View From The Top: Playing Through Depression

I can do anything I want.

I have to hold on to that thought for the M/s to work. I can ask rife for anything. Sometimes, the thought experiments are a game: What if I asked you for this? What if I asked you for that? In our contract, rife wrote: “I will do anything you ask.” I marveled over that phrase. I shivered when I read the word “anything.” I read it over and over.

But I can’t abuse this anything: rife trusts me with power, and I want to earn it, to continue to deserve it, every single day by staying trustworthy and making good decisions that benefit us both.

So I ask rife to keep the house, to keep up his body, to practice his submission. Often his many protocols and acts of service free up time for me that I would — if I did not have a slave —otherwise spend managing to the day-to-day of a complex human life, like cooking nourishing meals and tending the sanctuary of our home. Time is such a rare and precious resource; it is impossible to create more of it, but my slave allows me to get two things completed at once. I am careful with my extra hours, cautious not to squander them. I use them for us, to strengthen the form to which we are devoted, because he is the reason I have them in the first place.

I can’t do anything.

My brain, when left to its own chemistry and function, tells me that there is no reason for me to try, to accomplish, to even attempt, a thousand times a day. The hopelessness takes over around one in the afternoon, no matter how productive my morning. I second guess anything I’ve produced; I go over it in my mind like a splinter in my finger that I just can’t quite remove. Even though the depression is in me, it is not me, exactly; the worthlessness and failure and hopelessness are easier to think of as part of my personality, but I have come to identify them as part of depression.

My struggle with depression is not new to me, but this year I have been working with it in completely new ways. I have had episodes of sorts every few months for the last twenty-odd years, episodes in which I am basically unable to interact with anyone, where the roar of my inner failure is so loud that I can’t drown it out and I end up in bed playing Bejeweled for hours and hours. Or I end up watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy, staying up as late as I can with moving pictures, filling my head with stories that are not my own.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” rife whispered to me on a bench in January. I was still in pajamas, had thrown a sweatshirt on over three-day-old T-shirt and flannel pants to be dragged, reluctantly, out to walk to the dog. The sky was polished-chrome grey, reflective, bright, and sunless. That moment is clear, so clear, in my memory, despite how foggy that episode made everything else. It was the first time he said anything like that to me in the more than four years we’d been together, but it hasn’t been the last.

I deserve this.

I have to trick myself into believing that I deserve service, devotion, care. I have to remind myself that I too am devoted, I too provide service. Sometimes to this very person, and sometimes elsewhere — to my work, to changing the world, or to our partnership.

What is it to deserve something? Sometimes I write about my desires — overwhelming, bone-deep desires that sometimes feel like they threaten to swallow me up — but writing about wanting a thing doesn’t mean that I deserve or am entitled to the thing. Still, I do believe that we all deserve to pursue our desires. Not that they should be handed to us, but that we are entitled to seek them.

But do I deserve another person, pledged to me, obedient to me?

I don’t deserve anything.

How could I possibly deserve anything? It’s almost a joke, so ridiculous that it’s funny, like hey, go do three back handsprings and a triple lutz. Yeah sure, whatever buddy. Sometimes it’s all I can do to get out of bed and feed my cat, feed myself. Like my switch flipped to “off.”

I should be working harder. I should be trying harder. If only I could just finish things I started. Maybe I need a different job. Maybe I should move again. Maybe I should change careers.

The doubts grow and grow. After more than four years together, theorizing and talking and playing and growing our M/s, living together as master and slave 24/7, sometime surrounding that conversation in January — we snapped open. The weight of my depression was too much. We both kept expecting it to change, to improve — the trauma of a break-up, of my dad’s sudden death, and of a cross-country move caused lots of grief and heartache, yes, but wasn’t I going to have an upswing?

It’s difficult to master when grieving. Maybe even impossible. Being a master requires being constantly in touch with my own desires, and constantly asking how I might use my slave to improve our lives. The way we have set it up, it’s my job to seek my deepest desires — and in order to seek them, I have to know what they are. I have to have some deep desires in the first place. Grief is a sly thief of desires, but depression teases me on the playground for ever believing I had desires in the first place. I realized it was depression, but I hadn’t noticed my own slow slide from grief. Though I noticed that things were still bad in my brain, that I was obsessing over relationships ending and loss, and mourning all the things I used to have that I no longer have, I kept identifying it as grief, trying to give myself time. I sought trauma therapies and grief groups. I read all the books. The grief became a feeling-hole I couldn’t dig myself out of on my own, and my system knew how to stay trapped in the worthless hopeless guilt. I spiraled down out of the sexy friction that is M/s, I forgot how much it mattered and how it could transform me. I let it slip away, too.

It’s almost impossible to master while grieving. When that grief turns into a depression, is it even M/s anymore? I tried; we both did. We kept going. We are both that stubborn and that devoted to the M/s and to each other. My concerned and dedicated slave was attentive and caring, but he couldn’t create desires on my behalf. Most days, I couldn’t get in touch with my own needs or my own wants, let alone my desires.

I struggled. I cried. I railed against the cage of depression, and sometimes it budged for a day or two. Perhaps worst of all, I forgot why I was pursuing this path.

M/s is a transformational, spiritual journey.

But that is precisely when we both have to lean into and have faith in the form. To hold the shape from the inside and from the outside. To lean on the structure of the relationship, the protocol, the rituals, the promises, the devotion.

And not just to have faith in the form — but to have faith in parts of our deeper selves which are the master and slave archetypes.

I read an article on intimacy a long time ago with five simple (but very complicated) “relationship-saving techniques” from a married couple, one of which quoted Rudolph Steiner’s faithfulness verse as a mantra to hold and repeat. I think often of the lines about witnessing the best parts of someone, and holding tight to that vision of the best archetype in them when things get hard: “Always struggle for the image that you saw. This struggle is faithfulness.”

I struggle for that image — not just in my partner’s eyes, but in my own. I struggle to keep the faith, to remember the vision of my own self as a successful and competent master, and to act as a master in good faith that rife will respond as a slave. I lost sight of that version of me when grief turned into depression and I couldn’t dig my way out, but I know the dynamic is still there. I feel viciously protective of my master identity any time it is threatened or someone suggests I let it go.

When things snapped open between us, we had to rebuild the foundation of our partnership. What we do day to day looks almost identical, but it feels to me like the invisible parts are completely formed anew. I made a list of things to pursue to keep my depression from shoving in between us again. Things like: seek a new individual therapist. Investigate anti-depressants. Read books on managing depression, and have rife read books on being the partner of someone with depression. Be more open about it with close friends. Write about it.

A huge part of the problem was that the depression was an elephant in the dungeon — it wasn’t being acknowledged enough. So I am making it visible, laying it all out on the table, working on it directly, with endless hope and faith that I can figure out a way to balance my depression and my pursuit of mastery at the same time.

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Sinclair Sexsmith

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is “the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queer women” (AfterEllen), who “is in all the books, wins all the awards, speaks at all the panels and readings, knows all the stuff, and writes for all the places” (Autostraddle). ​Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. Sinclair identifies as a white non-binary butch dominant, a survivor and an introvert. Follow their writings at Sugarbutch Chronicles.

Sinclair has written 43 articles for us.


    • I’m surprised y’all published another post from Sinclair, after I forwarded the rapey email they sent me earlier this week.

  1. Thank you Sinclair. Another beautiful post. When depression takes me, the last thing I want to think about or work on is BDSM. I withdraw into myself, shielding against the very thing that brings me calm and peace.

  2. I’ve been thinking about this for the past 2 years. How can I be strong, in control, full of mastery of ANYTHING when I can barely breathe in and out? How can I direct scenes, issue sterness, co-create fantasies when I do not know where I have stored my heart?

  3. Although every situation is obviously different, when Mistress is down her libido hides. Chastity play is part of our normal situation and it just rotates naturally to the front for those periods. I don’t know how it would work for you but it works for us. Another thing we do, when appropriate is as part of my service I’m responsible for giving Mistress her pills – I have to take medication on the clock anyway, so I add getting Mistress’ pills to the relevant time slot.

    We generally move to a situation where there’s a kind of maintenance mode in our D/s interactions too. We have some daily stuff like Mistress chooses what I wear out, what we’re having for tea. If we’re both having busy days at work that might be all the D/s interaction we get too so it’s not like it’s abnormal, although it’s certainly not our normal daily routine either. She’ll make those choices still, unless she’s really too down for that, when she’ll tell me to get on with it. It might not be all I want, week after week after week but I have to accept the wider reality too: Mistress is a person and she’s depressed or grieving and I’d be there for her as her partner if I wasn’t her sub, why wouldn’t I be there for her as her sub too?

    But I hope you manage to sort your depression out and are in a happier place now.

  4. Thank you, thank you so much for this. This hits really close to home as I’m going through another depressive episode at the moment and am doubting everything and can’t understand why my submissive ever wanted to be mine in the first place as it seems like I have nothing to offer.
    Reading your words helped me to feel less alone with this.

  5. “I have had episodes of sorts every few months for the last twenty-odd years, episodes in which I am basically unable to interact with anyone, where the roar of my inner failure is so loud that I can’t drown it out and I end up in bed playing Bejeweled for hours and hours. Or I end up watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy, staying up as late as I can with moving pictures, filling my head with stories that are not my own.”

    This is me- I’ve never read anyone describe it so spot on.

  6. Thank you again for this column. This piece really hit home and I hope it helps me work through some things.

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