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Chronic Illness, COVID-19, and Relationships

I didn’t really want to write about COVID-19 the first time, but I felt like it was a very large elephant in my very small room (and let me tell you, those of us who are bad at both long distance relationships and self control have been training in self control to avoid being in only long distance relationships for 18 months while vaccines that actually work get tested). While it’s been very Virginia Woolfe’s 1922 (fourth winter with the flu when she’d rather be writing) diary of me, this whole situation has made me even more aware of my chronic illness than usual.

I’m epileptic. This isn’t supposed to be a big risk factor for COVID-19 but, mine is, because my epilepsy is already medication-resistant. And bad at handling even low-grade fevers. I get a cold, can’t take cold medicine because of the cocktail of drugs that in combination hold back the seizures on normal days, but then as a result run a fever and break through with a neat little pile anyway. I’m never more aware of not having a nesting partner than when I’m sick; I don’t always remember my seizures and middle of the night wakeups as a result, so even though I keep a diary of them by my bed, I have no idea what a notation means half the time.

So, of course, I had a time when I had to get tested, and full on quarantine/isolate, and not see my kids, and only live in my room and bathroom, not just the social distancing/stay at home combo that everyone has had to do. I became convinced it was a cold as sneezing and sinus pressure accompanied the rising fever and my cough turned productive after dry cough plus risk was enough reason to have me tested in the first place. I was now more annoyed than scared. But my partner was, as he put it, "Pants-shittingly worried" for most if not all of the time period where we were waiting for results. And he couldn't be there. For any of it. He couldn't be my point person. It was the ultimate "I'm always most aware of my chronic illness and of my lack of nesting partner when I'm sick" as well as "FUCK he can't be here because we're in separate households for the pandemic." It was all very real, all of a sudden, for something that mostly hadn't impacted my non-monogamy.

Honestly, my chronic illness mostly meant briefing partners on first aid and the patterns of my seizures, for most of the years I’ve been practicing non-monogamy. I had way closer to complete medication control for many years, and that made it simpler; and I lived in a city and so “losing my driving privileges” was a meaningless change for the first half of the time I was non-monogamous. I live in a walkable part of a small city with a decent bus system now; but my kids’ dad lives in a suburb, so doing kid exchanges requires me to get help for my half of those. People don’t mind coming to meet me in a bar or restaurant near me for a first meeting, but even though this is New England and nothing is /that/ far away, everything is farther away when you have to do the driving always and getting someone to and from your house if that’s where you want to hang out suddenly requires two round trips - so people are hesitant to get past a second date or build more than a friendly connection, and I can’t blame them.

Lately, my health has been worse, and medications have failed one after the other like they think they’re in a Queen song, and the doctors started throwing around the word surgery a lot as they bit the dust one after another - so I don’t really want to date. It feels unbelievably selfish to look for new connections just to hold less of the weight of a health problem that is my own and even if that big “s” word happens (which COVID-19 makes timing and realism uncertain on) will still be a “thing” I carry forever. But it feels just as selfish not to look for new people, and to leave supporting me, holding the largest iteration of this chronic-illness-problems-weight yet, to the one partner I currently have - especially since he has two other partners to be that same kind of support for. I don’t want to set up his relationship life to be Sysiphean, support one person’s Big Issue today and another tomorrow and repeat, with what would be the day of rest taken up by the third person. But some days it feels like the phase my illness is in is very rock-and-a-hard place on that score. If COVID-19 weren’t a thing, I could at least date casually, keep my hand in, make sure that when I’m back in the game for real I’m well-equipped, instead of being Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast saying I’ve grown “flabby, fat and lazy” from being out of practice.

As it is, I’m here. I write, I figure out ever more fabulous people to round out the podcast (launching June 13!) schedule, I take my kids for walks and bike rides and help them with school when I have them, and I try to figure out what’s under guilt and shame because my therapist tells me those are unhelpful reactions to real feelings I need to feel, while usually feeling guilty about feeling guilty, because being an atheist doesn’t undo years of Catholic conditioning. If all you can do during the COVID stay at home and reopening is sit around and worry, you’re good, and if you’re doing something positive every day, you’re already at least two days a week ahead of me.

If you’re one of the numerous people living with chronic illness who are currently much more actively polyamorous than me, who are equally worried as I am about what every grocery trip someone in the house makes, and are making hard choices about who to interact with in person and how right now, and when and how to increase the size of the groups you connect with on each level as time rolls on, I am so impressed with you. I see us all online (and a couple of you in person, in normal times) and if today was too hard and you’ve cancelled it and you’re restarting all non laying down and thinking activity until tomorrow by about 11 am, I don’t blame you - I’m proud of you for listening to yourself and taking care of yourself so tomorrow goes better; in case you needed to hear that today. Likewise, love is infinite, but energy for relationships isn’t. I prefer to be in more than one, and can barely manage one because of stress and a pandemic right now, so I’m insanely impressed by everyone, including my partner, handling 3+ with only occasional freakouts and day cancellations.

One of my friends who’s a performer signs off all his broadcasts and shows by expressing mutual love with the audience; and I don’t quite want to steal his thing nor do I assume you all love me. Regardless, I love you all, and while I’m not sure I connected this post with polyamory enough for it to deserve to be on here, I want to share it with you.

Editor’s note: I would like you all to know that the working title of this was “Love in the time of COVID 2: Pandemic Bugaloo” and that the post originally began with the alternate title “or, How I Learned to Love The Plague.”

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