As Seen in the Baltimore Sun

When Edgar Allan Poe wrote his poem, “The Raven,” he couldn’t have imagined it would inspire the name of Baltimore’s football team (especially considering that the sport hadn’t been invented yet). Nor could he have known just how much the last two words in the opening line — “weak and weary” — would describe one particularly passionate fan: My son.

Joshua Weitzman is a 22-year-old aspiring music producer, and he’s battling multiple health conditions. Among them is myalgic encephalomyelitis, chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), a complex illness with multiple symptoms, one the worst of which is overwhelming fatigue after even slight exertion. That means Joshua could be rising to cheer a touchdown in one moment and collapsing on the couch in the next. Yet everything he endures only strengthens his emotional connection to the Ravens.

Long before Joshua developed ME/CFS, he was a shy 11-year-old standing on the sideline at recess, while others played football and talked Ravens. With my encouragement, he learned the game and eventually joined in.

However, my wife and I started noticing that Joshua was struggling with stomach pain and having difficulty swallowing, and we took him for an evaluation. He was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and Eosinophilic Esophagitis, but not yet ME/CFS, and referred to a Johns Hopkins doctor for monthly medication infusions.

The visits to Johns Hopkins meant long drives Joshua dreaded from our home in Potomac, but the highway approaching Baltimore offered a panoramic view of M&T Bank Stadium, flush with purple seats. His eyes lit up whenever he saw it.

We eventually moved to Baltimore, but Joshua had a flare just as his middle school began. He was in the hospital, while classmates acclimated to new classrooms and peers. More hospitalizations followed.

One memory from that time lingers for Joshua. While he was recovering from a procedure in January 2013, the Ravens were playing the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game a year after they’d lost in a heartbreaker to the same team. As he watched the game, Joshua recalled a line from a stirring speech linebacker Ray Lewis had delivered to his teammates after the earlier loss.

“I’m telling you, man, don’t ever — don’t ever — drop your head when it comes to a loss,” Lewis had said. “because there’s too much pain outside of this [game] that people are really going through.”

Joshua felt as if Lewis had been acknowledging him and felt supported. (The speech may have also inspired the Ravens, who won the Patriots rematch game Joshua was watching, and then the Super Bowl that same year.)

As the years passed and Joshua’s health struggles continued, the Ravens were his constant companion. Then, in spring 2021, yet another illness sacked him from his blind side. Following a bout with pneumonia during the pandemic, Joshua began experiencing symptoms associated with ME/CFS.

ME/CFS is characterized by profound fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, sleep abnormalities, autonomic manifestations, pain, and other symptoms made worse by any exertion (including physical, cognitive and emotional).

While watching the Ravens, Joshua would experience what he called a “crash” brought on by ME/CFS. Such crashes can mean feeling flu-like for days or collapsing on the couch after a score. Watching games with Joshua, I tried to hide my own emotional agony. But I also knew he was resilient, just like the team he adored.

Joshua adjusted his game plan. He learned to pace himself to avoid exertional triggers. “Players are told to take it one down at a time and play it the best they can,” he says. “That is what I now do nearly every hour of every day. I do what my body will allow at that moment.”

Meanwhile, Joshua also pursued treatment, but he was unable to get an appointment with a Johns Hopkins ME/CFS specialist — one of only a few such providers in the country. Finding more availability in California, he moved to Los Angeles in January and assembled a new medical team.

Joshua had taken a leave from college two years earlier, but he’s recently returned to school for a music class at UCLA.

He still has a long way to go on his journey to wellness. But at least he’s “moving the chains and getting some first downs,” as he says. His game plan is to be the best version of himself on every play, and hope that at some point, he hits a treatment touchdown.

Joshua says he misses the purple madness that overtakes Baltimore during football season, and he plans to attend a game between the Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium later this year.

Poe’s poem ends rather bleakly (“And my soul … shall be lifted — nevermore!), but Joshua harbors great hope for a successful Ravens’ run and for his own future.

“When they talk about ‘Playing like a Raven,’ they mean playing with passion, pride, and determination,” he says, “something I try to embody despite my struggles.”