An Invisible Illness Survivor Turns Her Journey Into a Cinematic Resource for Patients

March 30, 2017

By Tasra Dawson

My personal understanding of invisible illness started at a crosswalk in Atlanta during October of 2011. I was on a business retreat catching up on my post-production photography work for my company, Teen Identity Portraits & Magazine.

It had been an amazingly productive morning so I decided to stretch my legs and get some lunch. On my walk, I noticed how fast the cars were whizzing by on the speedway. I noticed drivers distracted by their cell phones and it made me more cautious. After lunch, I packed up my leftovers and headed home. Just before the crosswalk, I decided to switch my heavy shoulder bag to a makeshift backpack. That move quite possibly saved my life.

I got to the crosswalk, waited for my green light to walk, and started to make my way across. About ten steps in, I saw a white car out of the corner of my left eye. It was moving toward me. I pivoted left to face it with my hands outstretched (as if I could stop a moving car with my bare hands.)

He had a red light, but he wanted to turn, so he was looking left to merge into oncoming traffic. He didn’t stop. He didn’t see me. I was invisible… to him.

Not to the woman in the car behind him though. She saw it all happen in slow motion, she said. She threw her hands up and screamed, believing that it was over for me. My body crumpled over the front of his white car, the momentum threw me at least six feet in the air, and somehow, someway, I landed back on the cement, on my feet.

I don’t remember any of it.

It’s 2017 now. I’m sure they’ve long forgotten about me. That man with the white hair, in the white car. The kind woman who pulled me out of the street, cars whizzing behind me, me paralyzed in shock. I aInvisible_Illnessm invisible to them.

Not only them. I became invisible to the doctors and specialists who’ve misdiagnosed, mislabeled, and mishandled my injuries and subsequent illnesses.

To the friends who disappeared when I could no longer function as a normal person in regular society. To the industry I could no longer participate in because of chronic debilitating pain and the grief I still feel from the loss. 

I walked away from the “accident” that day, but that wasn’t all I walked away from. I left behind my identity, my career, my passions, my sense of purpose, my friendships, my confidence, and my visibility. I became part of another world, a world of chronic and invisible illness survivors and warriors. A world that charges an excruciating entry fee and rarely lets you leave.

At the same time, I have been gifted a new purpose and passion. The deepest moments of agony and despair have literally been the pivoting points for my recovery and renewal. I will never forget how alone and isolated I was during those first few years and I never want anyone else to feel the way I did.

Our greatest work comes from our places of deepest pain. I truly believe that (on my good days). I also believe that all my life has led me to this place where I am creating a space where survivors feel seen, heard, validated, acknowledged and understood.

Would I have chosen it willingly? Likely not. But I will stand in this place I have landed with courage, authenticity and compassion, deep like wells that have been created from the wounds.

With the help of my filmmaker husband, who has been with me every step of the way, we are creating a film of hope and resilience. A feature documentary for and about people suffering in silence with chronic and invisible illnesses. We are traveling the world capturing and telling inspiring stories that deserve to be told and retold in as many places as possible because… we are still here, we are not invisible, and we are not alone.

Learn more about Tasra and her projects here.

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