Guest Post: “A picture tells a thousand words” by Jennifer Dye Visscher

(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 .

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.

Jennifer Visscher

Jenna 1999 vs 2011

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.

9 Replies to “Guest Post: “A picture tells a thousand words” by Jennifer Dye Visscher”

  1. Pingback: The Feeding Edge » Guest Post For Endless Trax

  2. Laurel Villa

    Wow! Can I ever relate. I am 48 and I’ve living with AS (undiagnosed until 2007) most of my life. My first flare would have been when I was 13 years old, I just didn’t know it then….
    Your story really spoke to my heart and is a real encouragement to keep fighting! There must be a part two, because you don’t why you are better today?…

    Please tell what’s helped you.

  3. Jennifer Dye Visscher

    Hi Lauren,

    Thank you for such kind words. I will have to think on that – I believe there are so many reasons really. And, doing an “all of the above” approach has worked for me.

    I’ve written about a lot of my journey on my blog that is linked to above but it is in bits and pieces so I really appreciate your comment because I know that it would be good for me to put it together in a more cohesive and timelined manner.

    I wish you all the best. Keep fighting!


  4. joanne griffiths

    i just thought id write a short note ffor everyone i ‘lived’ undiagnosed with as from the age of 15 until 38 being told i had sciatica and all other pains were supposedly consequences of the sciatica until i was sent to an eye speciallist suffering with severe irisitis who then refered me for test for as (the two are strongly linked) so after tests and mri scan to confirm as my rheumatologist put me on Ethanercept (Embrel) injections once a week and i am a new woman i can honestly state that after all those years with some degree of pain every single day from the first injection i have not had a single twinge of pain since!

  5. Endless Trax

    Thank you for sharing Joanne.

    So glad you finally managed to get the treatment you deserved in the end. I’m even more pleased that your pain and suffering has gone into hiding for now.

    It must feel great to have that new lease of life. Maybe that will come to me too one day, maybe it won’t. Either way I’ll be here fighting all the way.

    Kicking and Screaming till the end…

  6. Kim Herrick

    Thank you for your encouraging words. I’ve had AS since I was in my early teens. Ironically, I knew what I had but it did not have a name. For years, i was told i was healthy and simply needed more exercise. Anyone with AS understands my frustration. I cant believe how strong I can be and how much I’ve pushed through.

    Only three weeks ago and two weeks before my 50th birthday did I get a diagnosis. I was hanging on by a thread. Now I can research not only what I can do to ease my symptoms but how to manage my perception of the ailments. You offer a glimpse of the sunshine in life I refuse to live without. HOPE

  7. carol

    Oh my! That is exactly how I feel. Lost within myself. I had my first symptom when I was 13, I am now 55 with many bones fused and years of severe pain treated with morphine, but no diagnosis/ scans until last year. Years of agony. Being told I have ME,told by one rheumatologist I have fibromyalgia; refused a second referral to another rheumatologist so I had to pay. She diagnosed AS with an MRI scan. I am hoping now for anti TNF.

  8. Angela Pearson (@angelahpearson)

    I think I am getting to the same mindset. I was diagnosed with AS 2 years ago and told I have had it about 10 years before that. It’s a bit like a bereavement you go through phases, relief at a diagnosis, anger – why me, depression being unable to live as you wish and then you get to acceptance of your symptoms and your spirit rises again and you start to fight back. We still have a life to live even if we have to adapt it.


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