What Happens When Your Best Friend Gets a Chronic Illness? 

Hello everyone! My friend and college roommate, Thomas, whom I have mentioned on this blog, has written an essay below about my battle with ME/CFS and our friendship. If you want to know more about Thomas, please check out his blog. 

There once was a man named Jamison. Well, there still is a man named Jamison. Actually, there’s probably more people named Jamison out there than you and I think, but I only know one and he happens to be a close personal friend.  

I’m Thomas, by the way. I’ve known Jamison since college. We met in 2009 at Sonoma State University surrounded by vineyards and dairy farms, the latter emitting pungent smells of cow manure, or what we students affectionately deemed the Sonoma Aroma.

It was during this time that Jamison and I developed a great friendship. We share a bond that has seen some happy times and some tough times, both of which I would like to share with you on this post. 

He Stole Every Potential Future Wife of Mine

I first heard about Jamison from our mutual friend, James. He told me there was a bodybuilder among us at Sonoma State. I had heard stories about Jamison and his feats of strength. So James and I went to watch Jamison’s bodybuilding competition and oh what a spectacular event it was. 

Upon our first meeting I noticed he was muscular beyond belief — I thought his pecs were somehow a real life photoshop project.

How did I see his pecs on our first meeting you ask? Well, there is an answer and a rather good one at that. Before James and I went to his bodybuilding show, Jamison and I were both at a Halloween party. He was dressed as a Spartan from the movie 300. He had tight, white compression shorts; a cape, and you guessed it, no shirt. He may have even made his pecs dance at one point, I’m not sure. 

It was tough having a conversation with any female that night because every few seconds their eyes strayed from me and wandered to Jamison’s naked chest.  

Although he was unintentionally stealing every potential future wife of mine, we hit it off. Soon he became like one of my brothers. I already had four, but at the risk of overcrowding our family tree, I let Jamison into the fifth spot. 

He was caring, funny, witty, smart, and I could tell he would do anything for the people close to him. He obviously had the physical strength, but it was the emotional and mental strength that stood out to me. Although I had yet to see the full extent of his inner strength, I could tell he could overcome any obstacle put before him. Any problem. Any issue. Any illness. 

Roommates: Battle of the Blender 

 “I am stressed out, man. There are only two months until the fall semester and I still don’t have a place to live. I guess I could be homeless my senior year. A lot of people do that, right?” I asked James one day. 

Fortunately, I did not have to live on the mean streets of Rohnert Park. James had an idea. James was a great guy, full of smiles and red hair, but I’ll save that for another post. This story is about another Jam–.  

“Jamison and I are looking for another roommate for our house. Do you want to live with us?” James replied. 

I felt like jumping 3.2 miles into the air with excitement. But I didn’t show it. I remained cool as a pickle (shoot, I mean cucumber) in fear, however irrational, that a silly reaction would mean the revocation of this “pinch me I must be dreaming” offer. 

“Sure, that works,” I calmly responded. 

This was the start of an even closer bond with the man you have all grown to know through this blog. 

When I moved in I got a look at Jamison’s playful side. Oh, how silly he could be! We would stay up all night talking humorous nonsense without a dull moment. We would play video games, make plans for documentaries we wanted to make together, and when we were really bored (and feeling competitive), we tried to name as many things in a given category as we could, like U.S. states or countries around the world. 

Some of the greatest cinematic masterpieces were created during our time as roommates (Not exaggerating at all. You must have missed the Oscars that year). We made “Battle of the Blender,” a tale of unspoken roommate angst set in the late-2000s. 

We also made “A Very Mary Christmas Story” 

And “Part 2”

And of course who could forget “Stand By Me”? The film about two classically trained singers fighting through mysterious voice issues to put on the performance of their lives. 

The following Halloween we dressed up as boxers (the athletes, not the underwear — think Rocky Balboa, not Calvin Klein), and sometimes even drank the occasional alcoholic beverage. We spent Christmas together, celebrated birthdays, and grew very close.

It was towards the end of our lease that Jamison got sick. I remember when he came home from the gym complaining of intense chills, strange weakness, and a racing heart rate. There he was sitting on the floor, totally disoriented. His condition looked scary at best. I didn’t know what to do so I just kept checking on him, hoping that like many post-workout scares, this too would pass. But it didn’t go away, it got worse.

Jamison saw several doctors and none of them could pinpoint what was wrong.

Eventually they diagnosed him with mono and we figured he would get better soon enough. We did not know, however, that he would remain sick for the next six years and was in for the fight of his life.

Jamison the Fighter

After he got sick Jamison missed a semester of school and had to stay with his mom. His car sat in our driveway and his mail piled up on our counter. These were sad reminders of his struggle, but he eventually regained enough strength to return to school and it was just like old times. Well, almost. 

Jamison couldn’t workout anymore and he could only handle taking one class, but our time together was just as fun. On good days we would walk to the park or play catch in the street. He couldn’t lift hundreds of pounds in the gym anymore, but he could still throw a baseball and, as a lifelong baseball fan, I know that meant a lot to him. 

Out last night together as roommates on Mary Place, I slept in his room. I was heartbroken that soon he would no longer be my roommate. I wanted to have one last moment close to him. 

Even after witnessing his emotional strength and powerful will, I did not know just how strong he would need to be.

Jamison is indeed a fighter. He is in the ring with M.E. getting hit from every angle — bedridden for more than two years now. When I tell people this, they are in utter disbelief, but that disbelief quickly changes to awe when I tell them that he is punching back with every ounce of his being. He will not give up. I have seen Jamison in a completely dark room, barely able to move and unable to speak while having to spell out messages to me one letter at a time. I’ve seen him at his sickest, I’ve read to him when every other form of entertainment was too much for his senses to handle. But now he’s coming back to life. He’s standing again and I know he’ll be walking in the near future. 

I know this because Jamison has passion. He has heart. He has perseverance. He is stronger than I will ever be. Jamison is a fighter.

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A Post for the Misanthropes

I hate people. Okay, maybe not all people and maybe not all the time, but I can definitely be a miserable and bitter misanthrope. And to be honest, it suits me because sometimes there is no better way to cope with the horrors of my circumstances, and humanity’s shortcomings, than to just write everyone off. 

Don’t get me wrong, I also love people and the way they touch my life — they have the unique ability to lift me from the depths of despair, but in this moment — as I write this post — I absolutely hate people. 

Through the months of struggle, even as my poor health has improved, I have developed a sourness in my heart, of which I’m not accustomed to feeling. It has, when compounded with the ennuí I’ve been living with since I first got sick in 2010, pulled me further away from the person I want to be and closer to the worst version of myself. 

There’s no doubt in my mind that my anger and bitterness toward people is a mechanism justified only in my mind’s account of my suffering. In other words, I’ve been through some awful shit and I can’t control my temper because of it. 

I used to be a nice person, I swear. And while I’ve always had misanthropic tendencies, the difference now, I believe, is not that humanity, and the world around me, has changed but rather that I’ve become a less tolerant person. I’m the one who has changed, as have my circumstances. With the trauma I’ve endured in the last decade has come an inability to put up with even the slightest inkling of bullshit.

I don’t have a filter, as my mom says. I’m impulsive. Not Donald Trump impulsive, but I used to have more restraint and patience when dealing with frustration and unenjoyable people. 

For me the hardest part of this is feeling helpless in not being able to be the tolerant, poised person I have always been. 

Nevertheless I can’t help but feel hostile toward some people, usually those with a lack of decency, even if they think otherwise. In my current situation I have no sympathy for these people, especially when they are able to freely walk and talk — things I cannot do. 

In a stew of loneliness I recently started talking to a stranger on Tinder. After a few cordial messages in which I asked all the questions and she asked none, we started talking about her work. She told me it involved a lot of multitasking. I told her I’m horrible at multitasking. She then asked me: “So walking and breathing at the same time is an issue for you?” 

Pretty condescending, right?

This woman obviously knew very little about me. If she had taken the time to ask me a few questions she might have known that I’m bedridden and subsequently used her best judgement (assuming she has any) not to make an insensitive joke. 

I kept my reply simple: “Yes, actually, walking and breathing is an issue for me because I haven’t been able to walk for the last two years.” And I may or may not have thrown in a middle finger emoji (🖕).  Okay, you’re right, I didn’t flip her off with an emoji because, well, that’s just sophomoric. So maybe I’m not as mean as I think I am. 

This is probably a good time, however, to admit that I am a profoundly unhappy person. And the fact that I didn’t flood my Tinder match with a barage of four-letter words is uncharacteristic of my behavior as of late. There is, truthfully speaking, very little joy in my life these days, besides writing and corresponding with the few people I enjoy talking to regularly. But even they are witness to my unhappiness.

My lovely godmother, who is probably the most nurturing person I know other than my mother, recently sent me a picture of a rainbow she saw while walking around on a rainy day. My initial reaction was to reply by sending a thumbs down emoji (👎) and a frowning face (🙁). I almost sent them, seriously, but then I realized two things: (1.) There was no emoji that accurately represented my unhappiness and discontent in that moment and (2.) I would probably ruin her good mood if I sent anything of the sort. 

Looking back on this, as well as countless other recent moments when I’ve nearly lost it, I keep thinking: “Who the hell am I?

Who sends (or even thinks about sending) a thumbs down emoji when his godmother, a kind and thoughtful person, sends him a photo of a beautiful rainbow? I might as well have sent her a middle finger emoji. 

For most of my life I’ve been very passive and unassuming, which worked for me to a certain extent. But I had always admired people who showed remarkable pragmatism and faced conflict with no remorse. They spoke their mind and didn’t take flack from anyone. They would not be intimidated and were always up for a fight. 

As my personality has shifted more toward these traits, I must say, it’s not all I thought it was cut out to be. As initially gratifying as it is in a hostile situation to say the exact thing you want to say at the exact moment you want to say it, the feeling soon becomes heartbreaking. Nora and Delia Ephron wrote a similar line for the movie You’ve Got Mail and it really stuck with me (obviously since I haven’t seen the movie in years). Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) writes to Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) and asks if she has ever felt like the worst version of herself. I feel like this all the time, or at least lately I do. But I also feel (and know) that I can’t help it and that it’s largely out of my control. 

Who can be a polite and happy person while being stuck in bed for two years? Who can be a generally pleasant person when they haven’t gone outside, let alone left a room in just as long? Who, in the name of Vātsyāyana, can be nice to anyone when they haven’t had sex in four years? I’m convinced every unhappy person ever has dealt with his or her own version of these circumstances. 

When I find myself in a particularly intense angst, my mood definitely gets the best of me. Lately I have not hesitated to write people out of my life because I feel it is justified. I also feel it is harsh. But I just can’t swallow my discontent sometimes. It may be a projection of me trying to demonstrate some control over an often unbearable situation — my chaotic life and poor health — of which I have very little control. 

One week recently I told three friends (also former romantic interests of mine) that I didn’t want to talk to them anymore. One of them told me, seemingly passive aggressive, that she was sorry her friendship wasn’t good enough for me. Damn right it wasn’t good enough for me! 

Friendship, or any relationship for that matter, involves putting in effort, that of which exceeds sending a two-word text message every other week. I may have been a little harsh in writing her off, most people, my pre-illness self included, would have simply let the friendship run its course, eventually watching it fall away to wherever stale relationships go to die. But this sort of relationship is just too ubiquitous for me right now. I have seen countless people I once talked to daily or weekly regress to a listless “Like” on Facebook or Twitter, if even that. 

So here I am, fighting with myself over my crass behavior, but also knowing that it’s okay. I haven’t done anything terrible and given the circumstances I could be a much worse person. The stress of dealing with inadequate health insurance, financial problems, and an ailing body in need of constant care, is immense and enough to turn my soul rotten. But for the most part my soul remains ripe. I am still the same playful and compassionate guy I have always been. So for the people whom I have written off, now is not the time to reconcile, but I hope there will come a day when we can look back and laugh, only to enjoy our rekindled relationship. We are, after all, imperfect and deserve to give each other some slack. 

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Where Have All The People Gone?

*Disclaimer* If you are reading this post there is a 95% chance the negative parts are not directed at you. The people that I call out will probably never read this. And if they let do, I hope we can chat about it. 

People come and go, but for me, since becoming bedridden, people have only come in and out of my life, not the other way around. They come and go, but I stay put. It’s a one-way street, a lonely road leading to a turnaround. This is nothing new. But for some reason it has never affected me more than it does right now. I imagine it’s because I don’t have much to distract myself from loneliness. People come to visit (or text me saying they want to visit), maybe they even make a few social media posts about doing so, but eventually they move on with their life while I remain stagnant. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the people in my life no matter how short-lived our relationship may be, but it seems to me those who stay in my life the shortest amount of time are making the gesture more to feel better about themselves than lift my spirits, or anything else for that matter. 

For instance, since word about my poor health has spread, a number of people from my past have sent me messages, but the vast majority of people who do, never come to visit even when they say they will. I know life gets busy, but I still prefer honesty over a false promise. 

Often people send me messages saying something like “Hey buddy, heard you’re feeling shitty. I’m gonna come visit you soon. We can hang out and have some laughs.” Then I don’t hear from them for a month. But my favorite message is one like this: “Hey there, so I heard you haven’t been doing well. I want to come visit, but I know you are probably busy or don’t want visitors. But I hope you get better soon, then we can hang out.” To this I usually reply, “Hey! Yeah it’s been rough, but I’d actually love to see you. Might have to be a short visit because I need to rest, but when can you come?” Then I don’t hear from them. 

I would much rather get a message like this: “Hey man, so I heard you’re getting better, I’m glad! I can’t come visit because my life is crazy and you live like 1,500 miles away in the middle of . . . Wait, where do you live again? Anyway, get better soon, man, and if stuff mellows out for me I’ll try to come see you,” or an even better message would be “Hey cutie, I’m coming to visit, see you Saturday. I know you can’t have sex, but maybe we can just snuggle and kiss a little. Then I’ll leave you alone to rest, but I’ll comeback in a couple weeks and we can do it all over again. Sound good?” Yeah, I definitely like that last message. 

A few weeks ago marked the one year anniversary of moving into my current home. It dawned on me that in the year that has since passed I have not gotten out of bed. Before I had been, with the help of friends or paramedics, moved to different beds or once to the emergency room, but now, perhaps because my health has stabilized, I’m just stuck here in a dark room. I still can’t believe it. I haven’t left the confines of four walls in a year. I haven’t even left the confines of my mattress in a year. Before I got sick six years ago, or even three years ago when I was still walking around, I couldn’t have imagined being confined to city limits, let alone a house or room. Although I have been living this reality, I still can’t imagine being so restricted in my movements. It is this immobility that has left me in a precarious position, constantly having to wait for people to visit me instead of having the freedom to visit others. 

I have been surprised by who has supported me during this tough time and who has vanished or remained silent. Some of my best friends from past parts of my life have essentially gone missing — some have yet to communicate a word to me or my family in the nearly two years I’ve been severely sick. For months my mind has wondered about these old friends. These are people with whom I have shared some of the most exciting and personal experiences of my life. We are bonded in such a way one would think there would be no hesitation on their part to reach out if I got sick. But now that I am sick, not only has there been hesitation, there has been a failure to act by my old friends. 

I have concluded the reason many of my old friends have disappeared on me is one of two things. They could be too afraid to get involved in such a complicated and messy situation. But on the other hand, it could just be that they don’t know how. Because of me they could be faced with emotions the likes of which they have never fully experienced before. Perhaps they have always blocked them out, or chose not to acknowledge them. Perhaps these emotions are unprecedented in their life. I doubt it. Instead, the emotional reaction that I create for them is, more likely, one in a series of reoccurring events of which they have never learned how to adequately cope. Either way, it’s hard for me to fault them, but that doesn’t change that I have at times been hurt by their absence in my life. It would be easy for me to take it personally, as if they don’t care about me. But I know, like most human relationships, it isn’t that simple. 

Now that my health is improving, it’s not like I’ve been hiding. In fact, recently I posted a political piece on my Facebook page and one of my best friends from adolescence made a number of comments on it, but directed at someone else. The two were engaging in a debate, which I don’t have a problem with, except that it meant watching my ex-best friend essentially hijack my post. It showed that he was obviously capable of typing words and sending them to another human being, but just like the last two years, he failed to send them to me. It was like he brought someone over to my house, but didn’t speak a word to me, and instead talked to the other person about politics the entire time. Again, it’s easy for me to take it personally, thinking he cares more about politics than his best friend from adolescence, who is now sick and was recently on the precipus of death. But I don’t take it personally. Okay, maybe I take it a little personally. Ah, yeah, you’re right — I’m bitter as shit about it! 

During the period of time that I’ve been sick, I have had an incredible amount of support. It just hasn’t been from the people I would have first imagined. I ultimately feel abandoned by many of my best and oldest friends, and while I know I’m not entitled to them going out of their way to see me, I hope they know that they certainly aren’t entitled to my friendship.

Still, I have found solace. There is something very special about making new friends and acknowledging the unlikely saviors that have supported me through tough times. These people may not always be there, but someone always will — I am lucky enough to have a revolving door of support. As long as that door keeps letting people in, I can handle its constant spinning. And as much as I want to stay bitter at the old friends who have gone away, I know that if one were to make more of an effort in the future I certainly wouldn’t hold a grudge — I’d let them in the door. 

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