Using Art and Creativity to Fight Multiple Sclerosis
After spending five years trying to figure out what was wrong with a her, a Newcastle adolescent found solace in art when she was finally diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) at age 17. Caitlin Martin, now 19 years old from Newcastle, Australia, recalls the struggle she went through trying to get medical professionals to listen to her when she knew something was wrong.
Every day, she would have headaches, fatigue, and pain, which she knew was not normal, and so she sought medical help with the support of her family. But she recalls the helplessness and hopelessness she experienced, as people were either baffled by her symptoms, didn’t take her seriously, or simply wrote her off entirely. This feeling of despair went away, however, when she was finally diagnosed with MS.
The day she was diagnosed, she went out with her family to celebrate. For Caitlin, the diagnosis was a relief, because she could now move ahead with treatment. In young adults, MS is the most common neurological disease and is progressive and chronic in nature. Early diagnosis is favorable for proper treatment to begin and to have the greatest effect. The progression of the disease can thus be slowed by early diagnosis, so one’s overall quality of life can improve and the life expectancy can be prolonged as well. Caitlin feels fortunate to be diagnosed at a relatively young age since she struggled for five years looking for an answer. The progression of her disease, too, has significantly slowed since she was diagnosed.
Caitlin is currently being treated in the hunter region of Australia. Incidences of the disease have doubled in the last 15 years, although the reason is not yet known, and there has also been an increase in the number of young females affected, as per the diagnostic rates. According to Dr. Lechner Scott, a lack of sun exposure, one’s environment, obesity, and diet could play a role.
Caitlin first began experiencing weakness on the left side of her body. She also often felt fatigued, a fogginess in the head, and experienced poor word recall. She worried she would not be able to graduate high school because of this. For a teenager, such thoughts can be devastating. At one point, she even lost sensation in part of her face and developed a numbness in her foot. After being diagnosed with MS, though, she started art therapy, which ended up changing her career goals since she originally wanted to go into biomedical science. She decided to change her plans after she engaged in art therapy. She discusses how you need to have a creative outlet to channel your emotions, which greatly helps in coping with the illness.
Art therapy helps people in different life situations to cope with chronic illness such as MS. Through active art-making, applied psychological theory, the creative process, and a psychotherapeutic relationship, art therapy enriches the lives of people in families and wider communities. It is an integrative mental health and human services profession, according to the American Art Therapy Association. Art therapy supports personal and relational treatment goals and also addresses the concerns of the community. By giving people with MS a medium through which they can work past different psychological and emotional phases, as well as a constructive way to express their feelings, art therapy can help them cope with the disease. When they are feeling down, people can find their self-worth in art, and it can also exercise their arms and hands, which is very important with MS. Through art therapy, there is no doubt that Caitlin will go far.