FOUNTAIN OR FUNNEL?
Emotional Health and Burnout as a Sex Worker.
Touring Sydney earlier this year, I had a vivid recurrent dream over three consecutive nights. I was immersed in a body of water up to my chin and had lost the ability to move. I felt no panic or any emotion at all, only a detached exhaustion reminiscent of the three years I prepared for then competed as a figure athlete.
Each time my head was about to go under, my former coach materialised behind me in the same way he used to each time my body failed out at the end of a maximal squat set.
“Come on Mate,” he said to me in the flat but commanding voice I’d been conditioned to respond to autonomously. “Get up.”
Then he would haul me out of the water and my alarm would sound. I’d shake off the strangeness of the dream in time to order an omelette from room service and trudge off to the shower of my posh hotel room to shave.
In hindsight, it was a warning. I had broken my own rules and asked my body and heart for too much. I was burning out fast and there was no hulk behind me ready to pull the weight of the world off my shoulders if need be.
Having a period of high demand as an independent sex worker is a very good thing. My hooker friends and I often discuss how this industry seems to be inexplicably either feast or famine. We know that we must make plenty of hay while the sun shines. Clientele desire surges in invisible peaks and troughs to the point where there are even memes circulating on the subject. So sometimes we suck it up a little to save for when the phones go quiet. It is the nature of the beast. To a point.
What I have learned this year the hard way is that taking control of my workload in times of an abundance of enquiry is absolutely necessary both for my longevity as an escort and for my emotional health.
In the interests of making hay in February to April this year, I demanded more from myself than I had to give. Then, suffering from anxiety, insomnia and exhaustion, I had to accept the consequences of my decision and ask myself how I could stop it from happening again. Here’s what I came up with:
1/ Only carrying my own baggage. Not letting praise or commentary change me.
Facilitating people’s enjoyment and feeling their appreciation is powerful. The ebb and flow of this energy can feel like a fountain spurting vitality or the opposite, a funnel or internal black hole. Without enough self-awareness, riding the “highs” of the fountain and the “lows” of the funnel can lead to dysfunction in the self. Check yo’self before you wreck yo’self.
I regularly have to check in with myself to ensure I am not measuring my worth on the praise of others, or allowing clients to use me as an emotional prop. I am not talking about the obvious things, like accepting a personal compliment with gratitude or lending a sympathetic ear in a booking. That stuff is just being a human with fellow humans. Being connected and compassionate with clients is an enjoyable part of my job, but should not influence my personal life. When the booking is over, the bubble must burst.
Imbalance begins when someone puts me on a pedestal instead of seeing me as both human and a professional. Or seems to expect that I can provide them with a remedy for what ails them emotionally, spiritually, psychologically. When clients overstep the line with repeated contact not relevant to bookings. When I see a hint of possessiveness lurking in the shadows.
I do not get paid to deal with that. It is simply too much for me to carry and remain healthy.
For each accolade and disappointment Marcella receives, I need to reflect, ground myself and find value in myself on my own terms. True happiness and sadness should remain in one’s own hands. It’s one thing to accept good or bad feedback. It’s another to become it.
2/ You can’t always put a price on time.
It’s tough to say no. There are often times when I have to choose between making an extra thousand dollars last minute and doing an activity that enriches my life in a non-financial way.
This is why I sometimes make myself go to yoga with that spare couple of hours on tour instead of tapping on as available. This is why I turn down lucrative bookings in my hometown when I have a date with a lover or a friend already planned. This is why I make myself turn off my work phone when I go to school.
There are women in this industry, friends of mine whom I love and admire who make double what I do. I am certainly envious of their juggernaut incomes. But everyone is different, and for me, making good enough money AND having freedom is why I am here to begin with. I don’t want to rule the world. Merely my tiny, humble life.
3/ There’s no place like home.
For many escorts, life on tour is just part of the job. Living out of suitcase is sometimes unavoidable, but on the rare occasion I tour for more than a week at a time, I push the edges of what I can deal with and remain emotionally balanced. My internal barometer exclaims loudly when I go beyond the volume of what is sustainable for me. After a really busy tour, I now try take time off to give back to mind and body. Simple home cooked meals, time spent with friends unrelated to the industry, physical training and study.
I make the effort to do these things even though all I truly feel like doing when I am exhausted is smoking weed, watching movies and eating junk food 24/7. Because it’s important that I nurture a sense of achievement and self away from my vocation. Maximum 4 days away, then at least a few days of recovery and self-investment is how I want to do things.
Winter is creeping in now, and my phone has cooled off a little in traditional EOFYS style. I am both grateful for this little break in volume, and also pleased that making it through high season has helped me save another little chunk toward my future. I am also more aware of my limits than I was before I pushed my edges so forcefully. Next time the wave comes I’ll be ready to make hay again. I will harvest stronger than ever BUT I will no longer work until I can’t get up. I will give my best, I will rest when I need it. I will continue to check the fuel in my tank.
— Photography by Emma Salmon – The Blacklight Sydney —