I remember reading The Great Gatsby for the first time during the spring semester of my junior year of college. It was my responsibility to help a high school student in Mexico analyze and write about the book for a class; I was a teacher, editor and student, all at once. Yet I forgot all of those things as I read The Great Gatsby. The rich prose, symbolism, the almost characters — I got lost in the surreal, dark, glamorous world. It helped me heal after the passing of a beloved professor and a devastating ghosting experience (hey, I was 21 at the time). It was exactly the book I needed.
Divine book interventions are a thing, I swear. Last month, I selected two books for my inspiration in writing a piece for The Des Moines Girl Gang’s “The Well-Read Woman” art show at the Young Women’s Resource Center in Des Moines. I returned home with Voice Lessons by Nancy Mairs and The Opposite of Fate by Amy Tan. Both books explored what it means to go through life in a feminine body and what it means when that body turns on itself. I somehow managed to pick two books among stacks and stacks that dealt extensively with autoimmune disease, something I understand.
Divine book interventions, I’m telling you. I read both books and wrote this personal vignette inspired by them. My piece is on display at the Young Women’s Resource, so feel free to stop by and see it during regular business hours! Plus, check out written and visual works from more than 40 female-identifying artists.
My Own Cure
The lines and curves of the indoor track tug at my legs, urging them to speed up. I circle the track again and again. As I run, my body and mind spin and split — like a centrifuge in action.
Maybe, if I run fast enough, I’ll catch up to the real machines that lurked in labs I never saw but knew existed; I picture the centrifuge spinning my blood into oblivion, splitting the cells and structure of me. For months, doctors sampled my blood searching for the source of my chronic fatigue. I existed in needle pricks and vials and phone calls I didn’t dare answer. I waited for voicemails, listening to test results, explanations and call-back requests again and again.
I memorized the words until they spun in my head on a dizzying loop, until I succumbed to my inevitable second nap of the day. Invisible illness is like that: a dizzying whirl of appointments, questions and often, a paralyzing lack of the right words. “I’m tired.” “I sleep a lot.” Both capture the reality without touching the intangibility of autoimmune disease and accepting the fact that my body attacks itself — that I am my own sickness.
In recovering from my autoimmune disease, I became my own advocate. I stopped apologizing for my own symptoms and restrictions. I learned to run not for my next race but for raw reminders of strength and power.
Sometimes I run fast, sprinting around the curves, letting them pull me in. Sometimes I run slowly, reveling in the little muscle lines that have started to resurface on once-atrophied legs. I control the spin.
Autoimmune disease means I am my own sickness, but I am also my own cure.