousy management that results from putting love on the free market.   But for those who don’t want to be faced head-on with the green-eyed monster, the advice literature is in denial about which approaches to polyamory lead to a higher or lower probability of jealousy.  There are no tools provided beyond individual emotion work for how to manage jealousy for those who want a communal, less individualistic approach to polyamory. ”

What do you think?

Domestic Violence & Open Relationships

I have had the thought for quite some time, as I think many in the open relationship community have, that the values inherent to the open relationship and polyamory communities can go a long way in preventing gender based violence and domestic violence (here is the most recent piece I’ve seen). Those values go a long way in promoting egalitarian relationships and empower all partners involved to speak up about what they want and need. Nonviolent communication is one of those practices that many people in the open/poly communities practice.

But, I have also long wondered where the intersection is between domestic violence and open relationships: do those egalitarian and nonviolent principles mean that there are not any poly/open folks experiencing domestic violence? I can’t imagine that that is the case, although I am sure it is a tiny pool of people.

And today, at work, my supervisor got a call that very much sounds like a triad torn apart by domestic violence. When my supervisor was describing the call, she said “Yeah, she said it’s her and her partner- another woman- and it’s the guy they were dating that’s being abusive,” giving me this “what the heck” kind of look. The guy THEY were dating? It’s possible “dating” was code for a relationship with a pimp, but otherwise, the situation still made sense to me. I responded with, “Yeah I’ve wondered about that intersection for a while- the one between DV and open/poly relationships.” Her response: “I guess you’ve found it!”

I guess so, unfortunately. Assuming that one community has communication and boundaries down pat and flawless mental/emotional health is a recipe for disaster: nothing is perfect, and no one is perfect. Assuming that wealthy people never experience DV or that poly people can’t possibly experience DV or that the queer community never experiences DV is all highly problematic: domestic violence cuts across all demographics.

I don’t feel excited to have heard about this caller- it is saddening and troubling, like all of the calls I receive or hear about. But I do feel satisfied knowing that at least there is someone at my agency who is poly aware and kink aware, who won’t be weirded out by a call like this one (me!). (I do know several other queer and sex work aware advocates, and several advocates who understand poly and kink, at other agencies. Yay!)

Abusers abuse, and I think it can be unfortunately easy to be manipulated and hurt in even a relationship that was once marked by honest communication. And while open relationships and poly relationships are marked by an intense level of honesty, openness, trust, and personal awareness, any relationship can be damaged by one person trying to gain power and control through violence and abuse.

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Feeling Like a Fraud

This post has been brewing subconsciously and consciously for quite some time, so here goes.

I love talking about relationship diversity- it’s something I am really passionate about. I love talking with other people who are new to ethical nonmonogamy about “it all”: jealousy, cultural influences and norms, family of origin influences, compersion, boundaries and rules, communication skills, personality differences, identities, preferences, kinks, porn, feminism, and more. I could do it for hours and hours. I feel like I am supporting and contributing to an important cause, something that is changing our society for the better, and I feel proud to be part of the wave. I obviously love writing about ethically nonmonogamous/polyamorous relationships and all of their triumphs and pitfalls.

What I don’t love recently (the past six to twelve months) is another feeling that has come alongside all of the pleasant ones: that I am a fake.

I should specify: I don’t feel like an “ethical nonmonogamous fake.” J and I have had sexy fun times throughout this past year, and they’ve all been swell, as far as I can remember. Friends with benefits relationships and fuck buddy relationships are satisfying and fun and largely void of yucky emotions for me.

I feel like a “poly fake.” Though, calling myself a “poly fake” isn’t quite right, because I feel like I am capable of holding another relationship of depth and intensity and caring, and giving that relationship the time and energy and love it needs. And although not pertinent to my fakeness or not, J is obviously capable of supporting me in that.

What I question is my ability to ever be “good enough” at poly so that J can also truly experience having another relationship. I know how I felt and acted three years ago and two years ago and a year ago, and while my understanding of myself and my triggers and emotions has deepened significantly, I don’t know if I have had enough practice for getting skills under my belt to where I can actually sit with gross feelings and not bother J with them so much that he can actually function in another relationship.

I don’t know how he feels about this, truly. I don’t know if he’ll read this, and completely agree. I don’t know if he’ll read this, and remember past events differently than me.

I have said numerous times that I have made a commitment to him and to our relationship, and with that comes a commitment toward working through gross things in part so that I grow as a person and in part so that he has the relationship he wants and deserves. I come back to that commitment often, and I worry about whether it’s good enough.

Am I enough? With my shortcomings and past mistakes and past hurts? Is my striving toward independence and separation in our relationship enough?

I brought up this struggle in my women’s group recently. The response I received from most of the women there was a “levels” approach: have you taken things slowly enough? Have you asked for specific boundaries and worked up to more challenging situations? You’ll make it to the next level eventually!

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I appreciated my one dear friend’s response: maybe there are no “levels.” We’re not playing a “poly video game” in which you have to “win” each level in order to proceed. Maybe there is no hierarchy of “poly”ness. There’s just you, and your comfort levels, and your path.

I weigh those different approaches in myself, and I know that for me it’s both: I like to proceed slowly, to know that I get to have a say in how my comfort levels are tried and tested, to know that my partner(s) will respect my discomforts and work with me to grow. I also know that as of yet, I am not some expansive blossoming flower of pure flowing love, able to completely and freely give up a relationship if it needs to go away. I know myself, and I know my sticky spots; I have lots of them. I also know I am afraid of having my fears go away completely: what would that life look like and feel like?

My counselor today, after talking to me about how my body image disorder is exacerbated by being around more naked people as a result of our open relationship, asked me how I deal with anxiety when J is dating other people. And she asked me, rhetorically, if it was healthy to do something that causes me so much anxiety. Immediately I withdrew from her, because the question reeked of poly-misunderstanding and phobia. Good grief! I am here to face anxiety related to my body! How can I not use a similar approach for to my relationships?? So that was not super helpful.

I guess this post is just my continuous self-reflection: my comfort levels change slowly, and that’s okay. I’m trying to focus on relaxing, working on my self-confidence and letting go of personal insecurities, and being grateful for how life changes. I don’t need to feel like a fraud, but I guess welcoming those feelings will help me move through them.

Healthy Break Ups

I helped with Portland’s first Healthy Break Up Summit yesterday, a summit based off the Boston event. There weren’t a ton of youth that showed up, but it went well nonetheless. The point of the event is to give space to talking about not only what a healthy relationship looks like but what a healthy break up looks like as well- there are a lot of resources out there around how to have a healthy relationship, but the truth is, most relationships end. So how can we give young people the skills and resources they need so they can have a healthy break up, instead of one characterized by abuse, isolation, bullying, or other unhealthy dynamics? It makes a lot of sense to me that providing young people with these skills would go a long way toward preventing abusive or violent relationships. Caveat of course: A healthy break up is probably not possible if you have been in an abusive relationship. Abuse is never the survivor’s fault, and survivors have the right to as much distance and privacy as they need to stay safe.

I helped with a high school workshop on how to use and not use social media during a break up: what are healthy and unhealthy practices? I was shocked by the number of students who said it was okay to log into an ex’s social media profile (whether for snooping, posting embarrassing/hurtful comments, etc.). And then when my co-facilitator asked how many thought it is okay to share password information for social media profiles with current dating partners, almost all of them said that OF COURSE you do! Because if you don’t share that information, your dating partner will assume that you are cheating on them, and vice versa. (Yikes!!! I was crumbling inside.)

Later, co-facilitating a workshop on healthy relationships for middle school youth (which happened to be just two middle school girls, sisters), I was sort of blown away by their nonchalant discussion surrounding how many people at their school have sex. I am so curious: are there that many students in their middle school actually having sex? Or is it all talk?

And after that, during the wrap-up and raffle, one of those girls shared with the whole audience that what she learned from our workshop was that “having a healthy relationship means being faithful”- reminding me that people, and youth, hear what they want and need to hear. Yes, we did have a more complicated discussion about what “faithful” means- it can mean different things to different people, what does it mean to you?, do you think that your definition is everyone’s definition?, etc. I tried not to feel embarrassed (not that “being faithful” isn’t healthy- it definitely is healthy to honor promises and commitments. I guess I have an aversion to that word). She learned what she learned, and hopefully we reinforced some healthy relationship ideas.

The whole afternoon and evening brought me back to my middle school and high school days. And how atrocious I was in the dating arena. I was crazy jealous, sobbed and threw tantrums over break ups, gossiped when I was pissed at a partner, and tried to make ex partners jealous. I cuddled up to J last night and apologized for the vestiges of my past dating experience and said how grateful I am that we have grown together. He’s pretty much the best.

Messages I Wish Young People Today Could Grow Up With & Live By

(AKA Things I Wish I Learned & Understood When I Was 13)

-Jealousy is a feeling, just like your other feelings. And it’s your feeling. Own it, manage it, and cope with it, but don’t turn it into an excuse for hurtful or abusive behavior.

-Love is truly infinite. If romantic love leaves a healthy dating relationship, universal love remains. Treat your ex partner graciously and with kindness.

-When you talk about “relationships,” remember to tend all of your relationships: with friends, family, teachers, spiritual leaders and community, dating partners, the earth, language, music, movement, food, and of course, YOURSELF.

-Find balance in your life. Balance all of your relationships, including your dating relationships, with work, school, spiritual life, and relaxation.

-Don’t be afraid to love fearlessly. Know that sometimes love hurts, but that it’s okay to hurt sometimes. All things pass and change. The hurt will pass, too.

-Welcome your sexuality. Experiment. Practice safer sex. Talk about sex with dating partners. And friends. Get consent, give consent. Identify safe adults in your life you can confide in and ask questions of. You’ll know when you’re ready to be sexual with other people. Know how your body works. Sex can go with love, but not always. It always should go with consent and a mutual “yes.”

-It is possible to love multiple people at the same time. Welcome that love into your life if it feels right for you.

What would you add to this list?

Jealousy Workbook

I received Kathy Labriola’s newest book in the mail, and I am so excited to crack it open! I’ll post a more full review once I’ve read it through, but wanted to put in a quick plug now. Kathy is a wonderful counselor, and I can’t say enough good things about her other book, Love in Abundance. This book, The Jealousy Workbook, looks chock full of exercises and techniques for understanding your jealousy, your partner’s jealousy, and for managing and circumventing it. She also brings in techniques practiced by other big names in open relationships. I’m excited to dive in, and encourage you all to check it out as well!

xo