Before contracting a mysterious chronic illness in the summer of 2021, I hadn’t picked up a camera in a decade.

I came down with the illness in as likely a place as any: a street corner in my neighborhood.

I was walking with my wife to meet a friend from out of town for dinner when suddenly I felt it all at once: brain fog, drainage, the fluttery expectation of a cough.

What I took for a mild head cold soon sprouted additional symptoms like a monster sprouting heads: shortness of breath, tachycardia, and debilitating fatigue.

Within a year I was effectively bedridden, incapable of even taking a shower without needing to lie down for hours afterward.

I saw close to a dozen specialists who whittled down the cause of these strange symptoms with tests—which uniformly came back negative—until a diagnosis was reached through sheer elimination.

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, better known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, is an illness with no cure but hundreds of treatments.

With very little research funding, the illness is being disjointedly investigated by a handful of physicians around the world and a legion of invalids willing to experiment on themselves.

In the two years since I contracted ME/CFS, I’ve tried dozens of these treatments—microdoses of anti-psychotics, cold showers, dietary overhauls, anti-aging pills—hoping one of them would be the magic potion that sends me tumbling back out of the rabbit hole, abruptly well.

White 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 the feeling of heightened awareness that comes with shooting, of wandering the streets in a cloud of creative potential, arranging compositions, feeling in control of things.

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 to be well, to use a camera, to get out there again. I wanted the plain surface. Pattern, order, things that lined up, things that fit.

In the little niche that my illness allowed, I started taking pictures again.

Orthostatic intolerance prevented me from walking any significant distance, so I shot from my car.

Fatigue prevented me from traveling, so I shot around Memphis, often in my backyard.

The unpredictability of my symptoms prevented me from planning shoots ahead of time, so I made my own luck with speedlites, bubble guns, mirrors, and a handheld fog machine.

If my photos are anything, they’re postcards from the hinterlands I’ve been living in, the middle ground between abject sickness and productive health, between a nonsensical illness and its mercilessly no-nonsense consequences.

Unlike Alice, I haven’t found the one potion that sends me back home.

But thanks to my wife Kendyl’s tireless research, Reddit, and one very patient oncologist, I have cobbled together a collection of treatments that curb my symptoms enough that a restricted form of my previous life is possible.

Gardner is a photographer living in Memphis, Tennessee with his wife and pets. He makes his photos with the Canon RF mirrorless system. He works as a freelance writer for a number of startups.