Community Contributions: Gettin’ Personal

Yesterday I received this email from forum member Alan Smithee:

Hi BackwardE:

Been working on something difficult lately, with the help of Alice Miller’s Drama of the Gifted Child and my therapist, and I have some questions for the community here. I’ve also included a pretty neat 3D drawing that kind of blows your drawings out of the water.

1. How does your diagnosis affect your sexual functioning and/or sex drive, if at all?
2. How does the label of “High Functioning” affect your sexual functioning and/or sex drive, if at all?
3. How do you/you and your sexual partner(s) address any issues that come up in your sex life that stem from your MI or label of HF?

I hope these questions make sense. My brain is not working so great these days. It is muddied by trying to make some confusing breakthroughs, and words are not happening well right now.

Alan later clarified that “sexual functioning and sex drive” are “basically anything of a person that is involved in them having a sexual relationship (with others or themselves, it doesn’t matter who they are doing it with).”

Alan's pretty neat 3D drawing that kind of blows mine out of the water

I want to thank Alan for the contribution to the forum. We talk about a lot of personal things here, all of which include how our diagnoses affect our lives. These questions are a serious part of life. For me (and maybe for everyone, but I can’t speak for everyone), there are short answers and long answers to these questions. Further, I suspect that these are questions that might have pretty diagnosis-specific answers because of the effects of specific symptoms. That being said, my hunch is that we also have symptom-overlap, so here we go. I’m going to try to give the shortest answers I can, and if longer answers are necessary in the comments then that’s where I’ll put them.

1. In many ways, I’m a textbook bipolar patient. My mania comes with a heavy dose of hypersexuality. (In my younger days, this was sorta disastrous — less so for me, more so for others.) My depression comes with a definitively lowered sex drive.

2. Not at all. My sex drive and sexual functioning are completely independent of this so-called “high-functioning” label I’ve been given. There are many times when what could be called my “highest-functioning” self is not sexually high-functioning at all (or, at least, not in a healthy way).

3. Let me preface it with the fact that I met my partner many years ago, and we first dated in one of the worst times of my life. Also, he works professionally in the mental health (not illness) realm, specifically around issues of men’s health and its relationships with sexuality, gender construction, and intimate partner violence. He is also a volunteer advocate/counselor to rape and domestic violence victims. Why are these things important to say here? Because when I say that my husband is INCREDIBLY (superhumanly) sensitive to my comfort level at any given time, I really need to make clear how seriously and emphatically I mean “sensitive.” I lack all kinds of intimate communication skills — which my husband has in abundance. So the answer to the “How…?” is basically “because HE helps US figure out how to address it.” (I am so frickin’ lucky. I can’t say that enough.) My answer is that somehow or another, the issues that inevitably arise are taken as issues of the moment. They are understood as a part of our sex life for that time being, but not forever. Those times are by no means easy, but like all symptoms, we have to know that these glitches also pass.

  1. First off, I love the drawing! Nice work, Alan.
    1. The actual diagnosis has had no bearing on my sexual functioning and/or sex drive. My symptomology, however, has been my sexual functioning. I was hypersexual early on and maintained that throughout college probably in a way similar to that of ∃. I would be out partying with friends, we’d meet new people, I’d end up talking to one about real stuff, then end up in bed with the guy. Back then it was guys. I was always the first one out of bed, never wanting to spend the night. I didn’t understand why it wasn’t fulfilling until much later. But the symptoms I now get during manic moments are the ones I always had when talking with those guys. I considered it a “spiritual” connection. Ha! I didn’t cycle rapidly back then so it was pretty constant. It wasn’t until I had children that I started cycling often.

    In a depression, I’m not into any kind of connection with anyone, so sex is definitely out. The only reason I had more sex with my ex was to create my second child. Then I started coming out and the mania increased, but so did the cycling. Still, today, my biological cycle is tied to my bipolar cycle (which hasn’t been happening of late since I’m unbipolar). During ovulation, I am hypersexual and exhibit other manic symptoms. Then if I get manic symptoms at other times in my cycle, I have that same sexual bent.

    2. It doesn’t.

    3. My wife and I discuss whatever comes up by asking questions and having a basic conversation, but there is rarely anything that comes up due to the MI.

  2. Natalie said:

    Alan, that drawing rocks. Period. :)

    1. I’ve had a very high sex drive since I was a teenager, and was only diagnosed a year ago, so it’s one of the things I see as part of my innate bipolar-ness. My diagnosis gives me some insight as to why every guy I dated thought I was the best thing ever, while many women felt overwhelmed (luckily, my wife is a Scorpio and is not usually overwhelmed). It’s something I see as (mostly) positive, as long as I pay attention to problematic changes in my appetite and desire (i.e. knowing that I’m manic when I not only feel the need to screw as many people as possible, but mostly men…huge problem considering I’m married to a woman). So, high sex drive, not a problem. Hypersexuality with a particularly male slant, totally a problem. When I’m depressed, my sex drive is pretty non-existent. (Please note I don’t see my attraction to men as a problem, I see my desire to stray outside my marriage as a problem, and for me that desire usually leans toward men. Whereas, when I’m stable, I have eyes for no one but my wife.)

    2. It doesn’t.

    3. It proved disastrous when I was increasingly manic following our son’s birth, and my wife was experiencing postpartum depression (so we were both sleep deprived and she had zero sex drive). I was hypersexual, but had no clue – which almost cost me my marriage, and caused me to shatter my wife’s heart, while dragging a few others along as collateral damage. So this is now something we both pay a lot of attention to, considering it was the crux of what got me diagnosed. We went to a bunch of couples therapy to repair the damage and to learn how to navigate it in a healthy manner. As I become increasingly stable, I get further from what feels like “hypersexuality,” but my normally high sex drive is still there. In the past, when I felt problematic thoughts/feelings starting up, I would talk to my therapist and use EFT and other tools to nip the hypomania in the bud, and then I would talk to my wife after the fact, to avoid needlessly retraumatizing or frightening her. We’re both now well aware that meeting my needs on this front is pretty important to my stability, and it’s something we’re mindful of. She even got me to start noting it on my mood chart, so we would have data on how it affects my mood. :) We’ve always talked very openly about everything sex related (good and bad) and have had a very healthy sex life (with the exception of when postpartum issues and clueless mania were in the mix). So, now with my diagnosis in mind, we continue that trend with more awareness, and it’s working well so far.

  3. Alan Smithee said:

    I know, my drawing is amazing.

    1. How does your diagnosis affect your sexual functioning and/or sex drive, if at all? Well, I asked this question dumbly. I didn’t really mean “diagnosis,” I meant MI. And it has completely decimated it. I have no sex drive. None. My husband and I are supposed to be having a sex life. We haven’t had sex in probably four months, and the idea of making out with him is one of the most terrifying ideas I can think of. Of course, I am uni-polar, with Depression, so there is no change of scenery as far as sexual symptoms are concerned. There’s bleak, flat, dry wasteland. As far as the eye can see. I only can consider sex if I’m drunk. So I get drunk a lot in the hopes that that will mean I will be able to have a sex life with my husband. But instead, it never really works out. Actually, the other night we tried to start something for the first time in MONTHS and I was so drunk I threw up. I am a complete mess, and feel so LOW functioning in this area. It makes me sick. I hate being frigid, and I hate turning to alcohol.
    2. How does the label of “High Functioning” affect your sexual functioning and/or sex drive, if at all? I feel like other parts of my life are HF, so there’s an expectancy for all of my life to be HF, and that is maybe an added pressure.
    3. How do you/you and your sexual partner(s) address any issues that come up in your sex life that stem from your MI or label of HF? We don’t really right now, which is why I asked the question of everyone else. I really need help and guidance on how to navigate a relationship that should be sexual but my symptoms have completely turned it platonic.

  4. Alan,
    I feel for you in your situation. I know that when I’m depressed, sex sux or doesn’t exist. So it seems you may be stuck with that while the depression hasn’t lifted. Also, alcohol is a depressant so it seems like that would just make it worse. Does your therapist have any suggestions?

  5. Alan Smithee said:

    As Lenny on the Simpsons says, “Nothing like a depressant to chase the blues away!

    Unfortunately, the depression hasn’t “lifted” in 16 or so years, so I don’t think I’m really going to be setting my watch to that one. I would love to know the secret on how to be sexually high functioning with Depression, or another mental illness that continually destroys all traces of a sex drive.

    My therapist’s suggestion was to make out with my husband, at which point a wave of absolute terror and panic hit me and I cried and I said out loud, “When did I become the kind of woman who thinks making out with her husband is the most terrifying thing she’s ever heard?

    • said:

      I’m compelled to mention Momentum. My husband and I talk about momentum a lot…we apply the conversation to almost everything, including things beyond sex and even beyond us as a couple. We talk about habits and patterns we want to break, but it’s hard because they have momentum. We talk about habits and patterns we want to create, but require us slowly building momentum toward them. I don’t know if you’re the same way, but I have to strategize ways of stopping the momentum of depression and gaining momentum out of it. Additionally, there are a lot of things I can’t start full-blast or even mid-way. What about building intimacy as you might build a scaffold leading out of the depressive hole? We take little steps like eating regularly and showering. Why not take little steps, like holding hands (I sound like a 12-year-old) and meaning it? I feel that being confident about it (taking steps you feel confident you can take) might be a strategy for almost anything, including one’s sex life and depression.

      • Nice, ∃. That’s a lot of it if not all. Making out is probably too much, well obviously. Intimacy is so much more. There needs to be touch and real connection (use the eyes). It’s hard with depression, though, because depression can be sooo heavy and it’s like walking through mucky molasses to do ANYTHING, much less be intimate. Do you think, Alan, there might be anxiety in there too? Anxiety always made me heavy and depressed and paralyzed.

        • Alan Smithee said:

          Hi Meredith, yes I definitely do have Generalized Anxiety Disorder as well as Chronic Major Depression, and there is a lot of anxiety about this issue, to the point of I’m terrified to even try.

          • Hi Alan, like Natalie says, compassion. Do you do noncomputer art? Art was the key when I was anxious and/or depressed. It relaxed me enough to not be paralyzed. But I’m kinesthetic so clay and paint and pastels were my media. I still need it but not like I did. I totally understand about being terrified to try. For me it was all about failing yet again and thus feeling terrible about myself…some more. ugh. I hope you can find a way to not give yourself a hard time at least some times (and notice you can do that). hugs.

  6. Natalie said:

    Anxiety and fear are right in the thick of my depression (and mania) too, Meredith. Really good point.

    Alan – The panic you feel is more than understandable, given what is often at the root of depression (and mania). Those responses aren’t in our rational mind, but in our autonomic nervous system…right along with, you guessed it, sexual arousal. Baby steps, kindness, and compassion for you, on both the part of you and your husband, sound like a really good place to start (no offense to your therapist, but expecting making out to somehow magically jump start this sounds like they’re not taking into account where it may be coming from). Have they tried to help you address the emotional issues that may be underlying the depression, the sex piece in particular? Or have you and your husband gone to couples therapy for help navigating it? The trick is finding someone who takes a gentle approach, and who honors where you are and works from that as a starting place, rather than doing anything that might make you feel lower about it than you already do. Be kind and compassionate with yourself, and insist on the same from others. (For what it’s worth, my sister-in-law has struggled with severe unipolar depression for 10+ years, and has had zero sex drive as well – she recently started a few things that have helped, feel free to email me if you want any info: natalie dot guerrier at gmail dot com).

    I’m really sorry you’re going through this – sending peaceful thoughts your way.

  7. said:

    We have a new Community Contribution topic that, I think, will extend this conversation further and might also be both interesting and helpful. Coming soon.

  8. ∃ gave me this link, being new to the forum and to blogging in general. It’s currrrrazy to be able to identify with so much- from all of you- on this topic, as well as so may others on the forum. (No to mention learning all the acronyms for the diagnoses. Fun!) This one is hard one, as it’s truly “Getting Personal,” but hey, I’m at the party, so I won’t be a wallflower on this one. Here goes:


    I had no sex drive in 2009 when my MDD first hit, and I was first diagnosed. I didn’t know if it was my diagnosis at first, or the Celexa, once I got out of bed. “No sex for you!” (I was a shame to my people. Don’t get me wrong; I tried to have sex. Miserable failures every one.

    Then I was off meds for a year. I could hear my father, “Don’t be a wimp; get out of that bed.” (Or was that Mommie Dearest? Ah, well, the same night terror, but with a penis.) No meds, no sex. Stopped trying. But I ate fast food for the first time in 8 years after of being super work-out, healthy, holistic, hit the trail at 6am, duder.



    That label is so new to me. I don’t know if I fit into it yet. I have no fucking clue. About this, and a lot of other things.


    Right now, I have no sexual partners. I’m freakin’ Madonna, and not in a good way: “Like A Virgin:” Scared, hopeful, but without the tween hormones. No drive, no desire, no supposed gay-hyper-sexuality. The guy I had recently had been dating (thanks to a lovely drug named Pristiq) for four months couldn’t handle the recent diagnosis and label of MI. He left; I don’t blame him at all. “I get it.” Curious: We are both Christian, so how easy was it to go sloooooowwwwww… How convenient for MI

    thanks for reading,

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