A Wild June

June was a big month in my household. The Clinton Street Cabaret’s Rocky Horror performance, something I have been involved with since I was eighteen, began again. My roommate finally got her gender confirmation surgery. I added a sweet new partner to my polycule. I graduated college with a bachelor’s degree and the first year of my master’s under my belt. My partner finally changed their legal name. I got married. I went on my honeymoon. 

It’s been a crazy summer to say the least!

I love being married. It’s an absolute dream. I’ve had many cautionary tales thrown at me about getting married so young. I’ve even lost friends over my choice to be married at 21. However, I kept the people in my life that mattered, and our chosen families were beautifully supportive. 

After such a wild month, I’m ready to slow down a little bit. I am still physically disabled and in pain 24/7. I’m still always dizzy, exhausted, and weak. I’ve always pushed myself until I break, and this summer is no different!

So I am practicing the lessons I have learned about taking care of myself and forcing myself to slow down. (Just a little!) 

I am working hard to tell myself that my worth is not defined by my productivity. Sometimes, simply surviving the day is enough. I’m allowed to still be proud of myself for existing. Other people can take up the mantle a little.

It’s not easy.

I hate being idle. I can hardly stand to sit still, chronic pain be damned. But I am trying, and that’s all that matters.

It was a hell of a June — hopefully my July can be a bit slower! 

A Return to Campus

by JP “Johnny” Campbell

Now that Oregon has relaxed their COVID restrictions, students will return to the PSU campus this fall for the first time in a year. I’m both incredibly excited and incredibly nervous. I haven’t been in a physical classroom in a long time! I completed both my last year of undergrad and my first year of grad school in front of a computer screen!

There are perks to going to college in your living room. It’s nice to be around my pets, to let my wife listen in on my lectures, and to sit on a couch instead of a classroom desk. At the same time, however, it was incredibly difficult to stay engaged and pay attention. In your home, every possible distraction looms. Roommates, pets, partners, the television, knocking mailmen and food delivery folks, nosy neighbors — any number of things!

I look forward to being around my peers again most of all. I am an incredibly social person! I thrive around people, and have missed befriending classmates badly. I can’t wait to make new friends and to feel more engaged this next term.

I am going to take concrete steps to stay safe on campus this fall — handwashing and use of hand sanitizer, social distancing/masking if appropriate, and avoiding eating inside. An abundance of caution, perhaps, but one can’t be too careful!

I cannot wait to sit in a classroom, look at the view from the top floor of the CUPA building, meet with my advisors, and study in the library. I’ve missed our campus sorely. I have my reservations about in-person classes after such a long time on Zoom, but I’m absolutely excited! 

A Scaly New Friend

It is no secret that I’ve wanted a snake my whole life. I have been talking about reptiles since childhood, begging my parents for a scaly buddy since I could talk. The answer was always no. (Honestly, more than fair, since we were/are a household of tender-hearted vegetarians.)

I’ve been scrimping and saving for a snake since I moved out of my parents’ home at age 18. I did multiple years of research, I combed through snake-owning Facebook groups and subreddits for hours. I looked at all the ways one could — intentionally or unintentionally — abuse or mistreat their snake. It seemed like surprise financial situations kept getting in my way, however. Unexpected medical bills, vet emergencies for both my cat and my dog within a few months of each other. COVID rendering me unemployed. Moving twice in a year. It adds up!

A few weekends ago, my fiancee and I decided to get out of the house by visiting a local pet store. We promised each other that we wouldn’t come home with an animal (five cats, a dog, and four people in one tiny house is enough!!). “We’re just going to get Theodore a dog toy. Maybe we can buy a hide and a water dish for the snake when we eventually get it,” I said.

My fiancee agreed. We’d planned to get the set-up for the snake little by little, over a period of months (or even a year), so we would be prepared. Set-up first; snake last.

Well … then we met Ganymede. They (too young to tell their sex) are an albino California kingsnake. Just a few months old! They came with a cage, substate, one hide, a water dish, and a heat lamp. It was too good to be true!! We snapped up our expensive new baby, and it has been a joy.

I named them Ganymede for Zeus’s favorite cupbearer, a beautiful youth the god stole from the mortal realm. They are incredibly well-tempered and open to handling. We truly love our new buddy, and cannot wait to give them the best life ever!

(This is a picture of the albino morph from Google Images, unfortunately, not my own phone. The little bugger is too quick for a good photo!)

Albino California Kingsnake Photograph by David Kenny

A Hard Lesson in Slowing Down

By Julien-Pierre “Johnny” Campbell

Content warning: discussion of dental procedures, descriptions of physical pain, descriptions of my own emetophobia

Recently, I got all four wisdom teeth pulled. While this is usually an unpleasant experience for anyone, it was made all the more difficult by two things: 1) my intense phobia of dentists and 2) the nasty reaction I had to the pain medication I was prescribed. I will be open: due to mental illness, my teeth aren’t in ship-shape condition. I have some cavities that need to be filled and could use a deep cleaning. But when my wisdom teeth started growing in, I knew that that was one procedure I couldn’t just skip.

I was getting splitting headaches, jaw pain, and terrible earaches the like of which I haven’t had in years. It sucked. I held out as long as I could, but eventually had to give in. Those suckers had to go!

I tend to pop up almost disturbingly quickly after surgeries, disabilities, be damned. Anaesthesia doesn’t bring me down long. My energy levels for the first three days after the surgery were high. I was doing chores. I was walking the dog. I was reading, eating solid food, even doing homework. On day four, however, something changed. I threw up two times in quick succession. I started feeling feverish, I couldn’t stop crying, and I would get dizzy and nauseous if I so much as shifted on the couch. The next day, I threw up four times, and my symptoms were more of the same. My jaw ached, I could hardly speak, and I couldn’t stop throwing up! Terrible.

And if the dentist fear wasn’t bad enough —I am paralyzed with fear when it comes to vomit. If I hear someone gag, cough too hard, or even make a grossed-out face while eating, I’ll flee the room. I literally haven’t — well, hadn’t — thrown up in 11 years before 2020. And the six times I threw up in two days was more than I had thrown up in my entire life.

I learned a pretty powerful lesson over this past week: it’s okay to slow down. I got so physically sick because of the pain medication, and also because I pushed myself too hard. The harder I pushed myself, the more pain I was in: so it was this awful cycle that just fed itself. So, reluctantly, I put down the laptop. I let my housemates take over the chores. I took an extra day off work.

I’ll be frank — I didn’t enjoy it! But my body has healed much faster than I expected. I hadn’t let my body rest because I didn’t think my surgery was that big of a deal. “People get their wisdom teeth out all the time. They don’t bitch and moan about it as much as I am. They don’t cry for two hours and throw up a bunch. I’m just being dramatic.”

Well … no. I wasn’t. I honored my body’s needs, slowed down, and I’m on the mend now!!

Quarantine TV Recs: Netflix

by Julien-Pierre “Johnny” Campbell

I have never been much of a TV person. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I’m much more of a reader, a theatre/opera person, or a writer. I get very antsy sitting still, but books and the like occupy my mind decently. During quarantine, however, and at the behest of my fiancee, I’ve been sitting down and binge watching dozens of TV shows.

So, from someone who isn’t much of a TV buff, here’s a list of shows I’d recommend

That 70s Show

A childhood/high school favorite of my fiancee, this quickly became one of my favorites too. It is definitely a product of its time, and is worth being looked at with a critical eye. That said, the genuine friendship the characters have makes my heart ache with a kind of nostalgia for a time I never knew. My parents, who were in their late teens and early twenties in the 1970s, noted that it is remarkably accurate to their high school years. Its cheeky humor and the growth of its characters makes it a very fun watch.

iZombie

iZombie is a show I used to love in high school. I’m a horror fan, and zombies are my weakness. So a snarky-sweet assistant medical examiner zombie and her zombie hunter boyfriend made for some campy fun. The acting isn’t the best, nor is the writing, but it’s a lot of fun. The characters are totally lovable, and the plot twists make it worth watching!

-GLOW

I never thought a show about uber-objectified 80s lady wrestlers would be my thing, but it totally is. This is one of the most brilliantly written shows on Netflix, in my opinion. The costuming is incredible, the moral ambiguity of the characters makes them all the more compelling, and the plot is fast-paced and realistic. One of my biggest must-watches!

The End of the F***ing World

This is one of the darkest shows on my watch-list, but also one of the best. Two teenagers, one of whom thinks he suffers from psychopathy and the other who is simply bored with life, run away. The young actors are incredible! The show is intense and definitely a black comedy, but I highly recommend it!

Look for my Hulu recommendations next time!

Hang Tight Just a Little Longer…

by Julien-Pierre “Johnny” Campbell

Vaccines are rolling out and the weather is getting warm again. I myself am fully vaccinated and feeling the pull of a social life. I miss going out to eat. I miss concerts and bars and hanging out with friends. I miss going on dates and seeing movies and attending classes on-campus. I miss not wearing a mask everywhere. Simply put? I miss life.

But I also miss the grandmother I lost to COVID. I miss not feeling like I was risking my fragile health every time I step out the door. I miss my elderly clients not feeling scared and trapped in their own homes.

It is so important, now more than ever, to take COVID precautions seriously. We are getting more and more people vaccinated. We are close to a future where, seemingly, real life could exist again. I’ve begun to make tentative plans for the summer and fall. I’ve dreamed about a trip to the coast with friends where I don’t have to worry if my actions are selfish. 

I feel, though, like I’m going crazy. People I know are travelling. I know someone who went to Hawaii, someone who went to Mexico, someone who went to California. I know people who are having large dinner parties, who are going drinking with friends, who are wearing masks less and less. I’m staggered by this. We’re so close! These actions are putting us farther and farther away from our ideal COVID situation. It feels stunningly selfish, especially those who are travelling to other states and countries. I’m going crazy in isolation as much as anyone else. I’m an extrovert who thrives on social interaction — but I refuse to give in to these selfish actions. 

There are so many ways to safely do things. Order take-out! Sit six feet apart, masks on, outside with your loved ones! Go for a countryside drive instead of traveling across the country! There are plenty of places that are taking wonderful COVID precautions: tattoo parlors, barber shops, grocery stores. And it is important to support local business. But hold on just a little longer, everyone! Our normal lives are closer than we know! 

A New Look!

by Julien-Pierre “Johnny” Campbell

In July 2019, I got my lower lip pierced in some 2005-throwback-glory. I got snakebites and I love them SO much. These little pieces of metal have quadrupled my confidence and I don’t regret them. 

I have had the itch to get another piercing every day since then. Little things have gotten in the way: unexpected bills popping up, opportunities for tattoos instead, etc. When I received my stimulus check, I was determined to put it in savings … and do one nice thing for myself. One self-indulgent, unnecessary, fun thing. I thought about buying some new clothes, but couldn’t find anything that caught my eye. I thought about splurging on some first-edition books I’ve had my eye on, but couldn’t justify the several hundred dollars it would have cost. And then it hit me: I’m gonna get another piercing!! 

I considered what kind of piercing I wanted for days. Another lip piercing? No, my lips might look too crowded. A belly-button piercing? I’d always wanted one, but it took my fiancee’s piercing a year to heal, and the thought of not wearing high-waisted pants made me want to cry. An ear piercing? Unfortunately, due to a misadventure at Claire’s, my earlobes are so heavily scarred that it would take a miracle to get a needle through them. An eyebrow piercing? I couldn’t think of any negatives! I’d always wanted one, and I thought it would make me look like the 2005 punk-rocker I’d always wanted to be!

I found myself lying face-up on a table with a needle through my face a week later. And I have to say! I love it! I’m so happy I did this little thing for myself, and I can’t wait to rock a face full of metal in the next few years.

Illness Advocate

by Julien-Pierre “Johnny” Campbell

As I have shared many times in my Chronicle articles, I am chronically ill and disabled. I have a compromised immune system, I am hard of hearing, I walk with a limp, I am allergic to everything from pet hair to plants to hand soap, I have fibromyalgia, crippling pain, I have intense sensory issues, I have delayed motor skills, I have multiple mental illnesses, I have plantar fasciitis, GI issues, I’m severely anemic … I could go on. This makes my daily life no less joyful, but pretty complicated. What can exacerbate the difficulties is that 99% of my illnesses and disabilities are invisible.

If someone looked at me, they would see your average Portland twentysomething: skinny jeans, T-shirt, high-top shoes. If I were to walk, they may notice the limp. But from the outside, I look able-bodied and neurotypical. While this does include some inherent privilege that I want to acknowledge, it can also make things quite frustrating. One cannot know that I am in so much physical pain I can hardly walk, or that I am covered in painful hives under my long sleeves because I pet my dog. 

Because of my complicated health, I have had to be my own fiercest advocate in the medical field. I’ve been told my pain is all in my head, that I’m just suffering growing pains, that my pain tolerance is just bad. My favorite is when a family doctor told me at thirteen, “Well, your weight just puts too much strain on your body! Of course your knees hurt!” I was a hundred pounds soaking wet.

Recently, I had to go to the ER. It was the first time my pain levels had landed me somewhere of this caliber. I’d had to go to urgent care several times, and been to my PCP countless times. I was scared out of my wits of the ER, especially as an immunocompromised person in the middle of a pandemic! I had woken up at 2 a.m. sure I had broken every rib in my body. I could hardly breathe, and felt a stabbing pain and then a crunch with each breath I took in. It was terrifying. I’d cried for hours until my fiancee urged me to go to the ER at 5 a.m..

The pain was indescribable. I could barely breathe, let alone sit up and walk. Even still, I felt that I was over-exaggerating. The pain will probably go away in a few days. The medical bills aren’t worth it. I can’t breathe, but maybe I’m just being hysterical. They won’t believe me anyway. Maybe the pain will go away if I just buck up and deal with it. The denial was real. 

Unfortunately, all my worst fears came true at the ER. I was treated exactly as I’d feared: like I was making everything up. The doctor insinuated that I was there trolling for pain pills. When I explained that addiction ran in my family and I was very wary of pills, the physician leveled a look at me like I was lying. An exact quote from him was, “Well, it’s not like you’re having a heart attack! It’s not a real emergency.” At that moment, the pain in my heart was worse than the pain in my ribs. Another useless trip. Another doctor acting as if I was some kind of hysterical hypochondriac. He interrupted me as I rattled off my list of diagnoses to say, “But are you actually diagnosed with that?” Of course I am. I’ve had to fight like hell for these diagnoses since I was thirteen years old. 

I wanted to lay down and give up. But I refused. I have repeated it a million times: if I don’t advocate for myself in the medical world, no one will. If I don’t demand the treatment I deserve, I will not receive it. And so I went on another endless visit with my PCP. I was firm: I wanted a blood test, I wanted referrals to a chiropractor, and I wanted suggestions for how to engage in pain management. I wasn’t rude, but I was steadfast. And I received all of these things. The blood test gave me answers I’d long been seeking, the chiropractor is incredibly helpful, and the pain management skills are at the very least helping my mental health. 

I am ill. I am disabled. But I am proud of myself, and I am not making my conditions up. I am someone who suffers greatly, but someone who advocates for himself fiercely and firmly. And I’ll just have to keep doing it!    

Tattoo Tour Part I

I have many tattoos, and I love them all! I love to ask people for their “tattoo stories.” It doesn’t matter if it’s a fun design you got on a lark, a matching tattoo with a paramour, or a design that means the world to you! I love to hear the inspiration behind others’ tattoos.  Here are a few of mine!

One of the dearest to my heart is a sad clown girl on the back of my calf. This tattoo is special A) because it was my very first tattoo with color in it, and B) it actually helped me get over a fear. I have been afraid of clowns my entire life. I have no idea why. I woke up one day and decided to love clowns. I was going to lean into it hard. Cue a year of collecting vintage clown dolls and finally getting a tattoo to immortalize my silly little journey.

Next, there is a thylacine on my thigh. This extinct meat-eating marsupial lived in Tasmania, and was hunted into extinction by careless people. I’ve always had a fascination with extinct animals, but the thylacine captured my heart. Their tale was uniquely tragic: mass killings of livestock led these animals to be the suspected culprits. A bounty was placed on their pelts, and they were hunted in droves. It was later proven that wild dogs had been killing livestock, and thylacines had had nothing to do with it. A wave of poorly-timed disease later, they were all but decimated. They were strange-looking — a jaw that could open to a 120 degree angle, stripes like a tiger, a head like a wolf, a gait like a dog. They were freaks of nature uniquely adapted to their environment. They were misjudged and it led to their demise. My heart aches for them on the daily. I’ve been obsessed with them since I was ten years old, and this tattoo was the culmination of eleven years of love for a tragic animal. 

Lastly, there is my Rocky Horror tribute tattoo, my favorite lyric surrounded by roses. These roses match tattoos four of us in my friend group received from an unlikely friend with a tattoo gun. I have been performing in the Clinton Street Cabaret’s Rocky Horror Picture Show since I was eighteen years old, and this show is my life. The friends and partners I have gained through this show have been the best. I love them all so dearly. The memories I’ve made and continue to make are so special to me. The lyric, “Rose tint my world” is how I prefer to see life. I want to look at the world through rose-tinted glasses. I want to see only the best in life. I want endless joy and debauchery. And this musical, and those people, are the closest thing I have to a rose-tinted world. 

To Love While Ill

by Julien-Pierre “Johnny” Campbell

Content warning: frank discussion of the symptoms of mental illness, mentions of medication. 

To be in love is a beautiful thing. I consider myself lucky every day that I have so many people to love and share my life with. There is a side to love, however, when you are mentally ill, that can be very hard.

A day can look like this: I get home from work. I do some chores, walk the dog, maybe complete some homework. My fiancee comes home a few hours later. We greet each other and spend the evening together. We talk about our days, our plans for the weekend. We watch TV. We walk the dog again. I do more homework. I read a book while my fiancee drinks a glass of wine with their sibling. We go to bed.

A day can just as easily look like this: I wake up, paralyzed with fear from another night of nightmares. Eventually, I shake this off and begin my day. I go to work. I do OK, but I can feel mania creeping up around the edges. I’m in a hyper-good mood. My energy is unusually high for someone who only slept two hours last night. I’m talking a mile a minute. My client appreciates my good mood. I get home. I walk the dog. I hyperfocus on homework and before I know it, five hours have passed. I cannot stop homework because my self-worth is very much entangled with my academia. Finally, I pull myself away from the screen. I have a pounding headache. I haven’t had any water today. My fiancee comes home from work. We talk about our days. I’m jumpy. I can’t sit still any longer, and start obsessively cleaning the house. I take the dog on another walk. I see a white pickup while walking, and have a panic attack, due to past trauma. We spend the evening together — I feel intense guilt for watching TV, as it’s not a productive activity. I read. I feel guilty that I’m reading for pleasure, and not doing homework. I know I took my medication today, but I seem to be feeling all the symptoms of everything! All at once! The incredible daily pain of my physical disability coupled with the mental turmoil is making me snappish and panicked. I try my best to be patient and kind. I keep wanting to cry, and am not sure why. We go to bed. My insomnia keeps me up. I have nightmares all night again.

Most days, I am, at the very least, okay. I am an attentive, caring, and thoughtful partner. I’m an empathetic and compassionate friend. Honestly, I’m a genuinely happy person. I love my life. I feel lucky to have the friends and paramours that I do.

But there is a lot of darkness in my brain. Every day is a battle against the symptoms of my mental illness and those of my physical disability. I don’t write this article to alarm anyone, or to host a pity party. This is simply my daily reality. Sometimes it’s scary, sad, and angering. But most of the time, it’s the simple life of a dedicated student and lover of the world. 

It’s so important to destigmatize mental illness. So many people I know live with it — all three of my romantic partners are mentally ill. Most of my family members. Two thirds of my friends. I don’t seek to explain the prevalence of it — that’s a project for another day! But if almost everyone I know lives with at least one mental illness, why are we ashamed to talk about it? I want to do my bit to normalize discussing mental illness. I don’t seek to wallow or revel in self-pity, but I want to be frank about my daily reality.

After all, if I don’t speak my truth, who will?