On Sickness

Image of a hand rested on a hospital blanket, vital monitor secured to its finger.
From "Sick Women" (2023-ongoing)

Editor’s note: If viewing on your mobile device, please view in landscape to ensure proper formatting.

Collage of three images of women lying in a hospital bed—one upright, one reclined, and another with her head hanging off the bed.
Elizabeth Rooklidge, Sick Women (in bed), 2023, inkjet print

This Thing

According to Heidegger,

an object becomes

a thing

when it is no longer


I don’t think

he was talking about bodies,

but I don’t really know.

My mind is 

too slippery

to understand his writing.

Because when I got sick

my mind became


along with my body.

Too fickle to serve 

its purpose reliably.

What am I to do

with this thing,

my mind/body?

Trustless, I regard it

with a wary kind

of hope.

That my sentience 

will return

in radiant moments

of precision

and clarity.

That it will be useful,

I will be useful,

for brief windows

in time.

In sickness,

despite sickness 

maybe, even, because 

of sickness. 

A collage of six photos of women in varrying states of agony.
Elizabeth Rooklidge, Sick Women (pain face), 2023, inkjet print

Lustral Waters 

There are times when being in my body hurts so badly

that I find myself wanting God.

Well shit, I think. Because I don’t believe in God.

For centuries, ill people have dragged themselves 

to supposedly holy places to be blessed, to be healed.

It seems like, lots of times, there’s water involved.

God is in a spring, in a fountain, in H20 somehow suffused 

with a godness that will render your body no longer broken.

When I can muster the energy, I go to the community pool.

It looks like the Southern California version of a holy place,

edged with flamboyant palm trees, sun shining extravagantly, 

lane lines stretching across the pool’s glittering liquid surface. 

I bob along in the water, surrounded by people swimming, 

many of them fast—healed, or never broken in the first place.

I, however, am slow. I use a kickboard and move my legs

in a gentle breaststroke, so I am not tempted to go faster 

than my ill body can tolerate.

Do I want to be healed? Yes and no. 

Yes, because to be washed clean of illness sounds transcendent.

I would move beyond physical restraint. I would go fast, not hurt.

No, because illness has robbed me of the energy for wanting.

But wanting healing is different than wanting God, I think. 

Some company in my pain sounds nice, even if not God’s.

In the pool, I think of all those who came—ill—before me,

a lineage in these lustral waters.

A collage of four images of women sitting, reclining, and lying in beds.
Elizabeth Rooklidge, Sick Women (sick room), 2023, inkjet print


I see on the small screen

photographs of acquaintances, traveling.

Paris, Berlin, Tokyo. 

New York. Mexico City. Marfa.

Their world wide


While I am stuck here 

on the couch,

my body too ill for traveling.

But not exactly stuck,

not really.

For how can one be stuck

when one has

books and music and

art and films,

each a glimpse into the minds 

that make up the whole world?

A collage of three images of hands—one with a vital monitor on its finger, one with a set of pills in its palm, and one outstretched, grasping the hand of another.
Elizabeth Rooklidge, Sick Women (hands), 2023, inkjet print.

Explore the entirety of Elizabeth Rooklidge’s Sick Women (2023-ongoing) here.

Elizabeth Rooklidge is a writer, educator, and cultural practitioner based in San Diego, California. Elizabeth lives with multiple chronic illnesses and is an active participant in the international disability arts community. Her writing on art and illness has appeared in publications such as Able Zine, Variable West, Lassitude Zine, and HereIn Journal, and her interview with artist Emma Jones for Able Zine was turned into an installation at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum in 2021. Elizabeth’s creative practice has recently reached into the realm of visual art with her ongoing project, Sick Women. Elizabeth earned her B.A. in art history from St. Olaf College and her M.A. from the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art, and currently teaches art history and museum studies at the University of San Diego.