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Weldon Ryckman


I’ve started bleeding. I hope it goes away. Among IBD patients, this is known as a ‘flare.’ A flare gun is used to signal a location of distress or danger. A call for help. This is my body calling for help.

I take two immunosuppressants to regulate my ulcerative colitis. According to my doctor, this places me in the immunocompromised population, though it isn’t that simple. One medicine I take, golimumab, is quite specific, targeting and blocking tumor necrosis factor proteins (whatever these are) to reduce and prevent inflammation, while the other, azathioprine, more broadly dampens the activity of my immune system. So, technically, I’m at-risk. __

I’ve tried to adopt deceleration. Spend more time observing concurrent rhythms in a space. I discovered a family of bunnies today. Chipmunks the day before. Easy to enjoy when you live on a dirt road, at your parents’ suburban home, or in the ritzy northern Michigan laketowns.

I have it easy.

Meanwhile, others are forced to accelerate. A black man is lynched by police. Cities are on fire. 105,063 dead. People are grieving. Which stage of grief is ‘radical change, now’? I observe these accelerations. I follow the protests, the rising death tolls. Consume them. Am consumed by them. Deceleration becomes harder. __

I’ve been revisiting a book about ecosystems, ​Beyond the War on Invasive Species.​ I like the way Tao Orion frames her holistic understanding of ecosystems rooted in interconnectivity: if a species becomes ‘invasive,’ well, there’s probably a very intuitive, though still complex, reason for that. It’s not as simple as new species bad, old species good.

One chapter, “Thinking Like an Ecosystem,” prompts me to observe other systems—the body, the social—through this ecological lens. An immune system that views its body as a threat, a police system that attacks its own people.

Is it possible to incorporate this ecosystem thinking with ideas in Susan Sontag’s treatise, ​Illness as Metaphor​, to understand my illness? Sontag critiques the deployment of metaphor when speaking about illnesses because the metaphors place blame on the afflicted.


I try to invoke the inverse: Am I sick because the planet is sick? Are social illnesses tied to my illness?

Illness as ecosystem. Ecosystem as metaphor.

__

Understanding illness can mean a lot of things. It can mean coming to terms, the way Joan Didion comes to terms with her migraines; it can mean mapping, observing the channels flowing through me to understand how they change me. Metaphors can be powerful if reductive, tools for understanding. Maybe these connections are farfetched. There’s a lot I’m overlooking as I grasp for meaning. Metaphors are tricky like that. __

So I’m bleeding. Why I’m bleeding depends on who you ask. My doctor would say it’s a flare. Another might say it’s a food allergy. As of now, I attribute it to the accelerating pain and injustice. My wellbeing feels inextricably linked to others’. The best thing I can do to help myself is to help them.

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All images other than author photos and artist artwork ©Matthew Batt 2020