The kink community, both online and in person, can be a great place to build strong, healthy relationships with people who share our perversions and open our eyes to new ones. It can solidify our place as individuals who are confident and proud of the things that make us unique. With that being said, it can also be dangerous if you're using it as a crutch for that confidence or relying on others to validate your feelings and fetishes.
As a social worker, I work with multiple clients who deal with depression, anxiety as well as anger issues and I know from experience that the conversation about mental health is slowly becoming more accepted. In the kink community, however, I find it isn't talked about nearly enough (if at all). Could revealing ourselves to a community where the term "safe and sane" is used so frequently be a way to isolate ourselves further if people aren't aware of what it means to be a person who struggles with mental health? Lately I've been struggling to find happiness in my kink life in a number of ways.
The hardest to deal with has been the feeling of rejection. A large number of people in the last two to three years have cancelled at the last minute or have just seemed to vanish all together the day we've planned to meet. It's good to remind yourself that these things happen from time to time and have a basic understanding that everyone is dealing with their own lives. Things come up and sometimes people need to reschedule. When it happens over and over again, both in my own city as well as at major events, it's hard not to start internalizing the rejection. It's hard not to see all the last minute excuses, all the ghosting and deleted accounts as a reflection on me. I've started to tell myself that there's something wrong with me.
I'm also starting to find that whenever I enter a kink space, I immediately feel out of place. I see everyone in their gear so well-dressed and put together, and in my head I start picking apart everything that I think is wrong with what I'm wearing. I see the hot bear in the corner and I assume he's not interested in me. I see my ex talking to people I've never met and I assume he's telling them not to associate with me. The cute guy I've talked to on three different apps and in person at various events introduces himself to me for the fifth time because he doesn't remember who I am. I've had panic attacks and emotional outbursts in hotel rooms and stairwells because I felt like I didn't belong. Like I wasn't kinky enough to be there.
Lastly, I've been feeling like my existing relationships have started to diminish. My kink friends don't message me as often for play anymore, my partner and I don't have as much sex as we used to. I find myself craving certain types of play and instead of going to the people I know would want to have fun, I start looking in places like Grindr or Squirt where (in the back of my mind) I know I'm not going to find what I want. I find that when I'm online I end up scrolling through so many pictures and videos of amazing play scenes that the small amount of kink that I'm getting starts to feel underwhelming. I find myself feeling envious of anyone who mentions that they've had some great play recently (like they're rubbing it in my face, even if that's not their intention). When I do finally get together with friends for a scene, I find myself focusing on one small part that may have gone wrong or an aspect of the scene that wasn't exactly what I wanted, feeling disappointed in the end.
Anytime I try to make plans with new people, head out to events or reach out to friends, insisting that things will be different or that this time I'm approaching them with a more open mind, it always turns out the same and I always end up feeling defeated. I end up asking myself the same question: 'What's wrong with me?' The reason why I feel rejected by everyone, self-conscious in public spaces and disconnected from my close friends is because I'm not taking care of my mental health. I live with depression and I have for a long time. I'm susceptible to negativity and let it cloud my judgement, changing the way that I think and act. I know this about myself, yet it still happens when I'm not paying enough attention to my mind and my body or when I start to think that I'm doing well enough to let down my defense mechanisms.
When it comes to our mental health, one of the most important things to remember is that it's an ongoing battle. In order to overcome our anxieties, our insecurities, our sadness, our trauma, we're likely going to have to face them over and over again. Taking care of our mental well-being is about building up our ability to cope with and accept what we can't change about ourselves and others without letting that level of honesty destroy us. It's about surrounding ourselves with friends and family who accept and support us in all aspects of who we are and what we're going through. It's finding people who will take the time to validate us when we're feeling low and call us out when we start to slip back into bad habits. The ability to recognize our self-destructive behaviours and then find the motivation to change them is crucial to moving forward successfully.
The truth is it's not anybody's fault that I feel this way. It's not a reflection on me when people make bad excuses or ghost on our plans. I'm sure those people have their own anxieties that they're dealing with and maybe they've fallen into their own bad habits to cope with things, just like I have. It's not the hot bear's fault or my ex's fault that I'm insecure when I walk into a room full of kinksters. It's my responsibility to figure out how to best work on that insecurity before placing myself in situations where it's going to be tested. Maybe the cute guy can't remember my name because my lack of confidence makes me forgettable, and maybe if I remember who I am so will he. My relationships with friends and sex life with my partner aren't gone for good, they've just been put on pause while I figure out how to motivate myself to make positive choices, as well as how to communicate what I need from them both in and out of play.
There's so much more to the topic than just my feelings of rejection from flakey profiles, insecurity at an event or sadness from lack of play, so I want to challenge people to be more honest with themselves and others in order to create spaces and communities that are more supportive and inclusive to its members who struggle with their mental health.
If you'd like to share your personal journey with fetish and kink in a member article, send your ideas or a first draft to: firstname.lastname@example.org