SLT Podcast Episode 2 | Finding New Rituals

SLT Podcast Episode 2 | Finding New Rituals


[HOST] Hey sex like this listeners! We are
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week’s question: What was the name of the amazing woman featured in episode one?
Don’t forget to follow at @uncomfortablism for show updates on Twitter. [Mark] Oh my
dating life was like – I don’t know – taking a flamethrower to a library because it
was all about – you know – trying to control uncertainty and avoid and control
difficult emotions. And I think I just said, “I think I’m depressed and there’s something going on with sex.” I think
that was probably the way I presented to the counselor. [HOST] There are over seven billion people on the planet, and most of us are looking for love. So
if we couple off – you know unless you’ve come up with a more interesting
arrangement – that means there are theoretically about three and a half
billion people in the world that could be the one for you, and
counting. So with all of these options, why do we always hear the same love stories?
The cookie-cutter storybook version of what it’s like to fall in love is told
over and over again. Well friends, that stops here. You’re listening to Sex Like
This: a podcast brought to you by Uncomfortable Revolution about sex and
dating with a chronic illness or disability.
I’m your host, Health Journalist, Nicole Edwards. [Mark] I guess I knew kind of about depression. I was at a point where even the slightest thing that went wrong, or
even the possibility of something going wrong, I would just spiral
into the deepest hole imaginable. And was totally convinced that the
world was going to end, and like [I] could really feel that. If I saw a kid drop an ice cream cone on the street, I was
convinced I would collapse in tears and never get up again. I was I was like,
I don’t know, like a muscle that’s just so worn out. [HOST] The reason Mark’s brain felt like a worn out muscle is because his brain had been working on overdrive for
a long time. Most of his life actually. He remembers being little and obsessing for
weeks about leaving a cup on a friend’s coffee table. He says that every time the
phone rang, he was sure it would be his friend’s mom calling to say that the cup
Mark had left had made a ring on the table and they were going to have to throw the
table out. Most of us would forget leaving a dish somewhere in a friend’s
house almost instantly. But Mark thought about it for weeks. And
because this intense rumination was something Mark did for most of his life,
he didn’t have a reference point for whether or not the amount he was
worrying was actually reasonable. It was just how he was. And he thought
everybody’s brain worked like that. [Mark] Like, it just became the norm. So the
challenge then with that, is that by the time things – you know I was much older: in my twenties. I was really becoming very disconnected from
reality. To the point that I thought people were trying to poison me
all the time. I thought I was always being watched in my home. I would stand
in front of the stove and just watch it to be sure it didn’t spontaneously turn on and combust and burn in the apartment down.
And that would be after doing all sorts of rituals to check it and make
sure that it was off. And I still saw all of that as totally normal. [HOST]
The more Mark’s compulsive behavior started to escalate, the harder it was
for him to do normal day-to-day stuff. [MARK] Because, if I was walking along to the
grocery store and in my head I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll get some cucumbers, and some tomatoes. I’ll make a salad.’ As soon as I would
think that in my head, I would see myself slicing a cucumber
and slicing off my fingers. And I would feel it up my arm: the pain in my
nerve. Then I would have to check my fingers to make sure they were still
there. And it just became to the point where – to my brain – it was real. And
it’s probably similar to what happens when we dream, right? Like, we believe
the dream and that just became the norm. My brain would come up with
things, and I no longer could believe what I was seeing. And then that
would go into things like the checking. The more we check, the
more we chase certainty. The more uncertain we become, and the more
disconnected from reality we become. So, in relationships for me, I
would need to have physical contact to sort of prove to myself that I was
likable, or that person liked me. But then, inevitably, I would need that
all the time. If I hooked up with somebody – because I was like, ‘Okay I need to
hook up with this person.’ And then okay, I’ve reassured myself I’m
attractive, or I’m likable or whatever. But as soon as I would do that, I would
need to do it again and again and again. And again. Just checking the
door lock, checking the stove, whatever. But I often try to put these things in
the like little categories. But really, it’s like an interaction with
uncertainty. And so that’s across the board. That’s with the stove, with a knife,
with crossing the street, with relationships. The works.
[HOST] Mark – as he often says himself – has been slapped with a whole bunch of mental
health diagnoses over the years. OCD, anxiety, depression, addiction. And the
addiction part ended up manifesting sometimes as sex addiction. And that
craving for intimacy didn’t lead to long term relationships for Mark. I was
completely obsessed. You know, if I was into somebody, then I was
completely obsessed. Or, if I made some judgments about them – even the tiniest
judgment – then I’d think, ‘Oh it’s over. They’re the wrong one. We have to
end this now.’ And I’d completely check out. I’d just ignore them. I guess I
did that in every relationship. Before I started to work on my mental
health I hadn’t, as far as I can remember, ever been dumped or
anything like that. And this always would happen in relationships because of
that inability, or that lack of skill to handle uncertainty. So if there was one
little thing that – to me – made the person no longer perfect, it was over. A
big part of something like that, too, is really getting into control and avoidance. So
not only would I try to avoid feelings, I’d be trying to control the
other person. This hilarious thing always happens
where, if I’ve decided that this person I’m dating isn’t right
for me (I can remember doing this), I’d think, ‘Okay, that person is not right for
me.’ But I don’t want to experience the pain of telling them that so I’m going
to make them dislike me now. Or, I’m gonna make them feel dissatisfied in the
relationship so they break up. And, that kind of manipulating was
something I did all of the time. [HOST] Eventually Mark becomes acutely aware of
how unhappy his habits around sex and dating are making him. He starts to think
that maybe he’s depressed and reaches out to a therapist for help. [MARK] So
actually what happened first was because – and this is often the case in mental
health – because we just don’t talk about these things. And so when I went in,
of course I’m saying, “Okay it’s depression and sex.” So they sent me to a
psychologist who specialized – supposedly – in sex and mental health, and she was
terrible! Like really terrible. And so she was really bad. So then I went back to
the counselor that I’d first spoken to, and I told her, “You should never send
anybody to that therapist ever again. And also, everything still
sucks. So let’s do something else. And then, because I had already started
to get a hold on some of what I could see were like some
problematic compulsions around hooking up with people, I think when I
went back to the counselor (and this is quite common for people: that when you
start to cut out one compulsion, your brain just explodes in other areas.) So I
feel like I had gone back to that counselor and I said, “Okay, look ever since I’ve stopped doing the following, sometimes I
can’t leave my house,” and, “Here’s what’s going on in my head.” And then she said, “Oh why don’t we look at some other options here.” And then she
got me into an OCD treatment program. The OCD program was incredibly
helpful in that I learned how to make changes in my life. I learned how to
accept difficult emotions and do the things that I actually care about doing.
What’s unfortunate is that, because the mental health care system is so
divided up around imaginary lines, doing anything around sex or relationships
wasn’t something we could cover there. Because it didn’t technically fall under
OCD. But, the way you make any change is the way you make
every change. And so, through that program, I was able to learn how to start making
changes. I was able to learn how to sit with uncertainty and uncomfortable
feelings and make healthier choices. So then I was able to take what I learned
there and apply it in all these other areas of my life that didn’t
fall under what’s technically considered OCD. That therapy
I got there was just so useful for learning how to handle emotions that I’d
never learned how to handle and then make better decisions. And so that’s where I first learned that I could actually start to change
stuff and handle the stuff in my head differently. [HOST] Luckily, Mark had enough
perspective to draw the connection between OCD and his personal habits
around sex and dating. The strategies that he had honed to wrangle his other
compulsive behaviors, he thought, might work when it came to his love life too.
[MARK] And so there were like little exercises that I did at the start when I started
dating. I remember I would go on a second date, even if I didn’t
like the person, and I didn’t think they liked me that much. If I though, ‘Oh this
is never gonna work out,” I would go because I was working on not listening
to my brain. Listening to my brain had been terrible for everything in life.
So, dating at first was very much about setting up little exercises like
that. I remember getting really excited the first time somebody dumped. [HOST] Wait. What?!! [MARK] Because I wasn’t the one to say, ‘Oh this isn’t gonna work. I’m
out of here.’ I stuck around and sat with it.
And put myself into it. Gave the things I wanted to give
as a person, not about trying to chase some right relationship. The biggest
benefit of all of this was learning how to not do that stuff in my head,
and just be present with the other person. And be present with myself even,
and what I’m feeling and just let that be there. Or, what I’m not feeling and let
that be there too. That just made relationships and intimacy so much more enjoyable. [HOST] Before we go
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off. Sex Like This is an Uncomfortable Revolution podcast hosted and produced
by me, Nicole Edwards. Please get in touch if you want to share your story. You can
email [email protected], or head over to our website sexlikethis.com for more amazing stories about dating and sex with a chronic illness or
disability.

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