Some years ago I’ve shared a zine about panic attacks with a few friends of mine. I got diagnosed with a panic and anxiety disorder in 2015 and since then I made tons of experiences with having to deal with panic and anxiety, whilst being part of the kink community. Let’s talk about experiencing panic attacks while playing as a top!

Assumptions & Problematic Things Inside the Community

A major problem of discussing panic attacks and BDSM is, that there are plenty of toxic assumptions within large parts of the scene leading to a mostly binary point of view on some issues.

I won’t majorily be talking about gender stereotypes in BDSM in this post, nor do I approach toxic expectations and misconceptions linked to D/s dynamics on here, since this post will focussing mental health. Albeit, I cannot promise that I’ll leave out such topics entirely, because they’re partly the reason why things may be perceived as complicated as they are.

Before I started writing on this, I tried to find at least some resources focussing on having panic attacks as a top but I barely could find any, adding up the problems of being unable to relate to what I’ve found since most articles about top-drops as they are rather describing guilt based problems(they are perfectly valid as well) than experiences with panic attacks.

About Assumptions in General

In numbers I’ve heard about way more sub-drops than about top-drops, but I think that’s because of the common stigma linked to what is expected of being a top, and especially that vocal parts of the community still perceive things like after-care as a activity which doesn’t benefit anyone else than the submissive part(s) of a play, which isn’t true, because after-care is for everyone. One or two years ago people there were even dangerous and toxic ~debates~ ongoing wether tops are ~allowed~ to use a safe word (spoiler: they are! If you don’t think they are, please fuck off kindly!), not to mention the unconsensual play in 50 Shades of Abuse.

Pop-Cultural Assumptions About Being a Top/Bottom

Without making this post about fiction, most of the fics involving BDSM are serving pretty stereotypical and one-dimensional approaches to what tops and bottoms are, and here’s where the problems start (I know that there’s plenty of good stuff as well; but I do rather talk about fiction having a critical reach than about things written by people who are doing okay for people who are doing okay). I have always perceived fiction as something which sums up a specific perception of what experiences authors make, and since some of the kink authors are part of the community as well they work is giving an insight into it. If you’re still picturing a top as some emotional unavailable mid-30s white dude in a suit being dominant™️ (as in being a misogynic asshole) and bottoms as gothy manic pixie dream girls, please stop reading for a while, and unlearn these stereotypes like now. They’re toxic and hurtful.

There may be still tons of assumption making it hard for some tops/dominants to talk about having to deal with panic attacks. But we, the anxious and sometimes insecure tops, exist.

My Background, Panic Attacks and Experiencing them in Sessions

My Background

I considered myself as a part of the BDSM scene since I was in middle-school, reading about kink in Fanfictions and golden age Wonder Woman fan art sparked my interest on this. I started reading myself into self-bondage, engaged in online communities and went to meet-ups after having turned 18. I am a switch, but I haven’t played as a submissive for years. So there’s that.

Panic Attacks and BDSM

To avoid misunderstanding let me prepend a narrow definition of what’s the deal with BDSM for me:

What BDSM is about:

  • experiencing power dynamics
  • telling stories
  • fun and discovering myself

What BDSM is not about:

  • sex
  • physical strength
  • fuckboys

I have to deal with panic attacks everyday, I have to deal with derealisation everyday as much as I am constantly struggling with a variety of symptoms caused by my anxiety. There were times where I felt pretty lost having to deal with my anxious introvert panicky mind, there were times where I eventually dropped out of college because of my mental health issues. I may not have the privilege to engage in play the way neurotypical people are able to, but BDSM is an important part of reclaiming myself and my body from the anxiety I experience.

Most of the time panic attacks occur randomly, they have some specific and some unspecific triggers, but in BDSM I feel more like I’m able to control what happens to me (as a top and as a bottom) and I feel like I am regaining autonomy over my own body.

Side-note: BDSM shouldn’t be your coping mechanism. Other people shouldn’t be a coping mechanism. Practicing BDSM should be something you want to do, not something you need to do. There’s a difference between needing and wanting, since the first implies dependencies, the latter takes place on eye level.

I mostly top people since I love telling a story, playing and discovering a scene together is a way to do this. Strength and physical bondage doesn’t have as much effect on me, than forgetting time because I can let myself go into a D/s narration full of plots about power exchange, pain and excitement. The hardest spanking doesn’t impress me as much as being able to engage in a beautiful story does.

Playing as a neurodivergent person may involve a lot more things to consider than it may involves for neurotypical people. Remember that different people may have different needs than I do, and if you’re making other experiences than I do, these are perfectly valid.

What’s Important to me as a Switch/Top Experiencing Panic Attacks

Don’t Push me to Play With You, just don’t

I wish that emphasising this has not to be a thing, but it sadly is. I regularly attend play parties or other events where Kinksters are present, and at most of them I’ll most likely reach the point, where I have to explain to someone why I didn’t feel comfortable playing with them, since some folx just don’t get that “no” is a full sentence and me being hesitant and reluctant doesn’t change if you intensify pushing me (and if you think you can guilt trip me into playing with you, just leave).

I simply do not play with people I do not know well enough to feel comfortable talking about my panic and anxiety order with. BDSM demands a trustful and safe environment, and topping people who know shit about my mental health doesn’t meed this requirements in any ways.

Communication

This one should be obvious, but especially when you’re a top experiencing panic attacks, you should definitely open up about them before playing with a sub, since they probably will influence the play at some point.

Some things you may want to talk about: * what do I wish when I experience a panic attack? * how do I feel today about my mental health? * am I able to maintain a safe environment during the play? * am I able to communicate having a panic attack? * this one is crucial, however you know yourself the best!

How Does a Panic Attack Look/Feel Like?

To keep this short at first, there is no general pattern for panic attacks since they’re perceived differently and individually. However, symptoms such as:

  • a racing heart
  • feeling dizzy, being afraid to faint
  • tingling hands
  • feeling sweaty
  • having difficulties to breath
  • a loss of control or a fear for one’s life

can be described as rather common.

I’ll briefly describe two panic attacks I’ve experienced as a top:

  1. One took place a few month ago. The subs hands were tied behind their head, they were eventually gagged, and we engaged in some light spanking and scratching activities and things as rough cuddling. Suddenly I started to feel dizzy, I decided not to safe word at first since I thought that the dizziness would be temporary as in the two minutes kind of temporary. After a while my hands started to tingle intensely, so I safe-worded in that situation, released the other person immediately out of suspension, we left the room together and after having drank some water we were able to talk about that situation practicing after-care while cuddling on a couch.
  2. This time I topped two people. I derealised and felt uncomfortable from the beginning on, but wasn’t sure if that’s because of the play or because I just experienced a bad day. We started fiddling around with rope and after a few minutes I decided to safe word, asked if the two others would consent on changing the power dynamics because I’m going to leave the play so they had to negotiate who tops from now on, they agreed on a new consent, and I was able to leave.

It is important for me to say, that my panic attacks do not define my experiences with BDSM in the first place, and that I’m more than the sum of my experiences with anxiety. But having to deal with anxiety and panic will always be a part of me, I’m unafraid to talk about.

Do Not Reduce Us To Our Mental Health Problems

Just because I experience mental health issues, doesn’t mean I am less of a person than neurotypical persons are.

BDSM has a problem with its ableism, since ableist concepts like SSC (safe, “sane”, consensual) are still being used. The ableist part of this obviously is that “sane” is seen as a requirement for participating in plays. I got depressions, a panic and anxiety disorder and there never will be a point where my mental condition will meet what this society understands to be “sane”.

RACK and Personal Responsibility

I advocate RACK (Risk-aware consensual kink) instead, its an acronym which can be described as:

  • Risk-aware: everyone involved is well-informed of risks and dangers. Experiencing panic attacks is a risk one should talk about as well!
  • Consensual: Having the risks in mind, everyone involved agrees on the play and its boundaries.
    • Only a yes is a yes, the absence of a no doesn’t make a yes. In terms of BDSM a safe word is mandatory and consent can be revoked at any time, e.g. by using the safe word.
  • Kink: this one should be obvious if you’ve read this far!

What RACK doesn’t cover but what’s also important is personal responsibility.

Why Aftercare is Necessary and Important

I feel like I haven’t stressed this enough, but after-care is important af, especially when you’re playing with neurodivergent folx.

Don’t be afraid asking for extensive after-care and expressing your needs while going through a panic attack.

you are valid!

Having panic attacks doesn’t make you less of a top, nor does it make you less eligible to participate in BDSM.