(Guest post by Jennifer Dye Visscher who was recently a finalist in the “Best in Show” category at the WEGO Health Activist Awards 2011. Jenna can normally be found at TheFeedingEdge.com) .
There is an adage we all know, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” It refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single image. As an artist, I truly believe this is possible and I worked hard to convey messages with every apple I created in my year long Art Apple A Day project for Ankylosing Spondylitis Awareness. But, sometimes it takes a series of photos to convey something as complex as the story of a life with chronic illness.
The other day I went in search of some of my baby photos – I needed them for a special project.
I headed to the closet of our guest room where I store old photographs. I pulled down two huge boxes from a high shelf – wondering in the process if my back would revolt from the effort. I started leafing through hundreds of images telling myself I would find what I needed and get back to work. It was a nice attempt but, as you can imagine, the images sent me back in time and actually around the globe. I became completely absorbed in memories and lost all track of time. I found graduations, birthday celebrations, my after college European backpacking escapades, and our family favorite thing to photograph – lobster cookouts! Although I didn’t find a baby photo since apparently my parents still hoarde most of those, I did discover something very important and interesting. I am old enough now to have been an adult for over half my life (that is scary to admit) but 20 years of photographs allowed me to realize the following.
You can see my health issues ebb & flow on my face over time.
The third discovery was strange to see from some distance of time. I was holding photos of me from 10 years ago where I think I look older than I do today.
That. Was. Shocking.
Ten years ago was before my diagnosis of Ankylosing Spondylitis when I felt the worst I’ve ever felt. I’d like to share with you all something my Mom wrote about watching me go through those years. She wrote a piece for my blog The Feeding Edge, called simply, My Mom’s Perspective. She wrote it because I’ve never been able to “go there” – I haven’t wanted to look back at those years now that I’m in these years.
There is one statement in her description that I thought I understood when she wrote it almost 5 months ago but I didn’t really “get it” until I saw it right in front of me. She said, “I’ve seen her disappear behind her eyes.” That was a tough one. Chronic pain and illness took me away for many years. I disappeared. But I NEED you to hear this…
I fought back.
And I’m back.
You can do the same.
Most people you ask about the ups and downs of any chronic illness who have lived it for at least 10 years (it takes that long to gain even a small amount of perspective) will tell you that at the beginning of being sick the feelings of despair often did not feel like they could be overcome but then one day something miraculous happens. I say miraculous because even if you are physically doing about the same or unfortunately most likely worse, you adjust. You discover what works for you, and you come to realize that you can get through it and that you can in fact live this way. And you move on with your new life. Chronic illness isn’t the end of the world. Ankylosing Spondylitis is NOT the end of the world, it just changes how you live in your world. If you are recently diagnosed – please hang in there. Fight to get better in any way you can and most importantly hold on – you can find and be you again. You can reappear behind your eyes.