Sex And Sickness: Part 0

Sex And Sickness: Part 0

*Don’t you just hate when someone writes a story in fragmented sections and then publishes them out of order? Well, okay, I’m sorry! But here is the prequel to my previous Sex and Sickness posts.

When I first got sick in 2010 I was dating a gorgeous, smart, blonde-haired kinesiology major named Molly (not her real name). The relationship wasn’t going anywhere. However, the mysterious illness that at the time was mono and later became MECFS, only made our relationship more vagrant. 

She seemed to be just as confused as I was about the symptoms, especially when our sex life dramatically plunged. We tried and failed several times at intercourse after I got sick. Each time it felt like a gamble. Would I be able to perform? Or would my pulse start racing and my muscles tremor until we finally decided it was a bad idea to continue? 

I describe one such sexual encounter in my unpublished memoir, but I don’t want to post too many excerpts before it’s published, so I’ll do my best to recreate it here:

Molly came over one day after a run. I had been in bed the entire day ignoring her text messages asking if I wanted to workout with her. We had only been dating for a couple months, but we quickly fell into a pattern of going to the gym and running together. Then I got sick and we didn’t know what was wrong. Too much caffeine? Too much working out? 

That particular day we were both exhausted, so we curled up in my bed and fell asleep. The house was warm, our bodies warmer cuddling one another, and outside it was a beautiful overcast December day with intermittent rain. It was the type of day one just wants to stay balled up under the covers or in front of the fireplace. As we fell asleep, and later when we woke up, I remember feeling such peace. The preceding weeks had been manic, filled with fear and uncertainty about my health, but that moment in bed with Molly was so calming, I wanted to bottle it and take a sip for every future moment of panic I would have, and there would be many. 

We tried to have sex within minutes of waking up. It was a disaster. Nestled against me, Molly started to warmly breathe on my neck. Then I slid my hands under her shirt, and along the small of her back. I kissed her neck. If we weren’t awake before, we were now. She pressed her body against mine, and soon clothes started coming off, but nothing pleasurable was happening, not to me, not the mechanical way it should. I tried to remain calm, but soon became unnerved at the thought of underperforming, or worse, not performing at all with such an attractive woman in my bed. I needed a spark but was too drenched in sickness to ignite my lust-filled aspirations. 

My heart began pounding too fast to think, like a firefighter breaking down a flaming door; the door being my head. 

I tried stalling with the hope that a sudden rush of something, anything would come fulfill my sexual desires. I kept kissing Molly, but pulled my pelvis away from her body, pinning it awkwardly to the mattress, as not to show my impotence. Her soft lips did something to me, but not nearly enough. 

At one point I looked up at the wall above my bed and saw a poster of the Rat Pack, Frank Sinatra and friends, each with a different expression of amusement about my flaccidity. On the adjacent wall, there was John Belushi looking confused (among other things) as to how my performance could be so lackluster. The peace and calm was then gone and all I could feel was that I had done something wrong. I felt so embarrassed. 

Molly reached for me and I tried to suppress my panic, internalizing the terror of the usually enchanting moment when I beautiful woman wants me; instead the force of her increasingly impatient grasp left me squirming away once more. But I stubbornly kept trying and failing, only to pull away in shame. 

Eventually Molly insisted we stop, so we did. It was actually a relief that she made the decision. Otherwise, I probably would have kept on trying until I dropped dead. After walking Molly to the door I watched her drive away, then I crawled back into bed.

We tried to have sex a few more times after that day, and we were actually successful once or twice, that is if you count success as technically performing the act albeit with little pleasure or satisfaction. These bitter triumphs misled me. I thought I was getting better, that my health was returning, when in reality the disease I was battling must have simply decided to take the night off. Still, this was when the illness was very acute and symptoms like tachycardia, chills, intense nausea, muscle weakness, disorientation, and a myriad of other symptoms I can’t even begin to explain, were daily occurrences. 

Now in hindsight it seems idiotic. I was trying to have sex with a severely impaired and dangerously sick body. It was like trying to enjoy a snow cone standing completely naked in the middle of the Alaskan tundra while a giant moose rammed me with his antlers. Sounds like fun, right? Kind of makes you want to go grab a snow cone, doesn’t it?

Anyway, so yeah, not a lot of sex for 22-year old, Sick Jamison. Then eventually Molly bailed. But this post isn’t really about her. Two years later, after receiving my diagnosis of MECFS, I dated another woman, Lily (again, not her real name). 

I sublet Lily’s apartment while I was looking for a permanent home. This was after I saw Dr. Peterson several times in Lake Tahoe and had little to show for it. So I decided to put off further treatment and live life on my terms with what little health I had left. Apparently this included dating a woman nearly a decade older than me who . But hey, it felt right at the time. 

In the intervening years after my relationship with Molly and before meeting Lily, I had some innocent intimate encounters but the clothes always stayed on. Lily was my first sexual experience in two years. Do you want to guess how it went?  Yeah, not great. But not for the reason you may be thinking. We did not actually have sex during our first sexual encounter. This was a conscious decision on my part. I wanted to test out the waters, so to speak, because I was still haunted by my failed attempts at sex with Molly. I wanted to save my already bruised ego the embarrassment and my body the repercussions of a botched attempt at sex. So we stuck to foreplay and it went surprisingly well. My body only mildly freaked out — some tachycardia and weakness — but nothing I hadn’t experienced every day since I first got sick. The reason it went bad, however, was because Lily took my abstinence personal. She may have thought I wasn’t attracted to her or was just frustrated, but either way, she became very truculent with me after that.  

From The New Yorker

We made up and had another sexual encounter. But first I shyly explained the reason for my reluctance. I thought it would be a relief, and for a time it was — we decided not to have sex until we both felt comfortable. But then the time came when we were ready and it was a disaster — I had to stop prematurely. Lily reacted like Molly only she was full of rage and took my impotence as a personal insult. It was as if I had made a choice to acquire a disease that robbed much of the fun and pleasurable things in life just because, I don’t know, I wanted to tease her? Lily either forgot I was sick, drastically underestimated my illness, or simply did not care. Whichever it was, it seemed she thought I wanted her to think I was interested in having sex but not actually do it. She thought I wanted to get close to having sex, only to fake impotency at the last second. Now, if you’re familiar with patterns of male sexual behavior, then you know this has probably never happened in the history of world. I mean, what guy would ever do that? And I ask not just because guys like me generally have good intentions, but because, well, most guys enjoy sex. A lot! And even if one had intended to do such a manipulative thing, he would most certainly foil his own inane plan and give in to the urge for sex once the kissing started.

Honestly I don’t know what Lily thought of our relationship. My feelings about her may be skewed by our incompatibilities, but, as time has passed I have developed a more pragmatic view of the time we spent together.

Eventually after many fights — one because she expected me to throw out her rotten bone broth (I’m a vegetarian) without even asking me to — we continued to have sex. Once or twice it felt okay — the post orgasm hangover wasn’t too bad. But most often it came with the same interchange it had two years prior — a few minutes of bliss for a few days of misery. That was nearly five years ago. It was the last time I had sex. 

*Thanks to everyone that has read my Sex and Sickness series. And to those who have requested a Part 3, it’s still in the works!

Sex and Sickness Part 2 

Sex and Sickness Part 2 

*Wait! Did you read Part 1? Please do so, otherwise this post will seem a bit confusing. 

Okay, where were we? Yes, we were making out. Myself and Mia, that is. Or had I gotten to that part yet? All right, let’s back it up for a minute. When Mia first arrived there was hugging and hand holding, but soon she was little spoon to my big spoon.

This was about six months ago when I was only able to whisper with the majority of my communication achieved by tracing words on someone’s hand, or more laboriously, using an alphabet spelling system which would require an entirely separate blog post just to explain. I’ll spare you.

Somehow Mia and I were able to communicate our affection for one another, proving that love is a language that transcends the need for translation. Mia eventually confessed that she expected me to be debilitated but not to be so alert and engaging. It was good to hear. It made me happy to know that with everything MECFS has taken from me, it couldn’t take my personality.

Each time Mia left my room she would return a short while later and say she wanted to stay in my sheltered world indefinitely. Other visitors have expressed similar feelings, saying it was actually comforting to be in what Mia called my “cave.” But to me the cave was not comforting. It was, and still is, a cell in which my body has stagnated but time has continued on. And that is absolutely terrifying.

Mia and I spent last Valentine’s Day together. I was able to use my phone to order her a bunch of goodies — candles, chocolates — while she got me a succulent and a lovely card. That night she slipped into bed with me and we kissed like our first time back in 9th grade outside the girls’ locker room. I quickly found that the chemical release triggered by her affection made me feel better. Like I had with Sasha, for a short time, I felt free of the pain and sickness, of the trauma tainting the last decade of my life.

Before going to bed Mia came into my room to say goodnight. We made out and it was then that I finally realized something was undoubtedly different about her body. Her chest was noticeably larger than it was in high school. Eventually she pulled down her top and revealed her breasts which appeared to be augmented and had piercings, although the latter I had already seen in photos she sent me.

Now, this is probably a good time to point out how bizarre it was to be so incredibly sick and still have a sex life, albeit stunted. Instinctively I expected to be able to speak and chew food before I could kiss or have my sex drive return. This anomaly brought a flood of emotions and even more questions to my mind. Could I catch another virus from Mia, or could she get MECFS from me? Would the exertion of intimacy be too much to recover from? And if it wasn’t, would the pleasure of intimacy be worth the physical repercussions?

I started to feel guilty, remorse for indulging in a bit of pleasure that ultimately proved so taxing and probably detrimental to my recovery (at least in the short-term). It felt like I was using energy that could otherwise go to sitting up or maybe even getting out of bed, but this was flawed thinking. Even if I had saved all my energy I still would not have been able to do sit up or get out of bed, there were just too many forces working against me like an extremely impaired circulatory system or unrelenting muscle weakness. So I did my best to ignore irrational questions like was it wrong of me to kiss Mia? Or should I not have spent so much energy trying to nurture a relationship with Sasha? At the time these relationships were the only things I could use my energy for that brought me any joy. It was fettered joy, but joy nonetheless.

I’ve always been one to give things or people I’m interested in all of my attention. I become obsessed and addicted very easily whether it’s exercise or with a pretty girl. In this way I suppose I’m lucky I’ve never been keen on drugs or alcohol. And while I’ve never stood outside a girl’s house at three in the morning in the pouring rain, I have devoted far too much time and energy to women that do not reciprocate, a pattern that has continued into my sick years.

And while I know my health should come before any other person, it is difficult to keep in perspective. The emotional and physical exhaustion of trying to carry on a relationship has been worth it, because if nothing else, it provided a distraction from my ailing body. And ultimately I remembered to trust my body. If I was able to sit-up, or even try to, I would. In the meantime these relationships were healing, even if they didn’t feel like it at the time.

When Mia left it was very emotional for both of us. We traded articles of clothing — she took my boxers and I kept her sweatshirt — then she was gone. The next day she sent me this text message:

I hate that there will be no one like you. I mean maybe if I am lucky, but I’m not a full optimist. I’m scared and pissed about it. I don’t want to be close with anyone at this point but you. But I’m trying to be cautious. It’s a relationship I’ve never had before so forgive me if I’m not giving you needed space. You came into my life for a reason. I’m trying to figure out why because at this point I feel it’s a tease. I don’t think you feel far off on that. Correct me if I am wrong. I don’t know what to do about it. I’m not asking for answers I am just talking so don’t try to make sense. Thank you for your love. I realize this is a lot. I’d squeeze you hard if I was there.

After that things began to really get emotional. I started conjuring up farfetched plans to fly her to the nearest airport (two hours away) and have some family member pick her up so we could be together for a few hours before she had to return home for work. I was desperate and starving for affection and she was dealing with intense emotional issues alluded to in her text messages. But these imperfections by no means diminished the love we had for each other.

Still, the enormity of the emotions  between us were not only palpable from hundreds of miles away, they were enough to crush anyone, especially a sick person. Our relationship became strained when she didn’t come back to visit. She still hasn’t and as time has gone by we have only become more distant, recently even estranged.

A few weeks ago, after we had not talked for awhile, Mia randomly sent me the following text message:

Hey you. I’m sorry if I’m not being supportive or available or however you want to put it. I’m trying to focus on myself and I’m trying to clean up my cave. Just know I care about you deeply and want you to be happy.

I just can’t give you what you were asking for.

Our estrangement has introduced many questions about my situation. As my health continues to improve I often wonder what kind of relationship, if any, is realistic. Just as I imagine Sasha and Mia have had to weigh what is realistic in their own right, walking a blurred line between friendly affection and romantic affection that often seems impossible. I imagine the fact that I’m sick complicates the situation for them. I know it seems complicated to me. But how do you tell a sick guy “I’m just not into you,” especially after your actions have shown otherwise? I suppose they could say “it’s not you it’s me,” but let’s be real: it’s definitely me and I’m too intelligent for clichés. 

But it’s not like I’m hitting on them at a bar. These are old friends or ex-girlfriends I’ve known for years, and still I’m not trying to seduce them. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’m usually very hesitant to even let them see me so vulnerable and I rarely initiate any intimacy. They usually make the first move, and once they do, well that’s a different story. From then on I’m an equal, if not more aggressive participant. It usually starts very innocuously — she will sit next to me, grab my hand, and we’ll talk. Then her hand will end up on my arm, then my chest, then she’ll ask to give me a hug, and within an hour she’ll be in bed next to me. And that’s when the gloves come off. I can’t be expected to keep my distance with an attractive woman in my bed, especially one I’ve been intimate with before. But still I wonder what forces brought us to that point. For me it’s loneliness and a starvation of intimacy. For her, I imagine it’s any combination of things which must include feeling sympathy for me. This became clear when one female visitor said, within a few minutes of arriving, “I just want to lay down and hold you.”

I’m sure it’s genuine attraction and the affection is real, but what’s the impetus behind such advances?

Is sympathy the impetus for the affection I receive from women? If it is, then my illness most certainly is the impetus  them abandoning me so quickly. I doubt that sympathy is the only impetus  behind the unorthodox relationships I’ve been having with women while I’ve been sick, but even if it is, so what? Everybody needs love.

*Before I move on from the topic, believe it or not, there is more to tell. But perhaps I’ve exhausted the topic? I’ll leave it up to you. If you want more leave a comment below, something to the tune of “Hey! Where’s part 3?,” if not, I’ll move on to something more lively like my 21st birthday.

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Sex And Sickness Part 1

Sex And Sickness Part 1

*While this blog post contains some content that may be too explicit for some people, it is my belief that if one is intelligent enough to read and understand the words in this post then one is mature enough to handle the subject matter as well. Having said that, reader discretion is advised (especially my family members who don’t want to know about my sex life).  

At 28 I can count all the women I’ve had sex with on two hands. I’ve never been one for one night stands (except that one time in college), yet I’ve never been one for long-term relationships either. But for some reason I didn’t miss sex until I got sick, probably because it was more attainable back then. It was an option. 

As much as I’d love to knock boots with a lovely young lady, at the moment there are many barriers in my way. For starters, I don’t wear boots, or any footwear for that matter. And even if there was a willing participant, much of the romance and lust of climbing into bed with someone would be lost with one person already in bed, living there indefinitely.

I will say, however, my sickbed has not been entirely empty. On a few occasions over the past year and a half I have had snuggle buddies. There have been three, in fact. 

These relationships, although very emotional at times, have amounted to the sexual encounters of a middle schooler. My first cuddle companion (can you tell I enjoy alliteration?) was a friend from college. We met at the tail end of school after I had already been sick with mono for a year and somehow managed to finish my final semester with ailing health. We hung out a few more times before I got really sick. Then last year she came and stayed with me for a few weeks while I was unable to speak, chew food, or sit up in bed. Here’s an excerpt from my unpublished memoir detailing one of the nights we spent together. I used a pseudonym to protect her privacy. 

After getting lost, we arrive at the new house perched atop a mountain ridge overlooking the Central Valley. I have no idea what the new house or its view look like, but apparently they’re pretty great. Carried onto the deck, I hear someone say, “Wow, look at that view.”

Inside, shoveled into my new bed, my view is of the ceiling. This changes when everyone leaves and Sasha crawls into bed with me.

“Now that wasn’t too bad.”

I look at her cockeyed.

“Okay, okay, we did get lost, but you’re fine.”

I look at her even more cockeyed.

“Ah, okay, you’re not fine, but you’re alive.”

I smile politely.

“So how come you haven’t kissed me yet?” she asks, shocking me as only she can.

The word “boyfriend” comes to mind, but I take the question as rhetorical and a direct challenge, maybe even an invitation. The idea of kissing Sasha controls my brain, spreading through my body like a virus that can’t be stopped until the idea is carried out.

Time nearly stops and my body enters slow-motion as I move to Sasha’s side of the pillow. My hand makes the difficult journey to Sasha’s cheek, making my brain buzz and heart thump loudly throughout my body. So much is going on, my lungs start to burn. My breathing becomes labored, reminding me of all the times late at night when I would pop in my earbuds and sprint up the outside steps at Stevenson Hall on the SSU campus. My vital signs are erratic. I consider retreating, but instead, gently press my hand against Sasha’s cheek, tucking my fingers behind her ear. My lips conform perfectly to hers. No awkward fumbling around, just a well-placed kiss, and oh what a kiss. There’s no champagne or fireworks, but there is a long overdue connection between us. I can’t speak for Sasha, but for me kissing her is freeing. No longer am I a prisoner in my own body, stuck in a bed within a dark room of an unfamiliar house. I’m free, a genie freed from his lamp, a bird with a healed wing. For a short time, I’m free of the muscle pain and crippling weakness, free of the horrible nausea and brain fog. Never did I think kissing would have such a salutary effect at this stage of my life. But it does and I know not to question it, because I also know where there is deprivation there may be great reward.

Sasha and I breathe each other in as our lips part and we return to our respective ends of the pillow, our eyes nervously fixed on one another like teenagers. My pulse gradually slows. I take a deep breath, calming my body. Having collected myself, I motion for Sasha to come back to me because, well, I want to be free just a little longer.

Sasha left shortly after that night. It was crushing to have someone see me so vulnerable, then become so close to me only to leave abruptly. In retrospect, however, it made sense as many things do in hindsight. She did, after all, have a boyfriend. I haven’t seen her since. But eventually a new snuggle buddy entered my life – an ex-girlfriend. Let’s call her Mia. She was my first legitimate girlfriend in high school, and unbeknownst to me until recently (or I forgot), I was her first kiss. 

One day in spring 2015, during a stretch of the sickest I’ve ever been, Mia sent me a text message. I was too sick to read it at the time, but someone spotted it on my phone and read it to me. It said how she had always cared for me even in the intervening years after we broke up and before I got sick. For months I crafted a response to her in my head. Then around Christmas of that year I was finally able to use my phone again. So I sent her this message:

Two years ago I found your school photo I kept in my car sophomore year. You looked gorgeous. Those piercing eyes of yours, tan skin, and that sweet smile. Oh, and the hilarious innuendo on the back all made me be a creep and keep it. I started using the photo as a bookmark. But then my irrational fear of having to explain myself while reading in public kept haunting me. I would take it to the harbor and I thought surely someone would ask about it. Then I’d have to explain how it was a photo of a girl I dated a decade ago. So when I got really sick you were fresh in my mind. And then you sent the sweetest message a few months ago and honestly Mia, I needed it. I was so sick and so lonely and you were so thoughtful and so lovely. I needed to know there was a beautiful soul out in the world who cared about me. What I’m trying to say is you are awesome and I’m borderline creepy. 

Soon our text messages turned from cordial to flirting to downright erotic. Okay, I’ll say it, we were “sexting.” Now if you’re wondering how (or if) a sick guy gets off on erotic text messages, well, I’ll leave it to your imagination, except to say it’s fun (and often necessary) for a little while, then it feels like the world’s worst hangover for much, much longer. 

After several weeks of texting (and “sexting”) each other, Mia finally came to visit and within an hour she climbed into bed with me.   

To be continued . . . . 

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