Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.
This passage from the first paragraph of Moby Dick resonates with me. Particularly the bit about wanting to knock people’s hats off. It’s not that I need to sign on to a whaling ship – just that I need a break. This is how I feel when I am approaching burnout.
Burnout for escorts is a state of frustration and exhaustion in which it feels like a herculean effort to be polite to even the most benign of clients. When even shaving your legs and answering your phone seems like too much. It can be brought about by too much work in the physical sense: that is, not sleeping enough or taking days off to rest. But it can also be simply going too long without a mental break from escorting.
While we can set our own hours, escorting is generally not a 9-5 job. It could be, if you were a robot, a 24-7 job. The phone will ring at all hours. No matter what days and hours of availability you advertise, there will always be callers asking if you can’t make an exception for them. I have been asked if I couldn’t reschedule holidays, or if I couldn’t wake up just an hour earlier or skip lunch or if I couldn’t please drive fifty miles to them at midnight.
And within bookings, there is a constant background hum of tension that may or may not be felt, or may be felt more acutely when things go wrong. The client is running late, the client is twenty minutes early, the client seems a bit odd, the client thinks he doesn’t need a shower, the client spends ages in the shower, the client keeps wanting to stick things in places you don’t want things stuck. The client is bossily demanding or the client lies there like a log and leaves you to wonder what the Hell he wants from you. The possibility that he may be violent or unpleasant is always at least somewhat in the back of your mind. And sometimes within perfectly ordinary bookings, it gets harder and harder to find ways to be novel and entertaining and not let your own boredom show. (Oh. Strap-on again?)
Some days you are rushed off your feet, unable to accommodate all the nice gentlemen who sound so disappointed when you regretfully explain that you just can’t “squeeze him in.” Other days, you are sat glaring at your phone and wondering why the ten guys you couldn’t find time for yesterday couldn’t call you back, today. This usually happens when you have had a shopping spree and now the rent is due and you’d assumed that it would be easy to make the cash in one day but of course that’s not what is happening today. (It’s like there’s something in the atmospheric pressure that makes all men horny simultaneously and then not horny simultaneously.)
Even when you’re just sat waiting for a booking, answering the phone can be a massive drain on your psychic energy. An afternoon of one idiot after another call to ask inane questions about the colour of your toenail polish or if you’ll see 17-year-olds, waiting for just one decent, normal guy call up and make a booking, can sap your mojo just as much as one hour in the bedroom with a boundary-pushing jerk. Relatively little of our time is spent in bookings getting paid. Even the busiest of escorts will have lots of emails and texts and calls to deal with whilst dashing around trying to change the sheets and straighten her hair at the same time.
Maybe you’ve had some nasty feedback that has knocked your confidence. A client may have looked you up and down, sneered, and said, “You’re much fatter than your photos” and walked out before paying. Or perhaps you’ve read a review on a punting forum that describes you or your services in unflattering terms. That sort of thing happens at least once to every escort and I don’t think I’ve met an escort yet who hasn’t taken it to heart and been knocked off her stride.
It’s natural to find yourself in a terrible mood at some point or another. Perhaps you want to knock hats off of people’s heads or maybe you’re more the type to lie in bed and sleep all day. Maybe you’ve noticed that your clothes are getting tight because there’s been an awful lot of comfort eating or drinking in recent weeks. Maybe you’ve gone a bit overboard with the retail therapy. Whatever your response is to stress, at some point you will find yourself dreading the sound of your workphone’s ringtone and inventing spurious reasons to decline bookings from otherwise unobjectionable callers, all because you just can’t bring yourself to smile and act like some stranger is at all interesting, attractive and sexy.
Burnout happens to most – if not all – of us at some point. Here are some ways I’ve come up with to try and deal with it, myself.
1. Take a break
It can be a few days relaxing on a beach in Spain or a long spa weekend or it could be just staying at home and getting caught up on box sets and DIY. Just take a few days off of work and do whatever is relaxing or invigorating for you. And I mean completely off: phone off, no checking emails. (Advertising can be suspended or you can write a “gone fishing” notice on your profiles and websites. You can set up an auto-response for your emails saying that you’ll be back in the office on such-and-such date.)
2. Plan ahead for the need to take a break
Burn-out tends to affect us the worst when we’re worried about money. Holidays or getting the car through the MOT or paying school fees can loom over us and make us feel as if we are unable to turn down bookings because we really need the money and what if there aren’t any other calls? Planning ahead means putting some money aside when you’re on a roll and making hay while the sun shines. If you can get a small emergency fund (like, enough to pay for auto repairs or cover a few days off when you have norovirus) you can alleviate some of that pressure. The next thing is to set up a burn-out fund. Just a week’s worth of living expenses. If you ordinarily have a minimum target of X per week and one week you earn 2X, rather than splashing out on a new handbag, put one half of that money into a safe place and know that you can take a week off if you need to. Planning ahead for illness, emergencies, and holidays is something that all self-employed people have to do because we’re not salaried employees with contracts and paid sick days. We need to have savings or (in a pinch) credit available to us to cover this.
3. Try to set working days and hours
If you are single and have no family obligations it may seem easy to work seven days a week, keeping whatever hours you feel like. And then add on the pressure from whinging, wheedling guys who reallllllly want to come see you on that afternoon you promised your friends you would go to the cinema. You can’t be available all the time. This will lead to burn-out. If you find it hard to turn down bookings, then you should impose some sort of schedule on yourself and stick to it. You can work midnight until 6am Wednesday through Sunday or 8am-6pm Monday to Friday or whatever works for you. The important thing is to take regular days off every week and stick to them. And when you are off, you turn off your phone. You will get guys asking if you can’t just make an exception this once for them but resist this. For one thing, an awful lot of these guys don’t show up, anyway and then you’ve not made normal-people plans for nothing. For another, there will ALWAYS be these guys so if you make one exception you may as well make all the exceptions and you may as well just work seven days a week. Everyone needs a day off to look forward to and make plans for.
4. On days you work – particularly if your work days are long and involve a fair amount of waiting for last-minute bookings – try to fit in breaks.
This can be hard to do because God knows punters won’t be scheduled as if to see their GP. They will call and book when it suits them with no regard for your need to get to the bank or eat lunch. Take breaks when they come to you and make the most of them. Don’t just slump in front of your laptop and look at funny cat videos. Do something diverting and productive. The more it engages your intellect and imagination, the better. This could be reading a book, learning a foreign language, drawing, or writing letters to your MP about something you care about. I know it’s very easy to just fall into watching television but try and set a little goal to do something different for at least a few minutes each day.
5. Look after yourself physically
Try to get outside in daylight every day. Try to get some exercise, even if it’s just walking to the post office. Try to eat well and have nutritious food on hand so that you don’t get caught out on a busy afternoon with low blood sugar. One of my biggest problems is staying sane, motivated and healthy when I am on tour. I can spend hours in a hotel room waiting for bookings only to realise that I’m ravenous just as someone finally calls, or do so many bookings that when I finally get to stop I will eat garbage and drink in a stupor. I have learned to keep healthy snacks like cheese, yogurt and fruit to hand. One of my biggest traps is getting irritated with time wasters and no-shows until I flounce off to the hotel bar in a huff and start drinking pints. Getting some sort of exercise, even if it’s just going for a brisk walk in the morning, and making sure my blood sugar doesn’t get too low, helps me get through the long afternoons.
6. Avoid unnecessary sources of negativity
Don’t get involved in arguments with time wasters – remember that you are not being paid for being some wind-up merchant’s amusement and disengage as soon as you recognize what they’re doing. Don’t read punting review forums… their continual moaning about all the shortcomings of escorts will only put you in a foul mood and if you stumble across a discussion of yourself it can be devastating. Just don’t go there.
7. Get a life
Even if you’re a busy parent who has no free time outside of work, prioritise some time for yourself. It could be a hobby like joining a knitting group or something more goal-oriented like studying for an advanced degree. Spend time with friends – this can be other escorts who give you someone to vent to as well as civilians who remind us that there’s an entire world out there doing stuff with their clothes on. Whatever it is, it should be something that you do solely for yourself, even if only for a little bit of time every week. It is very important that your life does not revolve around the whims and needs of horny men.
Burnout will generally pass if you take care of yourself. But you may come to realise that you never, ever want to have to answer the phone again. You may need to get out of sexwork altogether, and that is OK. The better you have been taking care of yourself, engaging in the non-sexwork world and nurturing your intellect and health, the better you will be positioned to leave the business when you feel it is time.