Suicide Loss, Mental Health, and How Sex Work Saved My Life
Updated: Jun 4, 2022
We usually hear about the ways sex work can erode away at one's sanity - and let's be clear this work can be challenging, triggering, and harmful. However, I believe at its core the issue often isn't sex work itself so much as the way society treats us, leaves us without protections, others, and mocks us - views us as less than human. While I have experienced triggers on the job (due to trauma I had prior to entering this industry) overall my experience has been that sex work saved my life in a multitude of ways, this piece will be covering one of them.
May is mental health awareness month and I like to utilize my platform to speak up about things I am passionate about. Destigmatizing mental health struggles and suicidality are high on my priority list. I don’t think anyone should be made to feel that there is no hope, that they are broken, that they need to suffer in isolation. And as such I will put my money where my mouth is, take the leap, and be vulnerable with all of you.
TW: This piece includes content around self-harm, suicidality, suicide, and mentions of disordered eating. While I believe sharing these experiences can be helpful, it can also bring up some difficult emotions. Please take a moment to pause and check in with yourself before reading this piece. It's ok to take a step back and do something else if needed.
I’m writing this overlooking a city wearing my loved one’s jacket and hat. I'm also wearing the perfume I used to wear for our dates. I only wear these things once a year; the anniversary of his suicide. I also eat his favorite snacks and listen to the bands we liked, look through old photos and videos, talk to some of his family. This year it so happened one of his favorite bands was playing near me on the anniversary of his death. I went alone and I cried, smiled, laughed, danced. God, did I dance. I wished I could sway alongside him one last time. To be clear he was a horrible dancer and I loved him all the more for it. For just a few hours I let the nostalgia sweep me away and allowed myself get lost in the music.
Due to respecting his privacy and that of his family I will not be giving any details of him, but more speaking to the connection and grief I’ve experienced in being a suicide loss survivor.
‘One day the anniversary will roll around and it won’t hurt so much. There may even be years where you miss the specific date because you’ll be so engulfed in the new life you’ve built.’ That’s what my therapist at the time said as the one-year anniversary approached. It has now been over five years since the death of my client turned friend and lover. My body still responds every May like clockwork, it knows before I do. And while the grief is softer and quieter, it is far from gone. I still remember his beaming laugh filling up the room (and my heart), the playful energy he pulled out of me, the depth with which we spoke, the manner in which we understood what could not be verbalized. The way my soul felt at home in his presence and his with mine. He was one of the smartest people I’ve ever encountered, I wanted to explore every corner of his mind. And to date I’ve yet to feel such depth, freedom, and mutual recognition in any other connection I’ve formed. Admittedly, I struggle to remember how he smelled, what it felt like to hold his head in my lap and stroke his hair, what it was like to bury my head in his chest – the memories are fading, but remembering the emotional connection comes easily.
I personally don’t believe we have a singular soulmate. I think we can have multiple spanning across our lifetime(s), some overlapping, others with gaps between. I believe he was one of mine. Through our connection parts of me were ignited, coming fully alive, and others became lost after his death. For anyone who experienced us together we couldn’t have outwardly been more different. When we'd go out to party together I’d get asked why I was with him. I knew the real question was about me being more physically attractive and able to mask my neurodivergence in social settings while he was, well, a bit ‘awkward’ when he wasn’t interacting and dominating in his work settings. When people did ask I’d smile and say ‘because his soul knows mine’ then I’d throw in a joke to lighten the moment, ‘and he’s rich!’. But with him it was rarely about the money. It was a short whirlwind of a connection and still there is something about the abrupt death of a kindred spirit that feels nearly impossible to put into words, but here I am trying.
The last couple of times we saw one another I knew I was watching his mental health dwindle right in front of me, his sleep, physical appearance, capacity to be present, and consistency were all a complete 180 from who I had met just a few months prior. I wanted so badly to help, to save, to ease. And beyond the check ins, moments he allowed me to show up, and funny memes there wasn’t much I could do. It was entirely out of my hands. I still remember the last words he spoke to me before he disappeared for weeks as he spiraled into a battle with his own mental health, "Thank you for coming to see me and making time for this. Seeing you helps me a lot. My mind feels clear. I feel so calm with you." I pulled back and felt surprised at his direct articulation of appreciation. I often felt it and saw the way he expressed care in his actions, but verbalizing wasn’t necessarily his strong suit. In retrospect I've wondered if he knew then that this would be our final goodbye and if that was what pushed him to articulate himself beyond his comfort zone. I reached up to move his hair out of his face and kissed his cheek, "I'm here for you, I mean that, no matter what. Things are going to be ok, you can do this." I squeezed his hand and turned away to get into the car. A few minutes prior he had asked me to stay with him a bit longer, but I had other commitments. I still wish I’d lingered a bit longer, skipped my class, held his hand more - savored the last moments we had together. Each year I try to visit the spot where we last held one another, it’s not a significant space nor is it particularly beautiful. It’s a random corner in San Francisco on a busy street. Some years I stand there and am filled with gratitude and joy as I remember the shared moments. Others I walk by quietly and let myself cry.
My world completely shattered the day I found out he had died. I had been through so much trauma and had yet to have anything fracture my emotional world the way this loss had. When I found out I fell to the floor, screamed, cried, and called out his name over and over again. At some point I was crying and heaving so much that it became difficult to breathe. I’m not sure how long I stayed on the floor in the middle of my living room. At the time I had roommates and had been alone. When one finally came home, she asked what happened, then helped get me to my bedroom. I didn’t eat, shower, drink, or move for days after that. I remember at a certain moment another roommate came to my room and not quite knowing how to articulate her concern asked ‘Are you ok? You don’t seem ok, I think you might need help.’ And all I could do in response was maniacally laugh which only increased her concerns. At the time her question simply seemed absurd, of course I wasn’t ok. One of my close friends showed up later that day and asked what I needed and that it could be anything in the world – I said I needed to get out of CA. She got us flights to Hawaii and booked the room, we left that day. She showed up in really big ways during the initial grief period. For that I will always be grateful.
The months that followed I lost a lot of weight (then gained even more from the medications I started taking for my mental health), would have bouts of crying in public, abused substances, self-harmed, slept with anyone who remotely resembled him. I destroyed friendships. I was an open wound, and had very little will to live myself so anything that got me by felt ‘good enough’. This baffled most people around me who had not lost someone to suicide and most folks were even more baffled because he and I ultimately hadn’t even been in one other’s life for very long. As though time would change the bond formed and pain of the loss experienced. That isn’t to downplay the grief of those who do loose loved ones they’ve known for years, decades, and beyond. I would never say my grief was greater than theirs. We were not integral to one another’s day to day, my bed did not smell like him, we did not have a family, he didn’t even have a toothbrush at my place. It was a different kind of grief which left a hole in my chest that had once been filled by our bond. It took me over two years to balance out after this loss.
Prior to this I had already struggled with my own mental health. I started self harming by age 12. I do have a few scars, and I feel lucky that none of my clients have ever made unkind or rude remarks about them. If anything, it has sparked conversations around mental health some of which have ended in me connecting clients to therapists in moments that they needed support. I myself had searched for a psychotherapist as early as high school, but my family couldn’t afford that. At a certain point my mother found a therapist who saw her probono due to her case being so ‘unique’ (the therapist’s words, fyi – that’s a red flag when it’s coming from an upper class white therapist speaking to a low income non-white person). That therapist agreed to start seeing me as well. However, during our first session she did not give the necessary caveat around confidentiality, essentially everything is confidential unless it involves XYZ and protective services/law enforcement need to be notified. I - being so young, desperate for help, quite literally ready to implode - shared a handful of things that had been eating away at me. Finally, I could tell someone! At the end of the 50 minutes she shared she would have to contact CPS. As a result several adults in my life were arrested, the courts got involved, and some folks went to jail. It was incredibly traumatic. I didn’t seek out therapy for a few years after that, but I always knew I would eventually need the support to heal.
I am not comfortable sharing any of my diagnosis publicly because I do ultimately fear the stigma tied to some. And like I mentioned in a previous blog post (which you can read here), the current model of diagnosing within the United States often over pathologizes the individual. Of course we get sick in the face of trauma and systemic oppression.
‘It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a sick society.’ -Jiddu Krishnamurti
I had been hopping from therapist to therapist most of my early 20’s desperately seeking someone who was competent in queerness, sex work, first gen American experiences, and Latinx family systems. I saw over 10 therapists in 2 years, none of which were a match. I had a professor around this time who taught one of the psychology courses I was taking as a part of my general education. As soon as they gave their first lecture, I remember thinking ‘What a badass. This is them! This is who I want to be my therapist.’ And, much like with anything or anyone else I feel that way about, I made it known. I approached them and after a couple conversations they said they’d work with me once the course ended. Unfortunately, my lover had died during this semester. The week he died I ended up calling them and leaving a voicemail asking for help. I explained that I could not wait until the semester ended. They got back in touch and we started to work together. We worked together for four years until I moved on to a different type of therapy. I believe it takes a village to survive the oppressive systems we have to exist in, especially when we are born into poverty, isolation, and trauma – that therapist was a part of my village and I believe they saved my life. And the only reason I could afford her was because of my involvement in sex work. Unfortunately, my involvement in the industry was also part of the reason we could not continue our work together (perhaps a post for another day).
I had grappled with mental health struggles since childhood and at times it is a stark contrast to the woman most see today – grounded, firm in her power, capable, unmovable, unshakable. My mental health has not impacted my ability to work as Adriana and much to the whorephobes' dismay statistically speaking correlation does not equate causation, I did not choose sex work as some misstep due to my mental health struggles. In fact, sex work allowed me to thrive in my 20’s and tend to my mental health in ways I likely otherwise would not have been able to. I have spent upwards of $60,000 on therapy out of pocket in my 20s. While living independently, supporting family members, and paying my way through school. That is all thanks to sex work. Sex work also gave me the ability to work independently and dictate my own schedule which further supported my healing...unless I was working to the point of burnout, but most often the burnout came from doing sex work, and one or two jobs in my civvie career, while also being a full time student – the burnout had never come when I was solely doing sex work. Sex work has helped me prioritize my healing. I know this is not everybody’s experience and as such I would never say this is universal within our community. We are not a monolith and each have varying experiences.
I still have days where I struggle, hell, weeks even. I don’t believe there is an ‘end’ to the healing, it doesn’t work that way (sadly). But I have so many more good days and realized much of the suicidality I felt most of my early life was due to wishing I had experienced a life I deserved. A life full of safety, care, and love. Once I grieved that I realized I could offer myself the life I’d always longed for. More incredible than realizing you're going to die is realizing you're going to live. Even with all the trauma, pain, and loss I’d experienced in my first 25 years of life I now consider myself one of the luckiest people walking this earth. Perhaps I am not lucky in the most tangible of ways, I no longer direct a lot of my energy into the material (client's you're still welcome to spoil me! This girl does love Chanel, diamonds, and fine dining), but my inner world is rich, expansive, wise. The woman I am is powerful, grounded, divine. She is unshakable even in moments of vulnerability. She knows who she is meant to become and has an unwavering trust in her intuition. I’ve seen, experienced, and survived things some only dream and read about. I have created the life I always wanted and I am surrounded by nothing but support and love. Even in my solitude I know that I am anything but alone. As a sex worker this is probably the most taboo thing for me to say – but I’d take this over the money any day. More incredible than realizing you're going to die is realizing you're going to live, and I'm so happy to be alive.
If you are struggling with your mental health, I wish there was more I could do or say to help ease your burden. All I have is my own lived experience and wisdom and while it is no walk in the park, especially when you’re pushing uphill against oppressive systems, there are spaces where you can find safety and healing. Healing is work, but it is absolutely worth it.
If you are interested in therapy here are some inclusive resources below:
Inclusive search directories:
Sliding scale search directory:
Bay Area Resource for therapists who are allies to sex workers: