emotional fences

There's a big difference between London and San Francisco when it comes to emotional boundaries.

In London, it's a joke, but only half of one, when people discuss the British "stiff upper lip". You are encouraged to keep your eyes down and your mouth shut when it comes to the emotional side of things- it's ok to have feelings, as long as you keep them to yourself. This is particularly true if you're male, though it's not exclusive to them. There is a sense that when catastrophe hits, the thing to do is to plod on, telling yourself that you're all right and therefore there's nothing really to make a fuss over, right?

However, if you're drinking, and/or doing drugs (like MDMA, or maybe shrooms), these emotional boundaries widen somewhat. Suddenly the British outpour with emotion, both socially positive and negative- what was a minor irritant becomes a blazing battle, or a feeling of love for a friend becomes a heavy petting session in the corner of a club. Given such strict boundaries for not expressing emotion, the ability to blame a substance for letting your guard down becomes one of the very few semi-acceptable ways to vent, and sobriety brings with it dread that you may have, in fact, told someone something you really feel. This is usually followed up with laughing it off, and partaking in other substances to forget about the fact you exposed yourself. Telling someone how you feel seems somewhat akin to flashing them- something to be ultimately ashamed of.

In San Francisco, in contrast, there is a lot of encouragement to emotionally overflow. "I" statements are common, as is the phrase "I feel" to discuss almost anything from interpersonal relations to the grocery list. Everyone feels, all the time, and are often inclined to share with anyone around to listen- I often joke about sitting on the bus and having someone pour out their life story, but in reality, that happens all the time. That's why I wear giant headphones- not to immerse myself in my tunes, per se, but rather to establish a clear visual boundary to strangers who may otherwise decide I look like someone they could really open up to. I haven't really seen the same level of alcohol use, or even social drug use other than weed, though I'll keep an eye open now and see if that affects how raw people are- in general, though, I'd say it tends to just make already pretty open people sloppy about what they share and to whom.

I spent a fair bit of time growing up in hospital wards, learning an awful lot about my emotions and how to articulate them. Even so, for the first few months working retail I often struggled to not spend part of the time in tears- I was so used to my heart being on my sleeve, anything different seemed false. I still feel that way, sometimes.

One of the things I struggle with, both in relationships and at work (and, I suppose, in life in general) is how do you live in the moment, really being present with how you feel, without a) drowning in your own emotional wreckage and b) scaring off everyone around you.

Almost everyone I've ever met is a master at avoidance. Sitting with your feelings of depression, fear, and hurt is terrifying- in some ways, almost as much so as feelings of joy or contentment. Isn;t it interesting how we're always so scared the "good" feelings will go away (as they do) but also terrified the "bad" feelings never will (they, also, always do)? It's tempting to analyze *why* you feel the way you do, instead of feeling it, accepting it, and allowing yourself to move beyond it. I work hard to give myself space to feel what I feel, and I try to let go of it when its time is through- however, how do you tell the difference between letting it go healthily and stifling it?

I've been thinking about this particularly as it pertains to sex work. When I worked retail, it became easy to feel anything and put it aside, because it was not personal work. No one was asking me how I felt, I had no emotional investment, I didn't even really need to be mentally present. But with sex work, part of what I feel I offer is myself, and if I need to check out in order to do it I wonder if I should be doing it at all.

However, this leads to a potentially poor work ethic, where I'll cancel sessions because I feel depressed or because I feel uncomfortable. Is that good? Is it preferable to only work when my emotional status is positive, or is it encouraging me to be lazy when I could just suck it up more often? Is it a bit of both, which is the most likely? How do I decide how much I need a mental health day? Is this something that is fixed, not by in the moment crash courses in well-being, but by constant upkeep?

I've gone into sessions where I started feeling unenthused but ended feeling sparkly and new. I know I get a lot of energy from this work- actually one of the things I'm hoping to learn in California is how to gather energy from other sources than other people. Because it's a dependency, this sex energy, and it feels amazing but it can also drain me. The fact I could change my outlook on doing sessions within an hour makes me think I should push myself into it more often. But then I worry that I'm avoiding my feelings somehow, that I'm putting them aside as so many people who work in offices and at desks do. When do you make time for your feelings?

A lot of this particularly comes up because I don't take medication. I was prescribed Lithium back in the day, when bipolar was the diagnosis of the moment and everyone had it, but I stopped when I turned 18 and haven't touched psychiatric meds since. Sometimes, though, I look at my occasional energy bursts and crying jags and wonder- what is in the realm of normal emotional boundaries, and what is crazy? Is it when it affects your day to day life? Does the fact I don't work indicate I have emotional issues? Or am I more emotionally stable because I chose a job where I have the freedom to take time off to take care of my mental state as much as my physical one?

Sex work is empathetic work. When I'm on top of my game my clients leave me practically whistling. We build up energy together that leaves us both, perhaps, a bit dizzy. But when I'm down, or if a client is down, I feel it keenly, it radiates out, and try as I might to turn the session around it's not always possible. And I wonder then- is it better to fake it til you make it, or will that end with me resenting the work, and resenting the men who don't notice or care that I'm bored stiff? Is it my job as a service provider to not only make sure my body is healthy, but my mind? Or is that seperate from the realm of the workplace? Does it matter what sort of work?

Pondering, pondering..

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