Self-care with a side-order of professional development.

One of the many things I’m getting from this excellent article on self-care for sex workers is affirmation that it is sometimes okay to feel sad. (I should probably add that I don’t particularly feel that way just at the moment: this isn’t the equivalent of cryptically posting a Bon Iver youtube clip to Facebook – if I was sad right now, I’d be in bed, not on wordpress.) Which should be obvious, really, but one of things I’ve noticed from life in general is the extent to which people struggle against perfectly natural, common emotions: sometimes it is a relief to just give yourself permission to feel whatever you do feel, and not fight it. That’s okay.

Obviously, in a public sex worker context, being okay with feeling sad is doubly difficult, because you don’t want to give people ammunition to claim that you’re damaged. If you’re a marine biologist who occasionally struggles with depression, people won’t generally run you through their stereotype flow chart and emerge with “sad victim/marine biologist with a heart of gold: make marine biology illegal/patronise”. (Which isn’t to say that being a marine biologist with a diagnosis of depression is a walk in the park: mental health stigma is everywhere, and everywhere it is bullshit.) I think talking about this stuff in public is important, though – if we give up on nuance, then the prohibitionists have won*.

Anyway, those people aren’t that important (we’re winning the argument, slowly). What is important is looking after yourself. How can you fight patriarchy if you’re too tired and sad to get out of bed in the morning, hmm? I’m always saying that to a friend of mine, but frankly I should probably buy a small plane and write it in smoke in the sky above Glasgow, because it bears repeatin’. Feminist lady friends, I have you in mind.

Hark, sex workers. I don’t know what looking after yourself actually means for you. I’m not an expert in my own life; let alone yours. (My non-expertise in my own life is probably around GCSE level. B grade.) Personally, I’m yet to fully understand what ‘making time for you’ actually means for me: I get bored in baths, I can never seem to motivate myself to just go for a walk (though when I do walk – home from a friend’s house or a night out, it is lovely). Watch an episode of Girls, maybe, but I can hardly rely on Lena Dunham’s creative output to succour my mental health indefinitely. Anyway, maybe you know something that works for you, or maybe you’re more like me and still looking for that peace that one is supposed to find in baths and walks.

I guess I do feel a bit burnt out. Which is strange, because I haven’t been working very hard recently; but I guess that’s why these articles tend to advise you to make time for you before you get burnt out, in order to avoid it. As I apparently have not. Ugh, apologies; I did want to avoid foregrounding myself and my feelings so much (yucky feelings). I was reassured to feel like the self care article I link to affirms all that emotional labour that goes into sex work: all that maintaining of boundaries (which really doesn’t come naturally); or, conversely, realising too late that your boundaries aren’t good enough and getting – well, that word again – burnt. Tiredness. Stuff that’s difficult to talk about because you don’t want to confess to screwing up, or don’t want to make people worry. Or because its invisible even to you: how d’you fucking maintain successful boundaries? I feel like, outside of the context of a structured workplace environment, this is both exhausting, and mysterious, like producing a (Harry Potter analogy alert) patronus.

If you’re also feeling burnt out, and you think that refreshing your knowledge of safe working practises might help, you should have a gander at the SCOT-PEP toolkit (er, if you’re in Scotland, that is. The legal stuff in particular is obviously quite location-specific). They’ve got all sorts: health and the law and safety, in various contexts, and even if those working practises aren’t yours, sometimes its good to know what’s out there, right? Or the saafe.info forum frequently deals with – pretty much any issue under the sun, really – but I’d say they’re pretty good at the more nebulous, emotional stuff, just because its so busy there.

If you’re specifically dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault, I think one of the best resources on the internet is this article, ‘We’re Called Survivors Because We’re Still Here‘, from rookie mag. (Dear Tavi, I love you. Love from, me.) Obviously its just one thing, and obviously its US-based, but just as a piece of writing I think it really excels in all the crucial stuff. My experience of women’s organisations in Scotland is that they tend to have a prohibitionist analysis of sex work: I don’t know to what extent that’s manifest in their support work (for instance, if you call a Rape Crisis helpline), but my personal tendency has been towards wariness and non-engagement. However, looking through the website of Rape Crisis Scotland doesn’t bring up any heinous howlers from a sex work perspective, so maybe that’s a positive sign. Their number is 08088 01 03 02, open 6pm – midnight every night.

If you’re looking to refresh your professional skills in order to stave off boredom-burn out (a totally legit thing), diversify, or keep safe, then X:Talk and SWOU are jointly hosting a series of workshops covering Swedish massage and IT skills, and one-off self-defence classes in London over the summer. Nice work, you guys. This looks really, really good. Actually, there’s a thing that works for me – reading up on the ace stuff that everyone is doing, which is making the world a wee bit better (coz the world, frustratingly, declines to get substantially better very quickly). Like, it is such an honour to know these people, and feel part of the same, like, thing (albeit minisculely on my part), and that makes me chuffed even when I’m a bit sad. I can’t really remember what caused me to wander into the sex worker rights movement (aside from, y’know, being a sex worker), but I’ve stayed because the people here are fucking top.

So yeah. Stay safe, you lot.

* a statement that in itself is perhaps a wee bit lacking in nuance, but y’know what I mean.

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3 thoughts on “Self-care with a side-order of professional development.

  1. I really like the notion of not denying the emotions that you experience and embracing being a bit burnt-out. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve said things like “Sorry but this just really annoys me” or “sorry I’m kind of upset today”, for example. It’s easy to feel as if the only “acceptable” emotions are being happy/positive, when it’s totally normal and healthy to have reactions and ups and downs. Great post.

    • Thank you! The other (interconnected) thing is, I sometimes think feelings are can be a bit like being thirsty – you know how, if you’re hungry, you KNOW about it (at least, I do), but sometimes you can just forget to drink any water and then reach the end of the day with a mysterious headache and be like, “oh, yeah. That! Whoops”. So for instance the phrase “how did that make you feel?” is, yes, a huge cliche, but oh my goodness, it can be so powerful because by asking it you give the other person this SPACE to have FEELINGS that they can ACKNOWLEDGE, ohmygod. In short: feelings, I am pro everyone having lots of them.

      … Ramble ramble.

  2. Such a great article; thank you for sharing. I just read some great tips for dealing with stress, anxiety and more from a woman living with PTSD and working in the sex industry too https://www.slixa.com/under-cover/327-what-are-your-plans-tonight-a-few-tips-for It takes courage to explore your own anxiety, stress and frustrations and even more bravery to do something about them. Here’s a great quote from Bridget Jane Cassidy, “Anxiety is the cry for oneself to regain inner peace.”

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