The simple, and yet hard-earned, explanation of it all

My last post, more than two months ago, wasn’t optimistic. The feelings of worthlessness, futility, the experience of having jobs and careers slither from your hands, the certainty that nothing sticks and nothing ever will. The addictive behaviours–binge eating being the worst of them. The moodiness and extreme reactions. The depression and chronic anxiety. The frequent accidents and the near-accidents caused by inattention and daydreaming. The fact that I lose stuff, break stuff, can’t seem to finish a task even if it’s as simple as hanging the washing. The house that’s a mess, and the insomnia, the chronic fatigue, the mental haze of just existing in a barely functional state.

Apparently, it all has a simple–and very obvious–answer. My friends were right: ADHD. A clear-cut case–a belter, actually. Never diagnosed in childhood because, apparently, I was a gifted kid who just glided through twelve school years without putting too much effort into it. Never mind that I always drew or fidgeted during lessons. Never mind that I could never sit still or kept talking and interrupting people. Who cared? I got good grades without even trying. Nothing to see here, folks.

And after school? Well, it got worse. Until, two years ago, I got burnout.

I’ve been trying to find out what’s wrong since then, and I finally have my diagnosis.

But who knew anything about adult ADHD in the late 90s in Greece? Who could have imagined? Nobody, and nobody did.

“You only achieved so much,” the psychiatrist said, “because you’re highly gifted. With that level of ADHD, it’s impressive that you managed to get a PhD and to have a functional family.” What’s no wonder at all is that I never could keep a job. And I couldn’t write scientific papers without being guided by a strong supervisor. Quite understandable, in hindsight.

It’s also no wonder that I can write a full novel when I’m focused. It’s the phenomenon of hyperfocus: you don’t do anything else for a couple months, you obsessively live and breathe your task. That’s why I still can’t bring myself to sit and write my next book right now. My family needs me.

So, what now? Medication. Therapy. Better care of my health–I’ve had some health issues that won’t go away that easily, I’m afraid.

I told the psychiatrist I didn’t want to look for a job right now. Damn right, she said. With that level of ADHD, we need to get the medication straight first.

The best part of all of this? The guilt is melting away. The guilt of not being disciplined, not having my ducks in a row, not being able to stick to a job, not managing to continue learning a language, or clean my house, or earn money to contribute to the family finances, or be organized and tidy, calm and not moody.

“It’s not your fault,” the psychiatrist said. “None of this.” Not the addictive behaviours, not the way you confuse people by constantly changing the subject, none of it.

“You’re highly gifted. You’re not living up to your potential,” she said. “But we can change that.”

Yes, please!

Are you a woman if…

This is a longer version of an Instagram post that discusses gender – and specifically womanhood.

Are you a woman if…

…if you never could wear off-the-rack because your waist is exactly as wide as your hips, and there are no trousers in the world that fit that—any size? Not even leggings–and they’re supposed to fit everyone…

…if you never understand what your woman-friends are talking about, so you nod and pretend to belong?

…if you’ve never been catcalled or harassed…(nod)

…if no man ever asked for your phone number…(nod?)

…if you can post half-naked photos on the internet and nothing happens, while a female profile is (allegedly) enough for any other woman to be deluged with propositions — and worse…(nod?)

…if you don’t feel the waning attention as you grow older—because attention was always exactly zero (what are they talking about? Do people look at a woman when she enters a room? Do men look?)…um…nod?

…if you have a ton of male friends, no complications, because none of them was ever or could ever be attracted to you–the only complication being, of course, you falling in love with a man, in which case you’re not woman enough to actually receive reciprocation?

…if only one man–one person, unit–ever wanted you back. And it took sixteen years for him to finally show it, but you never left because you can’t risk losing the one man who isn’t averse to touching you, even if he chronically ignores you and makes your life misery?

…if you don’t know how make-up works and don’t understand its purpose…

…if you have all the right bits, but they are wrong, too—so your pregnancies were a nightmare, and you couldn’t give birth, and breast pumps never worked for you…

Are you a woman?

What is a woman?

Do I need to be one?

Do I not have enough sense of self to not have to define myself by society-defined words and concepts?

I am Ioanna. I am what you see. I am what you read. I am my books, and my art, and my bone-breakingly logical thinking. I’m my “too-sensitive” kids, the cooking and baking I love. The languages and the words. The dance and the solitude. The men I fell in love with, who could have had it all and chose not to. My degrees, my failed careers, my brashness and lack of tact. The love and caring I gift my friends. The solitude I need. The introversion.

I am not any one thing, and most certainly not what you understand as “woman.” This doesn’t describe me.

I am just…me.

Tales of a demisexual

All my life I thought I was abnormal, something you might have gleaned from my previous blog posts. There are too many ways in which I don’t feel I connect with humans, but sexuality was a big one among them.

Growing up in a misogynistic, patriarchal society, I received so many contradicting messages. Beverly Hills 90210, which all kids watched back in the early 90s even in my country, told us we’re not cool if we don’t have sex. If boys don’t want us, there must be something wrong with us. It painted a picture widely different from my experience: boys in my high school had no interest in sex. They played football and, later, listened to heavy metal. Sure, there were the few precocious kids who had boyfriends/girlfriends, but they were the exception to the rule, and none of them was in my circle of friends. All of my friends had sex after high school (some of us, including myself, way after). As far as I was concerned, I was abnormal and undesired. Nobody wanted me to be their girlfriend, and nobody wanted to have sex with me.

Looking at my life now, I see that this might not exactly have been the whole truth. I must have been monumentally blind to signals, and I do remember passing up on two opportunities of one-night stands. (I didn’t go out much, and early in my 20s I got severe phobias and depression. I shut myself at home. Bye-bye, life! But this is a tale for another time.) I mean, I wasn’t attracted to the young men that made the passes at me, and that must be the reason I didn’t want to have sex with them. And my romantic life, oh well, what can I say about that? There were two boys I got close with, who later both told me “they got scared.” Welp, that’s me. A scary 5-foot-2 woman. Boo!

So, I was abnormal. I couldn’t flirt. I couldn’t do chitchat. I couldn’t purr and bat eyelids like other girls. There were no men in that patriarchal society I grew up with who could put up with a woman who calls you out, discusses real shit with you, dominates the conversation, has strong opinions. They told me I was gruff and aggressive. (I was gruff and aggressive. I still am. I am a piece of work, to tell you the truth.) I gained weight due to my depression, binge eating disorder, and various other mental health issues. Trichotillomania was doing a bit on me–for years, I had no eyebrows, which made my face look horrific (although, if you ask my husband, he says it wasn’t as bad as I always thought it was). At a phone conversation, sometime after I’d moved to Germany for doctorate studies, one of those two scaredy-cat boys asked me if I lost all the weight I’d gained during my depressive days (we’re talking 8kg or 17 pounds–not horrible, but to him it was enough to make me unattractive). So, that was it: this was the confirmation to my Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria-induced thinking. I was, indeed, appalling, unattractive, yes, disgusting. My body was fat. Nobody would want me. What luck I had to have found my husband–a guy who, as far as I could see, just came along for the ride and seemed to have no strong feelings. A guy who didn’t object too much.

So, when he started denying sex, it all came full circle: yup, I was abnormal, unattractive, unboinkable. It all made sense. My own husband, whom I’d had two children with, and with the help of whom my body was disfigured in a non-recoverable way, didn’t want me.

Years later, I realize he was just tired. He had to support the family: a jobless, mentally ill wife and two high-maintenance babies. And, what is more, his autism made it near-impossible for him to express the love and desire he actually felt for me. Autistic plus borderline: recipe for destruction, and somehow still such a good fit!

So, it took me exactly twenty years to understand I haven’t failed in the romance/sex game. And there are many reasons I haven’t failed. Let me enumerate them:

  1. Not all men are the sex-craving beasts TV and popular culture would have us believe. My husband is quite a sexual person, but yes, he gets tired, and no, he’s not obsessed with sex. He has a life, a job he loves, interests, friends, hobbies. He also likes boobs a whole fuckin’ lot but doesn’t feel the need to mention them in conversations or stare at them. He doesn’t engage in sexual jokes or innuendo, which I find very comfortable. Shortly: he’s quite a decent human male with a healthy sexuality.
  2. Not all women have to look like Instagram models to be liked by men, as my misogynistic culture of origin would have me believe. It’s not uncommon in my country for men to sit at cafes and disparage women who walk by for not being perfect, while they themselves sport profuse beer-bellies and reek of cigarette smoke and sweat. Welp, you know what this is: misogyny. I internalized this at a way too young age. Before you come back at me with, “why do we even have to be liked by men,” I want to say, yes! True, first and foremost you must cherish yourself. But for a heterosexual, heteroromantic person, it might be important to be perceived as attractive by the other gender. That’s also okay. You’re allowed to want to be liked and loved and desired.
  3. Everybody has their own trauma, burden, mental health history. You haven’t failed in some fundamental way if you haven’t orgasmed, masturbated, had sex with several partners, no matter your age and sexual orientation. It’s not a failure to be mature and figuring these things out. I’m figuring these things out as we speak. My therapist says it’s awesome. I’m coming to think it’s quite awesome, too. How many people go through life repressed and never daring to express their doubts, fears, and sexual tastes? I’m determined to figure it out, even if it takes me until I’m seventy.
  4. Sex and sexuality are not badges of honor. I should not be ashamed for not having sexual experiences, and you shouldn’t either. You should also not be ashamed if you’ve had a whole bunch of them. As I write this, I ponder the fact that I can’t even begin to explain in writing the level of shame I felt all these years for not being sexually experienced or (in my view) competent. Popular culture inundated me with the notion that I’ve failed in some very fundamental way. Well, I haven’t.
  5. Not everybody is sexual in the same way. Sexuality (and let’s not get into romantic attraction, which is a whole other thing and an equally big one) is a spectrum. I’m a demisexual, and it’s fine. It’s not the sole reason I’ve not had multiple sexual partners, but it’s one of the reasons and a damn important one at that.

So, what does being a demisexual mean? It means I don’t experience sexual attraction to anyone I don’t have an emotional connection with. I identify as a demisexual sapiosexual because what really does it for me is a man who’s logical, intelligent, and scientifically-minded. This is not debatable: I need that to feel anything about a man. This last part wasn’t as prominent in my twenties, but now it is, big time.

So, it makes sense now that I couldn’t do one-night-stands. It also makes sense that I see male bodies as works of art. You can show me the most attractive body on Earth, and I’m still gonna be like, “Looks nice. What’s for dinner?” I won’t be attracted to it at all. No chance. It’s just a construction of flesh and bones, nothing more. Now, if the man to whom the body belongs starts explaining complicated plasma physics to me, I might get interested. The plasma physics without the body is absolutely fine, too. The brain is the most important sexual organ, they say, and this has many interpretations.

Two years ago, after I’d written A Natural (which has a certain BDSM orientation), I joined FetLife (it’s like Facebook, but for kink). I couldn’t really imagine meeting somebody through there, although I did have some interest in kink. My reluctance I ascribed mostly to my upbringing, which taught me to be mortally afraid of men. I couldn’t meet strangers. It was scary. I thought I might slowly muster the courage to go to a munch or something. I’d give it time.

But then I became friends with a person who sometimes goes to kink balls. He suggested he’d chaperone me so that I’m not scared to go alone. I thought, “Wow! There’s my chance to enter the subculture.”

But as I thought more about it, I realised it held no attraction whatsoever. Men I didn’t know held zero attraction. Sex, as an abstract thing, is awesome. I have a strong sexual drive. Latching this on to an actual human man, that’s a whole different issue. Often, my sex drive is disembodied.

Yesterday, I started rewatching the first season of 24. I haven’t been watching TV for a while (and by “a while” I mean a couple years) because I was so steeped in books and literature. So, I came to the series with fresh eyes and having nearly forgotten how TV is like.

Holy fuckin shit. The teenage girls in the pilot episode start making out with guys they don’t know. One of them even has sex with her date. I suppose many people can do that, but I can’t even imagine that. It’s nonexistent in my universe. And I’m sure I wouldn’t like it. (I tried kissing a guy two or three times waaay back when–it’s been over twenty years–and I felt nothing. Zero. Zilch. It wasn’t even physically pleasant. Nor was it unpleasant. It was nothing.) I was always a demisexual, and scenes like these were never understandable to me. But I’d been educated to take them in stride because my environment told me this was what normal looked like. Surely–my slightly borderline brain told me back then–if I wasn’t as inadequate, obnoxious, disgusting, unboinkable, I could do the same thing, right?

Nope. No, that’s not right.

Just yesterday I realised that, in my book, I give an exact description of how a demisexual woman gradually progresses from finding a man bland and indifferent to thinking he’s fiercely sexual. I wrote this thing two years ago without realising this is exactly what I’d done.

Well, I know now. This understanding has helped me put things in perspective. The discovery of the ace spectrum has helped so many aces, grey or otherwise, understand that it’s not their fault they can’t understand sexual people. There’s no need for shame. We’re all different, and this hypersexualized culture isn’t helping anyone. It isn’t even helping with the noble cause of de-demonizing sex–a completely natural thing that shouldn’t be the subject of so many taboos and so much judgement. But about that, I’ll talk another time.

Available on Kindle Unlimited!

“That, my friends, is a great book.”Rebecca Hefner, author