Anonymous | Writer | Monday, 14 March 2016

How BDSM Cured My Anxiety

'Nothing Helps My Anxiety Quite Like BDSM: It's Like Mindfulness Plus One'

The Debrief: I have Headspace and I’ve done yoga and exercise and CBT, but nothing is better for my mental health than this

Illustration by Grace Danico

I was maybe 6 or 7 when I had my first anxiety attack. It was in a playground and it was because my aunt was confronting some bigger boys who were on the slide I wanted to go on. I’m in my 30s now and since that day, anxiety has been the one constant in my life. I’ve done and achieved all kinds of things and every day has been underpinned by fizzing restlessness, fear, foreboding, and a mind that is never in one place. 

This has its benefits. I’m pretty sure that constant nervous twitching keeps me a size 8 for one. And when it’s not got me lying in a wardrobe, under a duvet, clinging to my cat, it does drive me to be obsessively good at everything I do. Often from the wardrobe but still, the results speak for themselves. But it’s also exhausting, because my brain is never in one place. As I’m writing this, I also have half a shopping basket of sweets in one tab, Tweetdeck with 5 columns and three ongoing conversations scrolling on a separate screen, and Telegram conversation with my partner on my phone in an attempt stop my brain from thinking about the things I’m anxious about: money, my career, my sick cat. Those thoughts come in the middle of the night, when I’m forced to put my phone down.

When you go to the doctor with anxiety, they talk to you about mindfulness to deal with this constant buzzing, to get you to slow the fuck down, calm the fuck down, just stop it for a minute. They talk about mindfulness and give you apps and I’ve done it all. I have Headspace and I’ve done yoga and exercise and CBT. But all these things require a level of internal self-discipline - to confront the fact that you are anxious and do something about it - that honestly I struggle with. And I can procrastinate for up to a week to avoid doing some meditation that I know for a fact will help me. 

But then, some years ago, I found the one thing I can’t procrastinate from that works better than mindfulness and yoga put together in slowing me down, calming me down and shutting my brain up: submissive BDSM. 

I’d been dabbling here and there in light, 50 Shades of Grey style BDSM since my first sexual partner (when I was pretty old because I was too anxious to bang anyone for the entirety of my teenage years) but it wasn’t til I was in my late twenties that my curiosity allowed me to finally indulge in the full blown stuff. The stuff with collars and leather cuffs and ropes and whips that requires an indepth chat beforehand and leaves enormous bruises and tear streaks afterwards. The kind that includes sobbing and screaming as well as the kind of orgasms that make you go blind for a second. Turns out, it is impossible for me to feel anxious when I’m tied down and halfway through 100 lashes with a cane. Not least because I’m having to remember to thank Sir for each agonising stroke and not bite straight through a cushion. 

I discovered through subbing that all my anxiety was about the world outside of me; about the future and the past and what people think of me and global warming and 5 year plans and the US election and money. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t think about any of that (or all it at the same time) when my throat is being fucked and my hair pulled, or when I’m bound and blindfolded and have no idea what my Dom is planning for my body next. The second a scene starts, I surrender responsibility for everything but the safe word, and a peace and calm washes over me that is as strong as the arousal. Even before we get to that elusive subspace, BDSM is mindfulness plus one.

The aim of mindfulness is to pull the anxious person into their body and into the present moment, to make them aware of moment-by-moment experiences and connect the mind and body as one. And nothing is more effective at making you aware of your body in this exact moment than a BDSM scene where you’re trying to fight back an orgasm you don’t have permission to have against a Hitachi Magic Wand, or counting the blows on an already bruised arse, or even waiting for the next sensation. For me, these are the most relaxing, calming, psychologically zen-like and therapeutic experiences of my life.  

BDSM allows me to relinquish control and relax into a state of purely physical being. It allows me the space to scream and cry and express my emotions in the loudest, most primal manner without guilt or fear or worry (except perhaps for my neighbours. Sorry neighbours). It allows my body to be explored and adored and objectified by a Dom without negativity or concern. Best of all, it makes my exhausting, difficult, unbearable anxious brain just shut the fuck up for an hour. 

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Tags: Sex, Mental health