On the persistence of art and friendship

Lelainia has been an artist all her life. In 2007, when she lost feeling in her arms due to damage in her spinal cord, she was initially misdiagnosed with MS before being re-diagnosed with Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO) in 2012.  Everyday tasks like buttoning up a shirt or holding a cup of coffee become almost impossible due to numbness in her hands. Almost as equally devastating was the emotional impact of her symptoms on her ability to create art.

“It’s been tough,” Lelainia says. “I don’t think anyone could go through what I’ve been through and not be affected. I’ve experienced anxiety from time to time. I have panic attacks when my ability to cope gets overwhelmed.”

Lelainia finds ways to cope well through support systems she has built around herself. These include her friends and family, as well as her support group Younger Persons with MS (where she included herself as the token person with NMO). The women in her groups have been an unending source of “unconditional love and support” for Lelainia. They have laughed, cried and commiserated with one another. They truly understand how each other feels.

Though the effects of her symptoms have impacted her artistic ability, art has also provided another avenue for coping. “As an artist, [losing control of my hands] was pretty devastating,” Lelainia says. “It took over a year for my brain to adapt to the new normal, so I could regain some sense of control over my hands.”

With the emotional support of her groups, art gave Lelainia the will to keep trying hard and long enough for her to maintain dexterity again. “Art has the ability to allow you to express the things that are too deep for words,” she explains. “It’s cathartic to have an outlet for all the stuff we usually push down inside.”

Without her art, Lelainia believes she would have felt more overwhelmed living with her symptoms. Art allows her to be persistent and acts as encouragement leading to a great feeling of achievement. Art, to Lelainia, brings joy, and combined with her support groups, has brought her emotional health to a manageable level.

“I’ve learned so many valuable coping skills just by listening to how others with MS and NMO deal with things,” Lelainia adds. “There’s a wealth of information and support within our MS and NMO communities. We are so much stronger together.”

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