Being a caregiver to someone with depression isn’t an easy thing to do. It is even harder in a D/s or Master/slave relationship. When mental health issues surface, they can often do so seemingly out-of-the-blue. In a D/s dynamic, this can destabilise or cause fluctuation in the power flows between the Dominant and the submissive.
In a D/s relationship, where the exchange of power extends outside of the bedroom and into daily protocols integrated into a lifestyle, the onset of depression in either of the partners can place a lot of strain on the negotiated and agreed D/s power exchange. Dominants may feel that they are losing control over a (depressed) submissive’s behaviour, and vice versa, submissives may feel lost when their Dominant doesn’t have the energy to lead the way.
The term “depression” gets used to label a wide variety of emotions. For the purposes of this article, i’m not talking about sadness or disappointment, but something further along the scale towards major depression, which is described by the National Institute of Mental Health as:
Depression (major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks.
Quite often, when i come across discussion threads on forums, i see members of the kink community asking questions such as “what should I do when my D/s partners encounter depressive episodes?”, as if there is a set of behavioural tools or prescriptive formula to treat the sudden power-flux going on in the D/s power dynamic.
This can lead to everyone seeming to be an expert because they have some sort of personal experience that works for their own relationship. As always, takes everyone’s words with a pinch of salt when it comes to mental health issues, and in my experience that includes the clinical psychiatrists.
In my humble opinion, every person’s situation is unique. There are many different sets of reasons, life circumstances and causal relations that result in mental health issues, particularly depression.
So, recognising that everyone is unique, and without laying down any rules, is it possible to extrapolate some general thoughts on what kind of approaches might work best in dealing with depression in our D/s partner? If you are a Dominant, how do you manage not carry the burden of feeling that it is your responsibility to take care of your submissive and that there must be something you can do to “help”? Does “tightening the collar” or engaging in something your submissive finds nurturing, like bondage, do any good in making your submissive feel better, or does it only make things worse? Do you exert stricter rules to help your submissive get better, or do you loosen the protocols for your submissive to breathe at a slower pace? Or, if you are a submissive, should you get closer to your Dominant, providing more service and trying harder to please? Or will they find that smothering?
Depression, anxiety, etc, are intangible. When i feel depressed, sometimes it can be seen by others as me losing interest in serving my Master, or disobedience by not keeping up with the house rules.
But, in being mindful you are recognising the undesirable behaviours that surface in a D/s context but trying not to blame or condemn on a personal level.
When depression hits, getting out of bed can feel like climbing the steepest mountain carrying two giant elephants. What we often see is the behaviour, but what we should see is the giant elephants.
Consent is what differentiates BDSM acts from abusive acts. It is important to bear in mind that pushing individuals with mental health issues to get treatment, or trying manipulative approaches to get your partner to act in a certain way, can be a violation of consent. Just because you “think” you know your partner, doesn’t mean you “think” you have the right to drag your partner out from the room to get sunlight, or see family members, or try out homoeopathic therapies.
The positive and healthy way is to be supportive. You are allowed to give suggestions and lay out treatment options, but the initiative to actually step out for treatment has to come from the individual who is suffering from depression. It’s really no different to negotiating something like breath control. You can say “this is what I’d like to happen”, but ultimately your partner needs to say “Yes, I am ready, let’s try this”. In that way, you know that you aren’t violating the trust between yourself and your partner.
However, while this is true in a D/s dynamic, if you are coming from a rather strict TPE or consensual-nonconsent Master and slave dynamic, this might not apply to you. Many people are in relationships where the Master has all rights over His slave. That often means that the trust extends beyond all social constructs of mental illness and physical illness, or elephants of any sorts. In this type of relationship, the path that is always chosen is obedience and submission, and this can be as legitimate a way as any to deal with depression.
ESTABLISHING SOME KIND OF HEALTHY, POSITIVE BOUNDARY
Especially where depression is a recurring intrusion into your partner’s life, it is important to have psychological boundaries, so that being a caregiver can be sustainable over a long period of time. It’s quite possible to burn out if you constantly feel like it’s your fault, or you didn’t do enough, or you are somehow responsible for the fact that your partner is feeling crappy every day.
Establishing boundaries helps you to avoid being dragged down into the dark pit, so that you can stand apart and hold on to that rope for your partner.
Depressive episodes can feel like a dark gloomy hovering cloud that never seems to go away. The sun doesn’t shine and there is no reason to do anything, not even breathe. In that depressive head, what’s the point to even being sexually pleasing? Or trying to be obedient? Or dealing with the issues in somebody’s life other than your own?
Establishing some kind of psychological boundaries allow both parties to take a step back and acknowledge the elephant in the room. Instead of getting dragged into toxic negativities, it allows room for breathing, and being able to deal with the situation in a healthier way by saying: “This is a matter of mental illness, and we will get through the tunnel and see the sunlight. In the meantime, I’ll be just over there, so let me know if you need a hug”.
LAST FEW WORDS
There is no right or wrong in the approaches to caring for someone with depression. There are possible paths we can take towards a better life, but ultimately no one can be sure they’ll be the best way to get to a destination, and no one can be sure there even is a destination to begin with.
Feature image: Detail of artwork by Eddie Calz