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  • Writer's pictureDearbhla

World MS Day: Dhá dhomhan'

As part of an exhibition held by MS Ireland for World MS Day, I attempted to capture the intricacies of what it's like to live with MS. The Art of MS – Symptoms Under the Spotlight exhibition opened on May 26th and runs until Wednesday June 1st at Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute on Pearse street in Dublin. Twelve of us were chosen to express the wide-ranging symptoms of MS through art and as a result there are digital illustrations, freestanding sculptures, paintings and creative video content all of which aim to help people better understand what it's like to live with MS day-to-day. For many of us, our symptoms can be invisible and misunderstood ranging from fatigue, vision impairment and depression to difficulties with memory and cognition.

It was a fantastic opportunity to use art as a form of communicating symptoms. It is often easier for people to understand when you show them how you feel rather than explaining how you feel. Although it was cathartic to paint life with MS, at times it was a bit overwhelming as it made me think back to my life pre-MS and pre-Covid, a nostalgia I try not to dwell on too much as it still makes me a bit sad.

I had spent much of my life galavanting across the globe, travelling and working in the Middle East, Europe and parts of Asia without much in the way of worry. Although I had struggled with fatigue and stress whilst working in Korea in 2013, my first tangible symptom was in 2015 in Brussels when my torso went numb. I was eventually given a CT scan and sent to a gastroenterologist who did an endoscopy and colonoscopy. After they didn't find anything, in their medical wisdom, they decided it was a torn muscle from camogie. When I ran, my eyes would glaze over as if slowly filling with water. So, I went to an ophthalmologist and was given glasses. Over the years, my symptoms have ranged from fatigue and leg spasms to tingling and numbness. Some days it felt as if ants were crawling up my legs. I went to a chiropractor who told me I just needed to exercise. Eventually, I saw a Podiatrist who gave me insoles and manipulated the nerves in my feet. The tingling subsided so each time symptoms re-emerged, he seemed to make it better and I thought I had solved the problem.

In 2018, I left my life in Brussels to embark on a new career teaching in Bahrain. It wasn’t until I had a relapse midway through 2019 that I was referred to a neurologist; four years after my first memorable symptom. I was diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS a few days after my first MRI scan on June 30th just before my 33rd birthday. My plans to move to Spain from that moment were foiled and I moved back to Ireland about a week later.

My life since then has changed exponentially and although a lot of it is a ball-ache (a quagmire of MRI scans, blood tests, medications, supplements and symptoms) much of it has been for the better (a career doing everything that I love, I live closer to family and I have a wonderful boyfriend). Having said that, a diagnosis is a double-edged sword. Initially relieved I had answers to the years of symptoms, at times the cold splash of reality sometimes hits that it isn’t going away. There is a misconception that when you have an illness, you have to look sick and if you don’t, people assume you’re fine. With MS comes the exterior persona you put on to go out into the world, a bit like putting on make-up before a night out. We mask a lot, and so much remains under the surface. It’s for this reason I was drawn to the imagery of water in my painting. I often feel as if I’m treading water, struggling to keep my head above water.

I chose to do a watercolour painting. As such, the unpredictability of using this medium, much like MS, meant it inevitably didn't turn out how I wanted it to with lumpy paper due and an overworked palette. However, like Ronseal, 'Dhá dhomhan' (two worlds) does exactly what is says on the tin. It depicts how those with MS often precariously navigate two worlds. At times, this sense of being overwhelmed is like being submerged, swimming against a tidal wave of symptoms. The ocean represents the turbulence of these emotions. Underwater, images like disjointed hands, depict my feelings of disconnection and worries that with the passing of time my health will slip away, as sand sifts through an hourglass. Although MS has taken parts of me, it has instilled a renewed sense of purpose and appreciation for my life and the people in it. It has also given me a wonderful community in the friends I have made through having MS. The butterflies symbolise perseverance, transformation and hope.

Some of the other artworks at the exhibition:


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