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?

The Finished Product

by Julien-Pierre “Johnny” Campbell

I sat in front of my laptop, as I often do. Same black skinny jeans, same homemade crop top displaying a garish fish that said, “WOMEN WANT ME, FISH FEAR ME.” Same glasses and gray beanie as I always wore. My dog sat next to me like usual. The TV was on, playing a rerun of a show I’d seen many times before. It was raining — typical and perpetual in Portland. But something was different about this afternoon. Something was significant. Something had shifted.

I’d just finished my honors thesis.

The culmination of four years of blood, sweat, and more than a few tears in the PSU Honors College was a 51-page creative biography of author Mary Shelley. I’d read hundreds of pages in research. I’d read as many of her novels as I could get my hands on. I’d read her letters and diaries. I’d read dozens of her husband’s poems. I’d written for hours and hours. I’d revised with vigor, often deleting pages at a time until my finished product was “perfect.” 

And there it was. An innocuous Google Doc. It looked like every other assignment I’d ever done. Times New Roman font, MLA format, double spaced. But it meant so much more. Hundreds of hours of research and writing and years of schooling — all for this project. It seemed silly to think, but there was something almost holy about it. It was (and is!) the physical manifestation of all of my effort and passion. I’d cried while writing it. I’d raged at my computer. I’d laughed with joy when I’d written something particularly good.

And if it made me sound a little unhinged … what of it? I didn’t care!

I still have a lot to do before I graduate with my undergraduate degree. I have one more term to go, and many final papers. I’m doing the first year of my master’s in English alongside my bachelor’s degree, so I’m not off the academic hook any time soon. 

But I am proud of myself. I am proud of my work ethic and what I have created and learned. And I can’t wait to write with this much feeling and passion for the rest of my life!

Online Learning Made Easy…Sorta

by Julien-Pierre “Johnny” Campbell

I miss on-campus learning, as I’m sure many PSU students do. I’ve found it difficult to adapt to life as a full-time student at home. What I’ve also found, however, are some small ways to make online learning a little easier. Here are my tips!

Find a space and make it yours: Having a dedicated study space can make all the difference. I staked out my kitchen table. My roommate found a cheap desk on Amazon. We use these spaces as spots solely to study, and do our leisure activities elsewhere. If I’m using my laptop for fun, I pick a different room. In this way, I’ve sort of trained myself to feel productive in my study spot, and to use it just for that. It may not be a classroom, but it’s the next best thing.

Have fun with your study materials: I’ve never been one for color-coded sticky notes and special pens. I noticed, though, that everyone who used them said it helped them feel more engaged. It made note-taking fun. I splurged on some fancy highlighters, some expensive pens, a planner, and some colorful sticky notes. I must admit, I’m on the bandwagon now! It’s a little thing, but it’s aesthetically pleasing and fun. I also find that having notes where each “section” is a different color is actually a really helpful distinction!

Reach out to your classmates: I’m a very social person, and one of the things I miss most about on-campus learning is making new friends. I’ve met some really cool people in my online classes, but Zoom is a very public platform. Frankly, it feels a little weird to ask, “Hey, wanna be friends?” in front of a class full of people. I feel like I’ve missed out on some wonderful friendships for fear of reaching out. Last term, I bit the bullet and private messaged a classmate to say I loved their ideas, and if they wanted to be study buddies, I’d be happy to do so. They responded so enthusiastically that I realized something: a lot of people are missing the social aspect of college too. Since then, I’ve reached out to a few people in my classes, and made some amazing, lasting friends. 

These are only a few tips, but they have really helped me. I hope they help you too!

A Brand-New Hobby

by Julien-Pierre “Johnny” Campbell

We’ve all heard of people picking up new and interesting hobbies through this pandemic. Baking bread, knitting, photography, jogging, woodworking, cooking. As a person whose main hobbies are reading and writing, I felt pretty well set up. But after almost a year of this pandemic, I must say there’s only so much reading and writing one person can do.

I looked for a new hobby, excited at the prospect of picking up something useful. The one issue: my delayed motor skills and various disabilities. My hands shake too badly for photography. Cooking is a study in my pathetic knife skills (and often a study in how many times I’ll cut my fingers). I have fibromyalgia, which makes jogging incredibly painful. Knitting? Embroidery? Painting? A pipe-dream.

I often struggle with feeling somewhat useless because of my motor skill issues. I feel that I lack something that others have without thought. Not everyone is artistic, but anyone can hold a paintbrush and paint a straight line. Anyone can mince veggies with enough practice. Anyone but me.

I bought a skateboard on a lark one day. I’d always wanted to learn how to skate, but never took the time to do so. I thought perhaps I would practice a little each day, and maybe, finally this could be my new hobby. 

I proudly mounted my skateboard for the first time over the summer … and promptly fell on my ass. The board shot out from under me like a rocket, speeding down the sidewalk. I sat, stunned, nursing my bruised knees. My ego was even more bruised. This is why I never try anything new, I thought furiously. This is why I stick with what I’m good at — academia, theatre, books. Not physical activities. 

I stormed inside, vowing I’d never skateboard again. 

That is, until the next day. I crept cautiously out of my house, as if someone was going to swoop down on me. I placed my skateboard on the ground and climbed on. I got my balance and just sort of … stood there. That was all I needed to do. 

Slowly, each day, I got better and better. One day, I made it down the sidewalk without falling. One day, I felt brave enough to skate in the road. And eventually, by the end of the summer, I was racing through the neighborhood with my dog, who pulled the skateboard as I sailed behind. 

I was so proud of myself for sticking with skateboarding. I’m not very good at it, but it’s fun. It’s simple. And more than that, I proved something to myself: I am capable. My motor skills may be delayed, and it may take me a long time to absorb these kinds of skills, but I did it.

And if I can do it, anyone can. 

Beautiful Books Part II

By Julien-Pierre “Johnny” Campbell

As the pandemic has gone on, I have read more than I’ve read in years. About a month back, I wrote an article on some of my favorite books that I highly recommended for pandemic reading. I’m back with an updated list.

Image result for franny and zooey

In this novel, told in dueling perspectives by brother Zooey and sister Franny, Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger tells the story of a young woman’s religious crisis. Franny is a college student who has a breakdown at the state of the world. She’s lost, confused, and feels that no one understands her concerns. Her brother Zooey, an actor, attempts to revive her spirits through an extended monologue. At turns, he berates her and encourages her, and attempts to work through his own existential angst as well. It’s a really provocative little book that has broken my heart each time I’ve read it. Salinger presents two really flawed characters that are concerningly relatable. It’s an excellent novel to make one reflect.

Image result for an indigenous people's history of the us

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Rozanne Dunbar Ortiz is a harrowing but incredibly important read. It presents a history too — including myself — few know about.  The genocide of America’s Indigenous peoples is presented in minute deatail, and the bloody cost of white Europeans’ settler colonialism. It is an intense read, but one I was very grateful for. 

Image result for alabama moon

Alabama Moon by Watt Key is actually a young adult novel, but has a permanent place on my shelf. It tells the story of ten-year-old Moon, a boy raised in the wilderness by his father who has an unhinged distrust of the government. Moon is entirely self-sufficient and knows how to live off the land. After his father dies, he is forced into the system, and learns to make friends, defy authority, and eventually find happiness with people who love him. It’s told in Moon’s perspective, and his childish wisdom is at times painful to read. The novel is engaging and incredibly well-written.

Image result for love in the time of global warming pen

Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block is a post-apocalyptic novel told in some of the most poetic, beautiful language I have ever read. It’s modeled on the story of The Oddessy, and its hero, Penelope, meet a rag-tag cast of queer kids on a mission to save her family. It’s a whimsical work of magical realism, Greek mythology, and queer fiction. It’s a quick read, and an awfully depressing one, but the work and its sequel, The Island of Excess Love, are some of the best queer fiction I have ever read!

Image result for coal mountain elementary book

Lastly, and a very recent addition of my favorites, is Coal Mountain Elementary by Mark Nowack. It’s a book of poetry, newspaper articles, and personal testament that tells the story of the dangers of the coal mining industry. It features articles about everyday collapses and mining accidents in China, the personal recollection of a miner in West Virginia who lives through a collapse, and a disturbing lesson plan (which is real, and one can find online), to teach children about the benefits of the mining industry. It’s a really thought-provoking work, and the poetry is beautiful.  

A Little Patience

I’ve never been a very patient person. Even as a child, my parents joked that impatience was my middle name. What can I say? I like instant gratification. I have surprises. I like things done quickly and efficiently. I like a routine that works like a well-oiled machine. 

My impatience had worked well for me when I worked in a restaurant. The routine each day was predictable. We’d race to see who could get their closing duties done fastest and neatest. I could do the work in my sleep. I’d pop out the door at 6:00 PM on the dot every day. 

I knew at some point I’d get a gut-punch in the name of teaching me patience. Everyone had warned me that someday, I’d really have to slow down and be at ease. I’d have to understand that not everything happens at the light-speed I prefer. In the words of a less-than-kind (but still correct) friend, I’d have to relax and pull the stick out of my … well, you can guess where. 

When I started working with the elderly, I hadn’t factored the immense amount of patience it would require. I’d taken the job because I love people, and it had seemed like very meaningful work. Those two facts are still true, but the patience it has taught me was more than I ever expected. 

I work primarily with dementia patients, and working with compassion is of the utmost importance. Dementia sufferers live their life in a perpetual state of confusion. Dates, names, places — the wires become crossed and they get befuddled. Sometimes this confusion causes them to believe you are their child or late spouse. Sometimes it causes them to be aggressive and afraid. Patience is literally the greatest gift you can give to someone with memory problems. You’ll hear the same story ten times in an hour. You’ll gently remind them of your name at least twenty times a day. You’ll redirect them away from a phone call they just made, and insist on making again. You’ll come to know their life, their triggers, their fears like the back of your hand.

And what’s more beautiful than that? To know someone’s life in an intimate and intense way, and assist them through their fear and confusion. Being a caregiver isn’t easy. The work is often difficult, emotionally exhausting. The lessons I have learned from it, however, have been invaluable.

I have become a more patient person. I’ve become more forgiving. And I love this person I’ve become! I’m so thankful to my clients for teaching me this lesson and allowing me into their lives.