Dale Schneider is the Founder of Dendron Design Co., a freelance design firm located in Harrogate Tennessee. Dale is the designer for the featured T Shirt design “Young Mind Old Body”. Dale was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis when he was in college though his illness began when he was just ten years old. In this Q&A Dale sits down with Sickids and talks about his design, his illness and his passions in life.
Q: Can you explain the concept of the t shirt you designed and how you developed the idea?
The Young Mind Old Body design is based upon the Vitruvian Man by Leonardo Davinci. Working with Dan, we took this idea of the “Workings of Man” and morphed it into an analogy of Mind vs. Man. It represents the struggle of anyone living with a disease that limits their day physically, while still fighting with a strong mind to come out on top.
Young Mind Old Body shows the conflict between feeling young and able on the inside, while struggling with a body that just feels old on the outside.
A short quote that is reflected in the design reads as follows:
“Within the confines of decaying walls, lies a fortress made of mind.”
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your chronic condition and how you were first diagnosed? How would you explain your condition and its challenges to someone who doesn’t have it?
I was officially diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis my freshman year of college. I had been wrongly diagnosed several times, as my condition started when I was about 10 years old.
AS is usually described as inflammation in the back, though it can present itself in many ways. My condition mostly affects my hips, knees, and lower back. It can be completely debilitating, causing me to stay out of all running activities as a child. You can imagine the mental struggle that produces when you go from racing and playing basketball to hardly walking to the car in just a few short years.
I finally was convinced by my then girlfriend, now wife, to visit a new doctor instead of just sucking it up with the sub-par medication I was on. I was immediately prescribed a biologic, Humira, that made my symptoms all but disappear over the next few months.
AS is a disease that is particularly difficult for me, as it affected me during the years where I was supposed to be the most active and energetic. I am doing better now, slowly building muscle that should have been built years ago, but it is a struggle that has set me back quite a bit.
Q: Tell us about a challenge that came up with your condition and how you overcame it?
The biggest challenge I’ve experienced is the feeling of being left out. Your friends don’t understand, and you don’t even understand so you make jokes to mask the pain. Your friends laugh with you at your jokes, but it starts to feel like they laugh at you when you can’t partake in the physical games that you used to love. Strangers don’t laugh, but they do judge. They see a fit young man that is always smiling, but making an excuse not to run with them, and assume I’m just lazy.
One particular struggle was the mile-run fitness test each year in high school. I had to explain each year that I can’t do it, and usually I’d find a way out of it. But one year I was told I had to run or at least walk it. So I started at the line, and when they told us to run I gave it my best. My absolute best was about 15 feet, before my body forced me to walk. I heard people behind me asking each other why I was walking, before even getting into the first turn. I heard people start chanting for me to run, not understanding that this wasn’t a lack of motivation, it was a lack of ability. So I responded with embarrassed tears, and angry silence as I arrived, well behind the slowest runner, to the end of the lap and refused to go on.That anger didn’t go away for many years, even now I can recall how it felt.
This was a challenge that sticks with me, and in many ways life has a funny way of bringing it back up and making me think about it differently. What was once only anger and pain has slowly started to morph into a rough appreciation for how far I’ve come.
Q: How do you deal with the emotional or mental aspect of your illness?
I used to deal with it in any way that I felt was right at the time: Anger, Jokes, Mania, Depression.
None of it made sense, and neither did my day to day reactions to the illness. As I got older, the physical tests stopped and the only tests left were the ones that I put myself up to. I still feel that anger and embarrassment if I fail my own tests, but I’ve started taking things slow and celebrating the little achievements. Meditation, along with searching for the positives in life, have helped tremendously.
Q: If you could give advice to someone who was just diagnosed with AS advice what would it be?
I know people don’t like hearing this, but the only way that I know how to overcome the struggles of AS is to get on the right medication that can stop the damage and stop the pain. My advice is to be patient, but don’t settle. If you feel like there is more for you out there, or something better, then don’t stop looking for it. Also, find people that you trust and develop a system of support with them. You don’t need to go it alone.
Q: What are you passionate about? What gets you up in the morning?
My main passion is art, followed by curiosity. My illness limited my thoughts of becoming an athlete at an early age and led me to focus on the pursuit of mental happiness. Staying curious about the world, and sharing my story through art and other mediums helps me be happy. I appreciate life, and want to do my part to make it better. That is why my design company is dedicated to promoting education as well as environmental conservation. I’m taking the things I love about life and supporting them the best way that I know how—through art.