Sex After Depression
Where should I begin this story, about my experience of sex after depression? From when I was in Hong Kong or perhaps, where I am now?
Let’s start at the beginning. Almost a year ago I decided to move to Hong Kong from the UK to study abroad. After working three jobs over the summer to support my big decision, I flew to Hong Kong on the 23rd of August. It also marked my one year anniversary with my partner. Before meeting my partner, sex was never something I thought of particularly, but this guy was the first person to spark a flame in me. Had I tried to pleasure myself before? Of course, many times. Had I ever had an orgasm? No. I still haven’t. But my partner and I have always been very sexually active.
What can I say about Hong Kong? It is a bustling city filled with life and opportunities that I never imagined I would ever experience. I lived in a hostel for four months where my space was always invaded, where my things were regularly stolen and where studying for my university course was a real struggle. Every day seemed to be never-ending and my mental health deteriorated very fast. I had no interest in anything in my day-to-day life. I’m an artist, but I stopped creating things. I had no sexual desire. Sadness just consumed me.
I started spiralling into a very negative headspace, it was frightening and unexpected, and made worse by being so far from my home, friends and partner. They were all very supportive, minus my mother – but that is a different story. Eventually, I sought help and went to a counsellor at my university in Hong Kong. My counsellor was very supportive but concerned about my mental health – she referred me to see a specialist who guided me through a very hard time, a totally unexpected experience. I was so confused especially when I was told that I had dysthymia – a persistent, mild depression which lasted for more than two years. I was prescribed antidepressants which helped with my depressive episode. However, one of the side effects was that I stopped caring about things. I was totally apathetic.
A couple of weeks later, my partner came to visit me. I moved out of the hostel so that we could live in our own place. The apartments in Hong Kong are very small and cramped, so although I had my own space again, it was still claustrophobic. When my partner arrived, I felt nothing. Literally nothing. Sex was something of no importance to me. I was indifferent about everything. Getting out of bed was a hassle, everything was a pain. I wanted to die. He increasingly became very concerned about me.
But he didn’t give up on me. He stayed with me and showed me so much support. He did not force me to do anything I did not want to do. We had sex a few times, but it felt like nothing. I received no pleasure from it – that was one of the side effects of my medication.
A month later, I moved back to the UK. Things were still hard, but I finally had my own room and space. I start regaining my energy and my GP started reducing the dosage of my medication. I started feeling more alive and less like a zombie. I became more connected and intertwined with myself and with my relationship. I found the energy to put time aside to self-explore. Eventually, my sexual desire and attraction for my partner returned.
My depressive episode in Hong Kong was a huge rollercoaster of emotions but it definitely showed me how important our mental health is, how we must prioritise it. My partner and I are still together. We always communicate and discuss how we are both doing, which is essential for our sex life after my depression. We take each day as it comes, facing everything together, the good and bad. Communication is really key when it comes to mental health, to intimacy, to any relationship, to sex.
One year later and I’m no longer on medication but I do still visit my therapist regularly. My sex life is more alive, my sexual interest is back, my pleasure has returned.
If you are reading this, and you are going through something similar, and experiencing challenges with regards to sex during or after depression, please know that you are not alone and you are not abnormal in any way. I’d recommend meditation – it really helped me – and I’d recommend speaking to others about your depression, reaching out to a mental health professional and communicating honestly to your partner/s about its effect on your sexuality. And please do remember, things and circumstances always change.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article about “Sex After Depression”, there are services that can help you. As a British blogger based in the UK, I have provided the NHS mental health helplines here which can direct you to the correct service for your needs.
Illustrator: Bee Illustrates
Read here for more on the ‘Sex After’ series and my inspiration for it. Submissions are still open, please get in touch if you would like to share your story.