“Pills to wake, pills to sleep/ Pills, pills, pills every day of the week” – St. Vincent, “Pills”
My favourite sculpture is The Ecstasy of St Teresa in the Basilica di Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. The Catholic church says the beatific face of the saint shows her in one of the orgiastic vision states she was known to experience.
In her diaries she wrote:
“I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it…” – ‘The Life of Teresa of Jesus’ (1515–1582)
It is the moment of pleasure… when discovering God’s love and light. But the way Bernini delicately sculpted her long fingers, her robe dishevelled, crashing around her like waves, the glory in her face, how he turns hard white marble into supple, soft flesh, says otherwise. When you take it all in in the late afternoon, when the light filters down perfectly on St Teresa, with only a small stretch of the imagination you can see her rapt with sexual desire, her post-orgasmic awakening. And a handy cherub nearby smiling knowingly. I’ve been an atheist for years but if that kind of pleasure were on offer, I’d convert back.
I’m a depressive, a compulsive worrier and an overthinker. My diagnosis has changed over the years but for 2017 I have generalised anxiety disorder, severe depression and borderline personality disorder. In the 12 years since I was first diagnosed I’ve been on combinations of Lamotrigine, Sertraline, Escitalopram, Fluoxetine, Seroquel, Venlafaxine, Bupropion, Zolpidem, Diazepam and a couple of other multi-syllabic pills I can’t remember. I’ve been on hold on the National Suicide Hotline, institutionalised, brought back to life in hospital, sat on couches, being billed by the crying minute, listened in a circle of trust at AA and tried to meditate. I will never be fixed and that isn’t the point. I’m not a broken TV, I’m a woman. My goal is to live as long as I can as best as I can.
I’m 26 now and on a good day I think I might make 35.
The gang of two
Unfortunately, I don’t feel like a woman a lot of the time because there are elemental things women can do that I can’t. I haven’t had a proper orgasm in years. There’s a cruel irony to spending time losing one’s virginity, only to find myself somewhat re-virginated. I can’t come. It’s a common side-effect of the medication that I’ve been taking for nearly half my life. It’s in the demi-transparent papers in the pill boxes that nowadays I throw away immediately. ‘Anorgasmia’ and ‘lack of sexual desire’ –are a gang of two who wreak secret havoc in my life.
I have eyes and feelings, so I do get aroused mentally – theoretical desire – but rarely. I lust after Nigella Lawson by habit of finding her attractive from a young age, rather than any new tingling while I watch her eating cake. I still get sexually frustrated but it takes me a while to realise why I’m grumpy or stressed because the mental and physical triggers most people get don’t work in me. If I figure it out, with trepidation I try some self-love.
Imagine masturbating through glass. Your hands on one side of the pane and the rest of your body on the other. Think how it would feel like nothing. You would be a stranger to yourself. Watching yourself being touched by yourself but having it feel like nothing. It would induce the same level of arousal as when washing a window. Think of the pressure needed to really feel something. Pushing on it, rubbing on the slippery impenetrable barrier until it shattered and sliced you open. Disaster! Danger!
I look at the clock. I’ve been at this for 45 minutes. Despite lube, I’m pretty dry. My wrist hurts. My vibrator stares at me dumbly. Intense feelings of shame and failure wash over me. I’m disappointed by my body, by my altered neurochemistry, again. This has not been fun, it has been an ordeal. I close my legs. Close the porn on the laptop and try to sleep. But the cicadas are noisy. They’re awake, chirping and having more sex than me.
I’ve been single for a long time and if I wrote a lonely-hearts ad it would say:
Black cis bisexual femme seeks sexual pleasure on her own or from others. Others must love good food, rock ’n roll and intersectional feminism. No gender bar.
Dating in your 20s is hard enough without the added pressure from mental health illness issues and a flawed body. There is so much I want to explore sexually. How and when in a relationship do I explain to someone that I’m clinically depressed and so I take medication for that? And my sex life is basically dead because of the medication and sometimes confronting that fact depresses me further. And so I take medication for even worse depression.
Does that cycle make me an eligible young woman?
Does the way I swallow my chronic medication turn you on?
But I can’t stop taking my medication. I probably have a life expectancy of a month if I stop taking it every day. I can game the system, and I have before, for a better chance of experiencing pleasure: I can stop taking my meds on a Thursday, then it’s largely out of my system by Friday night and I’m more likely to feel sexual and orgasm better (or at all). But that puts me into withdrawal and ruins the following week for me. My body has to get out of withdrawal, I am haunted by suicidality while waiting for my serotonin and dopamine to rise back up to their regular, medicated levels.
Drugs and alcohol can help with desire but can clash badly with my moods and lower my inhibitions, so much so that I make terrible choices. There is no easy solution. I try to breathe and remember: my goal is to live as long as I can as best as I can. And right now I am looking after myself. I am in therapy. I am doing the best I can.
The article is part of a series of articles under This is Africa’s collection titled, Flame, Fever and Fantasy – A collection of African desire and pleasure.