Once more, I am participating in A Chronic Voice’s monthly linkup.
words: researching, dating, finding, recounting, and recycling.
Sometimes in life, you get hit with a perfect storm of stress – and sadly it looks like from mid-august well into September, I’m in that position.
There are times when even if you are doing your best to take care of yourself, and you have your own life together, other forces outside of your control can make things tough.
Whether it’s a sick pet, a breakup, or organizational chaos in a group you care about, life has a way of surprising you – and when that happens, the best you can do is recognize that it’s not your fault and do your best to ride that wave.
I’m currently in the midst of one of those storms, and doing my best to minimize the damage to myself as it rages around me.
The clouds gather: Researching Rorschach’s health issues
Rorschach has been having issues since January. We noticed that he was doing his business on our kitchen floor, instead of in his litter box, so took him to the vet to get to the bottom of why.
Testing led to no firm causes, so we did some experimenting with litter, box location, and other things that might have impacted his behavior. Nothing changed, but we noticed that he wasn’t finishing his wet meals anymore and we didn’t see him by the dry food much.
When his vet visit in June confirmed that he was definitely losing weight, we did another round of testing and with no other symptoms and no red flags in the test results, the vet eventually suggested that we treat Rorschach for anxiety.
After a month of treatment with no improvement, Rorschach was referred to an internal medicine specialist.
In July, he had an ultrasound(which required shaving his belly and no food for 12 hours) and some specialized blood testing done to look for signs of cancers, organ damage, or major digestive problems.
A couple of weeks later, those test results came back negative, and the vet explained that the next step was an endoscopy.
Fun fact: a feline endoscopy isn’t much cheaper than a human one.
While we did invest in health insurance for the kitties shortly after adopting them, I was still responsible for 20% of the covered expenses.
Generally, you pay for the vet appointment then ask for a reimbursement. After shelling out close to $1,000 I didn’t have for the ultrasound and blood tests(some of which was reimbursed), I simply couldn’t put the endoscopy on my credit card.
Fortunately, the vet was able to request the money directly from the insurance, so I ‘only’ had to pay several hundred dollars I didn’t really have, instead of over $2,000 for the whole thing.
I couldn’t not do it, he had lost over a pound in three months and his weight had already been slowly declining(he’s down two pounds from a year ago). So, it’s going to take a long time for me to get my credit card down to a reasonable amount, but we did solve the mystery.
Rorschach has feline irritable bowel syndrome(IBS).
It kind of makes sense. He is uncomfortable anytime he does anything associated with food, whether it was coming in or going out. His discomfort led to him going outside the box, and with an upset stomach, it is hard to want to each much.
So, the next step? He needs to go onto a hypoallergenic diet.
There are multiple brands of these prescription foods, and after some discussion, Al and I ordered the cheapest one on Chewy.com to start the experiment.
This food still costs about twice what we would otherwise pay, but if this is what he needs, we will do our best to provide for him.
The wet food, at around $3/can(sold in cases of 24) is something we can’t quite contemplate yet. He’s always been suspicious of food, and the IBS isn’t helping.
We just started him on steroids(the vet had it compounded into micropills that are chicken flavored).
I was able to get him to swallow the first pill by myself with minimal effort, and while it has been challenging some nights, I think we can do it(this cat is incredibly paranoid about medication).
We are hoping that with some luck we’ll figure out the right balance and get him back to eating a healthy amount of food soon(and using the litter box like he should).
Lightning strikes out of the blue – dating
So my partner Al and I are polyamorous and have been since we both confessed to having a girlfriend on our first date.
It’s been a perfect match in many ways, and we just celebrated our 9 year anniversary in August!
Less than a week after Al and I celebrated 9 happy years together( while managing life stresses that have destroyed many a relationship), my partner Kawa broke up with me.
In all honesty, I am still a bit confused as to why, but it was pretty startling because it had seemed like things were going well.
They were upset about their conclusion, but they presented me with a statement(This isn’t going to work, here’s your stuff), not a question(I’m concerned about x y and z, is there anything we can do?).
There was nothing for me to do except sit in the coffee shop with tears running down my face, asking her why.
She couldn’t give me a clear answer, or I couldn’t absorb it, or both.
There has been no communication since then.
They unfriended me, and they are not planning to attend Birequest (where we met and had consistently seen each other for the last year or so) for the foreseeable future(I am not the only reason they are taking a break from birequest).
I’m sad(a word I have been reluctant to use, so I am making sure I use it here and now), and extra symptomatic, and generally less eager to go out into the world and explore.
I’m working on it. But it’s only been a few weeks, so that’s understandable too. I’m trying to be kind to myself especially because this doesn’t appear to be something I messed up.
A lovely cooling breeze becomes a hurricane: Birequest
So, as an organization, Birequest has been one of my most important social resources for the past 15 years.
It’s a discussion group for bi people and allies, following a support-group like structure. Historically, it has hosted two discussions a month.
I started going as I was recovering from the deepest depression in my life, and at a time when I felt extremely lonely.
Birequest was a safe space for me to better understand myself, make friends, get into thoughtful discussions, and rebuild my life.
Even though it was a haul to get there(just over two hours between train and subway), those 3-5 hours(depending on how long dinner took and if we went to a bar afterward) were an emotional oasis for me and worth the physical, emotional, and financial costs of getting myself up there.
Now, with all the things we are doing, Birequest has been my primary source of social events.
Also, many of my friendships (and a few romantic relationships) have sprung out of my participation in BiRequest.
Finding the damage to the group’s trust
This past month, I discovered a rift growing inside Birequest.
My friend that kept everything going all those years was the topic of a collection of screenshots that were seen by some as sexual misconduct. Many others of us don’t agree with that analysis.
The screenshots were also of him when he was not participating in or representing Birequest in any way.
He is an excellent facilitator and has worked hard to keep up the culture of acceptance and trust that makes Birequest so special.
He also has been the keeper of institutional knowledge all these years, so attacking him is an attack on the foundation of the group.
No one person knows the full story, but the bits I have pieced together, it sounds likely that a person completely uninvolved with our group gathered the screenshots, and kept offering them until somebody in BiRequest took the bait.
A person I will refer to as the instigator swallowed that bait, found echoes of their own trauma there(I’m guessing), and spread it to people they thought would agree with their perspective.
All the information sent was in emails between people, so we aren’t positive of the source, or of who knows what or who believes what. There is a lot of misrepresentation and dubious ‘facts’.
It all seems to lead back to the instigator though, and we strongly suspect she’s the victim of the person outside the group’s malicious intent.
This rift appears to be a large part of why Kawa broke up with me(I’m still confused about the details).
The supportive and nurturing safe space of Birequest has been tainted, almost poisoned for me, because the information passed around has brought out a strong reaction of fear, anger, and betrayal on the part of members of the group on both ‘sides’.
One friend I reached out to early in August lashed out at me because I didn’t share his perspective – I was in tears when he hung up on me.
I have had a couple of people I considered friends(or at least friendly acquaintances) approach me about this issue and attack me for not being ‘with’ them.
I hadn’t even reached out to them, and they just felt obligated to reach out to me.
I think I’ve cried more in the past month than I had in the past year. Birequest is the core of my social life and has helped me get through some of the worst experiences of my adult life.
Finding this faultline through the group has set my anxiety on overdrive, increased my symptoms, and left me hesitant about participating in most of the social activities I care about.
While I intellectually know that most social groupings undergo some form of conflict as they grow larger, it still hurts to see my beloved space put through this.
I am working on owning my part of it(my initial conversation went badly partially because I wasn’t particularly tactful), and grieving the damage to the group.
Everything has been secretive and quiet, and it feels like every step I take I run the risk of being attacked or hurt again.
The emotional flood in my life: recounting what happened and is happening
All of this together – the secrecy, the rumors, the sudden attacks, and this general feeling of betrayal, has left many of us in the group feeling frustrated and uncertain.
As one of the longer-term members, I find myself recounting again and again how my friend became the lead facilitator and why we weren’t dividing the responsibilities in other ways.
As the last person to step away, I feel some responsibility. I had a good excuse: grad school ate me alive – but still, there’s a bit of guilt.
Every time I get together with any of my Birequest friends(so most social activities I participate in), we end up recounting and sharing with one another who else we have talked to, what new information or interpretation we gleaned from the conversation, and a bit of discussion of ‘what are we going to do about this?
I mean, we have a plan. We learned the severity the day of our first meeting in August(the day Kawa connected me with the friend who left me crying).
After that, a group of us who were not emotionally triggered by the accusations started a facebook chat to figure out next steps.
We agreed that with how poor the communication was and how emotional so many members were, it would be a good idea to bring in some form of mediator from outside the group.
We settled the practical concerns of who would facilitate the meetings between then and the mediation(which we hope to have before September 23, Bi Visibility Day), since our lead facilitator stepped back from that to protect himself and the group as a whole, and we prepared announcements for the group and brainstormed about if we could find somebody to come in for free to help us.
It’s looking like we found somebody and one of our members has offered to pay the mediator’s fee.
Since then, I have needed to be more cautious about attending BiRequest events, and they all have a tinge of fear to them.
The day that Kawa dumped me, I attended a meeting, and had friends on both sides of me holding my hands or rubbing my back to help soothe me and regain control over my body. I was shaking and rocking for most of the meeting.
Looking at the instigator or other members of the’other side’ increased my symptoms, so I tried not to interact with them.
Several friends worried that I might fall on the stairs after the meeting, but that felt safer for me than walking past the instigator to get to the elevator(I do usually take the stairs).
I had dinner with my back to the instigator(and most folks on ‘their side’) and surrounded myself with supportive friends(the 30 of us had two long tables, so about half of the group was sitting that way)
The most recent meeting, I didn’t stay for dinner. When the instigator arrived near the end of the meeting, I lost control of my legs and barely kept from pounding them on the floor(instead I kind of kicked the air for a while).
I limped to the restaurant, freezing and tremoring so badly and frequently that when I realized there was nowhere I could sit without catching a glimpse of the instigator, I gave up and went home.
I left with friends asking if I needed help to get to the subway. I reassured them that my symptoms would decrease once I was out of the restaurant(and away from the trigger).
When I got home(with no major issues), Al and I went out for dinner, and I recounted the evening’s events.
He knows what’s going on and is very angry with the person who appears to have started this. The friend who is under attack has been friends with us for years, and visited Al in the hospital when he broke his hip.
Recycling emotions: Turbulence at sea
When Al and I first adopted Nigel and Rorschach, we joked about how they were a bit of an odd couple, and teasingly decided that Rorschach takes after Al(relatively unflappable, prone to lounging around, quiet, and picky about his food), while Nigel takes after me(excited and bouncy, always looking for the next shiny object to play with, extremely vocal, and willing to try anything at least once).
Al has pernicious anemia and has dealt off and on with minor digestive issues, bordering on mild IBS(irritable bowel syndrome)
All of his tests were inconclusive until eventually, a doctor noticed his low B-12 and suggested pernicious anemia as a likely diagnosis.
He gets monthly B-12 shots to manage his symptoms, and his diagnosis was confirmed by getting an endoscopy.
Rorschach has a diagnosis of feline irritable bowel syndrome(IBS).
After the antianxiety medication, the vet gave him a B-12 shot to help perk him up.
All of his tests were inconclusive/normal until the vet identified IBS through the endoscopy.
I am reliving Al’s diagnosis on a smaller scale with Rorschach. The fears are similar, the similarities are eerie, and Rorschach’s treatment is going to be more work than Al’s monthly B-12 injection.
We’re hoping that fewer checkups will be required.
This fighting within Birequest is waking up anxieties and fears that I had thought I had escaped.
My fears of abandonment have reared up, I’m feeling less secure, more anxious.
I was obsessively checking the group chat about the mediation until I decided to remove the temptation by exiting the chat.
I plan to participate in the mediation later this month, but not the mediation planning session. I need to do it this way, to protect my emotional health.
Birequest as a safe space is tainted now, by this specter of betrayal, just like so many spaces in my life were tainted by learning of the death of a loved one.
I’m no longer afraid that Birequest is going to fall apart, but I am now going to need to step up and take additional responsibilities within the group.
It’s the only way to make sure that it remains the safe space I love.
Stepping away completely(in some ways the safest move, and what Kawa has elected to do) isn’t an option for me.
I’m not going to give up.
This is another mire(like depression, like illness, like seeking a diagnosis) that I need to march through – firmly believing that it will be safe again, when I get through to the other side.
I’ve done it before, many times on my personal journey, but now there are a lot more variables and I have less control.
The damage is not my fault, but I am taking responsibility for reinforcing the structure because I want to protect this institution I care about – even though that means that I have extra stresses until this resolves.
I’m going over old feelings in new skins and just hoping that I can manage it all better this time around.
Conclusion: Weathering the storm
I love Rorschach and Nigel, and while my credit card is near its limit, I still have Rorschach by my side every night.
While there’s still a long road ahead, at least we know what it looks like, what direction it’s going in, and that this diagnosis shouldn’t noticeably shorten his life. The worst of that storm has passed(we hope), and the variables are smaller and easier to manage.
My relationship with Kawa was just struck by lightning. It’s dead, and there is nothing I can do about it.
It’s unexpected and sad, and I am working on grieving the loss, and the (hopefully temporary) loss of Kawa as a significant person in my life.
For now, the only certainty is that it’s over and that it was wonderful while it lasted.
Birequest has been an integral part of my life and social circle and the attacks on it have left me feeling insecure and anxious.
It hurts and I’m uncomfortable in a space that used to feel safe, but I am no longer afraid that it’s going to die.
I know that there’s a strong enough core of us devoted to the group that while Birequest is going through an unnecessarily painful change, change is part of life, and it can’t really be avoided.
I remain grateful for my blessings, even with the losses I have been suffering.
Rorschach has a very good chance at long and comfortable life.
Al is a supportive and understanding partner, and once I recover from this stressful time, I am free to find a new additional relationship(or relationships…hey you never know!).
Birequest is likely to continue to be the space I love, though it will be stressful for the next few months.
It’s time to be more vigilant about my self-care, be gentle with myself, and recognize and manage potential setbacks.
Loss is a sometimes unavoidable part of life, and I am doing my best to minimize the damage, stand up for what I believe in, and keep myself in the best possible state of mind as I weather these storms.