The first time I drove through eastern Arkansas I thought it was the bleakest place I’d ever been. Its bone-brown fields stretched to the horizon, its corrugated towns huddled under flat gray skies. Time seemed to stand purgatorially still. It was not a place I wanted to spend an afternoon in. Years later, in nearby Memphis where I lived, I contracted a chronic illness that reduced me to a sort of living death. I was so fatigued that I couldn’t take a shower without needing to lie down for hours afterward. Tachycardia, like a constant parade in my chest, prevented me from leaving my house. Brain fog diminished my mental chatter to a sort of muffled hum. I lived on my couch.

While it's true that illness can strip your life of the things that make it meaningful, it can also help you discover new meaning in things you previously overlooked. It had been a decade since I picked up a camera. It was only housebound that I started to crave wandering the streets in a cloud of creative potential, to feel that heightened awareness that comes with arranging compositions. I had spent the previous ten years writing fiction, but ambiguity and hidden meaning no longer interested me, and mining my life for them stressed me out. No one likes to imagine us, the chronically ill, trapped on our couches, helpless in our midday beds.  I hated imagining myself. There was nothing about the illness I wanted to say. I wanted only not to be ill.

Two years later, after seeing a dozen specialists and trying treatments both minor and extreme, I discovered a study that led me to the root cause of my illness, and the treatment that could cure it. Within a few months of starting the treatment, I was tumbling from the rabbit hole, abruptly well.

The journey through illness reshaped my perspective on life and what I want from it. Rather than return to writing, I embraced photography. Rediscovering this art form hasn’t been just about capturing images. It’s about reclaiming a piece of myself that I had forgotten. Through the lens, I’m finding a way to re-connect with the world outside my confined space and to express myself without words. My favorite subject has become, ironically, the purgatorial landscape of eastern Arkansas. I feel now what I didn’t when I first drove through this place: a deep appreciation for the forgotten, for the neglected, for the things that become extraordinary when you've faced their loss.