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 To Fuck or Not to Fuck: Navigating Sex with Bipolar Depression and PTSD

To Fuck or Not to Fuck: Navigating Sex with Bipolar Depression and PTSD


To Fuck or Not to Fuck:

Navigating Sex with Bipolar Depression and PTSD

An Essay by Ivy Rhein

During my senior year of college, I ordered a bright purple vibrator. It was highly realistic, veins and everything. To be honest, it almost grossed me out how realistic it was. After all, I’m a lesbian. I simply needed a versatile tool, and this was the most cost effective. The color was a bonus, though.

I walked through remnants of snow at night with a friend to pick it up from the mail building across North Campus, where our residence hall was located. The cold was bitter, but damn, I was horny. My friend was shivering and shuffling along, but I was practically running to the mail building with enthusiasm. We brought it back to another friend’s room on the second floor and opened it up, examining it and all its vibration settings, watching the tip jiggle back and forth. Someone pulled out their own toy and compared it, stimulating a half-hour long conversation about which sex toys are best, and which just aren’t worth the money.

After that had ended, I returned to my room on the fifth floor and locked the door. My room was brightly decorated, mint green desk lamp and colorful posters on every wall, all in some sad attempt to fight off my depression. I preferred minimalist room designs in all honesty, but I was worried all the black and bleakness and throw me into a depression pit I wouldn’t be able to crawl out of when it inevitably hit during finals week.

I took the box from my tote bag, opened it, and placed its contents across my bed. Vibrator, lube, toy cleanser. I had a suite with a connected bathroom and lived in a single room, so while I did share a suitemate, I had a decent amount of privacy. I picked up the vibrator, amazed by how velvety-soft it was.

I shut off the lights, crawled into bed, and got started. Everything went smoothly at first. As far as external stimulation went, it was worth its cost and more. I had read reviews about how amazing it was internally as well, so I decided to give it a shot. I was met with the oddest sensation. Beyond my control, my muscles contracted, not allowing even the tip to enter. My body was locked tight, no matter how much or I tried or how much lube I used.

Along with bipolar depression, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. My doctors aren’t the best and don’t explain my diagnoses to me in depth, so I found myself searching the internet for answers. Suddenly, as I lay there with a vibrator in one hand and a bottle of lube in the other, something I came across pushed itself to the forefront of my mind. PTSD can cause vaginismus.

I was only aware of what it was because it runs in the family, and I remember my sister and her first boyfriend dealing with it. I rarely rely on anything besides clitoral stimulation when I masturbate, so I had never realized that I had it.

I sat up, dropped the vibrator on the towel I had spread out, and began to cry. Not because of the vaginismus; that’s something that can be cured with enough work. I cried because I knew why I was like this, and it was all her fault.

I was sexually assaulted in high school by a girlfriend. My memories are hazy, especially because the chances are high that I was drugged via tainted macaroni and cheese. This was a girl that I had trusted, despite her only using me for sex. There were times when it was consensual, but the stills in my memory of waking up nude and having her on top of me are what stand out the most. The memories get fainter every day, but I think that’s for the best.

Once I entered college, I told myself that I wouldn’t let what happened bother me anymore. But now, I had physical proof of being assaulted and being scarred by it. I cleaned myself up and headed back to the second floor, crying in my friend’s arms at one in the morning.

My depression was diagnosed when I sought out a therapist to deal with my PTSD. Unfortunately, I was misdiagnosed. I was told for nearly eight years that I simply had depression, when I have bipolar depression. The psychiatrist who diagnosed me was shocked that it went untreated for so long. Knowing the medical system, especially the mental health system in my state, I was not shocked.

My bipolar depression and my PTSD clash. They make explaining my feelings nearly impossible, because they all contradict. My bipolar makes me experience hyper-sexuality, while my PTSD makes me afraid of sex and even being naked. Rather than sleeping around in college, my hyper-sexuality was channeled into masturbation, hence the purple vibrator. I’d masturbate every day for weeks on end, but I was too afraid of intimacy to seek out a partner.

After I graduated college, my manic episodes began to shift. They became more intense. I’d pick up smoking and drinking, in addition to the daily masturbation. I’d lash out and verbally destroy those close to me. But what I noticed most was that I was no longer afraid of intimacy. In fact, I needed it.

On Halloween one year, I went to a house party with a couple drunks. I showed up with blue raspberry MD 20/20 in one hand and a bottle of white rum in the other. Within an hour of being there, I was so drunk I could barely stand without support. I ended up making out with an acquaintance in the tiny second-floor bathroom. We nearly tripped into the shower with our intensity.

Afterwards, surrounded by all the drugs and alcohol and sex, so much sex, I had a breakdown. I sat on the floor in a stranger’s bedroom and sobbed and choked. I could only see her on top of me. I was suicidal for a week and had to lock away my medication, so I didn’t overdose.

I started dating my last girlfriend during a manic episode.

Our three-month relationship was an absolute natural disaster of a relationship. She was taking new medication that did the opposite of mine on my “good” days: it increased her sex drive. We’re long-distance friends, living almost three-hundred miles away from each other. But that didn’t matter.

i can’t wait to fuck you, one message she sent read. We sent each other sound clips of ourselves masturbating to each other. We sent nudes. Both things I would never imagine doing. But God, it was the most exciting time of my life. It was a secret at first, and skulking around in the dark while professing my desires (and having them reciprocated) was thrilling.

But my manic episode didn’t last, and neither did our relationship. She told me it had nothing to do with me, that it was her fault we had to break up. Sometimes I still doubt that.

During my most recent manic episode, I propositioned one of my closest friends. She turned me down, saying she would have accepted, only she had no sex drive, which was odd for her.

Only now I’m the one with no sex drive.

I’ve been prescribed countless antidepressants, but I’ve finally settled on one antidepressant and one antipsychotic that works as a mood stabilizer. The issue is that one of the side effects of both drugs is decreased sex drive.

I’ve experienced hypersexuality from bipolar depression since high school. My whole personality revolved around it; I was known as being overtly sexual. This changed once I had been assaulted, but that raunchy aspect of my personality bloomed again in college. Having no sex drive was unlike me. But I don’t just lack a sex drive. I’m repulsed by sex.

Sex repulsion is a difficult thing. I’m a lesbian, but because I find it impossible to experience sexual attraction, I feel I don’t exactly fit in. Then there’s the asexual community. I don’t fit in there either, because I was not born like this, it’s simply a side effect of my medication. I, who was once so comfortable in my sexuality and expressing it, feel alone.

My only reprieve from these confusing thoughts is my manic episodes, the only times when I have a sex drive. In the past, I’ve been tempted to stop my medication simply so I can go back to having a steady sex drive. However, I’d immediately remember the crushing depression that follows my manic episodes. I don’t eat, I don’t bathe, I only sleep and cry and wish I was dead, which is why I never followed through.

I haven’t experienced a manic episode in three months. That should be something worth celebrating, but my main form of celebration—masturbation—is now off-limits

But there’s a balance that needs to be maintained. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I will probably have to sacrifice my sex life for decent brain chemistry. I can either have a sex drive and want to die or have no sex drive and be content with living. It’s not as simple of an answer as it might seem. I feel that I’ve lost a facet of my personality.

Still, I have to recognize my victories. I didn’t think I would live past twenty, and here I am at twenty-three. I may be unemployed because my degree is useless, but I’m still alive, which means I can keep trying to get a job. I can keep trying to find different combinations of medicines. There’s so much that I can do, and it helps me see that just because I’m missing out on one part of life doesn’t mean I need to miss out on the rest.

Ivy Rhein is a graduate of the University of Delaware. Her work has been published in The Sucarnochee Review, Dark Ink Press's Fall Anthology, and From Whispers To Roars.

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