A Post for the Misanthropes

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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Love, Virtually 

Love, Virtually 

My time as a sick person over the last six years has been served by a constant pursuit of adaptation — a struggle to live a decent quality of life under awful circumstances. It’s really the only way to survive when your health is variable and always changing. Adaptation has touched nearly every aspect of my life from eating to communicating. I have even adapted the way I look for romance. This post is all about the virtual relationships I’ve had while I’ve been sick. I have given the women mentioned in this post pseudonyms to protect their privacy. 

Her hands were cold, but not as cold as the tarp that she rolled my nearly lifeless body onto. I was almost certain this woman — let’s call her Diane The Paramedic — was the same woman I almost went on a date with five years earlier when I first got sick. There she was, with a small band of municipal workers, trying to get my immobile body onto a gurney so I could be taken to the hospital severely malnourished and dehydrated.

I was too photophobic (light sensitive) to uncover my eyes from the multiple layers of washcloths and a pair of pink tanning goggles over my eyes. But something told me it was her, which is weird because I never met her in person, never heard her voice, yet through a sort of virtual courtship I knew her personality and what she looked like.

I forget exactly when we started talking, but I do remember it was on Twitter and I had just been diagnosed with MECFS as I was trying to find my way in the world after college while concurrently living with the villainous disease.

I was able to discern, from her photos on social media, that Diane The Paramedic was very attractive. She had long brown hair with a subtle red hue. Her jaw line was remarkably chiseled and she had one predominant dimple that I found very endearing. From our conversations I could also tell she was very intelligent and quite funny. I think we even had some common interests, maybe baseball and photography.

I eventually sent her a DM (direct message) on Twitter and we started talking. I was at my mom’s house at the time and she worked as a paramedic in the area. We both hinted at meeting, and then one afternoon I was sitting at a local coffee shop and saw her drive by. I quickly messaged her to see if she could have coffee with me or at least stop to say “Hi,” but she was too busy.

As I laid silently in the back of the ambulance on the way to the hospital, I couldn’t help but imagine it was just the two of us back there. She strapped a blood pressure cuff on my arm and I honestly believed it was Diane The Paramedic’s hands touching me. I knew her name was Diane because the driver of the ambulance shouted “Ready, Diane?” Just before we drove off.

I realize this paramedic named Diane very well could have been a 50-year old who looked nothing like the woman I almost met for coffee years earlier, but I prefer to let my imagination run wild and believe, without actually knowing, that it was the same woman. The imagination is, after all, a magnificent and endless thing that is best used uninhibited. And for that reason, my first virtual romance came full circle that day. But it certainly wasn’t my last virtual romance.

I never got to meet Diane The Paramedic, nor did I ever figure out if it was indeed her who took me to the hospital that day. But I have had a handful (maybe more) of virtual relationships since then. For the rest of this post I’m going to focus on my most recent virtual relationship.

It was only a few months ago that Jenna and I started talking online. A mutual friend connected us. According to our friend, Jenna had been looking for someone of the opposite gender to talk to. I fit that description and when I saw how incredibly beautiful she was I had to send her a message — I too was looking for someone of the opposite gender to talk to. 

Jenna lived in another country, but that had no influence on our conversations. Well, besides forcing us to recognize the distance between us.

Soon enough we started talking about personal things related to MECFS because coincidentally we both got sick with the disease around the same time. Like me, she was also very active before getting MECFS. So we had a lot to talk about and connected with each other on a very personal level.

When I first saw her soft features — fair skin, long brown hair, cute smile — I was kind of surprised. I hadn’t expected her to be so beautiful. She was this gorgeous and eloquent young woman in her mid-twenties locked up inside a house for years fighting a debilitating illness, yet she looked like she had just walked out of a dance class. It was astonishing.

One of the first things Jenna told me was that she had been housebound for several years and was now mostly bedridden, except for short intervals of walking. Due to a bad case of POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome), she could only stand long enough to get to the bathroom. Because she had been so sick for so long, and what she called “biochemical changes,” Jenna had experienced intense, manic episodes. I could relate and found it comforting to talk to someone who had been through similar experiences. 

Nonetheless, like many of the relationships I have developed on the Internet with people I’ve never met in person, I didn’t put too much of my heart into my relationship with Jenna. This allowed me to actually be more open and forthcoming with her because I simply didn’t care much about what she thought of me. I would, after all, probably never see her in the flesh.

This led to a moment of truth for us. I started talking to her about how I felt unappreciated by the opposite sex and how I was plagued by persistent loneliness and a lack of intimacy. The conversation eventually passed, but the next day she called me out on something.

She asked why I felt unappreciated when I was talking to her — by all signs, a gorgeous and quite charming woman who did in fact appreciate me. I was speechless. I mean, I couldn’t talk because of my illness, but even if I had been able to speak, I still would have been speechless.

She told me that she really liked me and thought I liked her too, but my comments made it seem otherwise. This was not my intent, but it definitely showed how I wasn’t taking our relationship seriously. I had been seeing her more as a woman who had all the makings of an ideal girlfriend, but who was pointless to pursue because the two of us would never be healthy or mobile enough (or even live in the same country long enough) to have a successful relationship.

Then she told me she really liked me and that she got disappointed when I didn’t acknowledge her interest in me. Now, I don’t care how much distance is between two people, or how unrealistic the relationship seems on paper, if you like someone and they feel the same, well, you are fucked. That’s fucked in a good way. And okay, also fucked in a bad way. Basically, you are just all kinds of fucked, except the kind that actually pertains to sexual intercourse, because there’s too much distance between you.

After we both confessed our feelings for each other, things got more intimate between us. We started talking about sex and how we cope with a lack of a partner. We also started talking on the phone regularly and even doing video chat occasionally. But this is when it got tricky. She was often in too much pain to type and I have limited speaking abilities, so she would call me and talk while I typed out my responses. After we hung up I would usually send her a message, joking that if anyone saw our text conversation they would probably think I was harassing her with dozens of unanswered messages, when In fact, she had replied to each one albeit using her voice.

On days when we both weren’t feeling well, but wanted to see each other, we would video chat for only a few seconds, just long enough to exchange a glance and a hearty smile. One time in particular, I vividly remember staring at her pixelated face and we both smiled through intermittent giggles. It was a beautiful and tender moment, the likes of which I have never shared with anyone else. It was very special and I will always carry that memory with me.

This is pretty much how our relationship went for several weeks. I noticed myself becoming more and more dependent on her for moral support amidst that chaos of paying for medical expenses, finding reliable caregivers, and trying to rehabilitate my ailing body. And it felt really good to have her as part of my support system; I was proud to share my life with someone so special, even if from afar. And though I knew her support and our relationship might not last, I didn’t care. I was intent on enjoying what I had while I had it.

I had moved on from hoping Kira would come back to visit, and despite knowing that I would not see Jenna anytime soon, I let myself dive deep into our virtual relationship. We sent each other snail mail. I wrote her a Valentine’s Day card, which because she lived in another country got there a week late. She sent me a giant package of sea salt, of which only the two of us (and maybe some intuitive MECFS people) know the symbolism. I showered her with terms of endearment — when we would talk after a long break we almost always said how we missed each other, which seemed weird to say to someone I had never met, but at the same time it felt right. It felt good to miss someone and be missed in return.

Then, maybe a month ago, Jenna became distant. She started coming online less frequently, and when she did, she would send a quick message then disappear for a long stretch of time. So I figured she wasn’t feeling well and I gave her space. I soon stopped replying to her messages both because I was stubborn and because it was really frustrating trying to hold a conversation with such long breaks. Then she asked why I wasn’t responding. I now realize I should have asked her why she was being distant, instead of being stubborn myself and not responding. So I told her I felt she was the one acting different, and after talking it over, we both decided it was a nonissue. But we were both wrong.

The next day I got a message from her that started out pretty much how every breakup starts out. I would quote her message for you, but it got erased from our text conversation, so you’ll have to use your imagination. She basically told me that she had been acting different because she had been getting visits from a new guy in her life. Their relationship started out as a mostly physical relationship, but developed into something more.

As crushing as it was for me to know that this beautiful, insightful, and caring woman whom I had come to adore was involved with another man, I was still genuinely happy for her. And I never feel happy for women who break my heart. I’m usually quite bitter and jealous about breakups.

It was quite possibly the first time I was actually happy for someone who broke my heart — after so many years of loneliness Jenna had someone, a real life man — one made of flesh and bones and who breathed, not a man behind a computer screen.

My happiness for Jenna began to erode over the next few days. When we talked I would imagine her with this mystery guy, cuddled up, feeling his warm breath on her skin. I even thought about them having sex. And it didn’t help that she actually told me about her sexual experiences with this new guy.

I was not as happy for her after that. In fact, it kinda sent me over the edge. Not in a “I’m gonna burn your house down” kind of way, but I did decide that it was best for my heart and sanity that we not talk anymore. So I sent her this:

I’m really happy for you. I really really am and I don’t want my bitterness to ruin that. But I just can’t talk to you knowing all that is going on. Maybe if I had something similar. But I have nothing, nobody. I’m starved of affection and intimacy. So I’m still your friend, but my heart just can’t take talking to you right now. I’m sorry. You have no idea how sorry and sad I am.

And that was the truth. I was fed up of having nobody. Even more so, I was tired of having my heart broken. Since I first got sick women have come into my life thinking they are doing good, but in the end they just end up hurting me. I know they hurt too and certainly don’t enjoy hurting me, but they get to move on. They have other options, other suitors to soothe their hurt. I have no such thing. Not to victimize myself, but this is how it’s been and how it will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

My boycott of Jenna lasted, oh, about a day. And then we talked for a few days before I tried again, but I’ve concluded that as long as she messages me I will reply. Unlike some of the other women that have hurt me, she doesn’t deserve to be ignored. She is far too thoughtful to ignore or be mad at.

I know Jenna didn’t intend to hurt me, she even said that if our relationship had been in person she would not have gotten involved with another guy. I feel like it’s easy to say such a thing because it’s impossible to know what she would have done in the opposite situation. Though I like to think that if I was healthy I would have been at her house everyday, charming her, so she had no choice but to be with me.

As for my hurt feelings, they are not pleasant and don’t seem to be going away anytime soon. But there was a short period of time where things were rather magical between Jenna and me, and without that bit of magic, that joy in my life, I would have had nothing that even compared to it. So despite the way our relationship has changed course, I am still grateful for what she has given me. 

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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!