Michigan artist Jennifer Reida takes a unique approach to spreading the word about MS
More than 2.3 million people are affected by MS worldwide. In Michigan, more than 15,000 people are diagnosed with the disease. However, these numbers are only estimates because the CDC does not require U.S. physicians to report new cases, and because the symptoms of MS can be completely unseeable.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). The exact cause of MS is unknown, and at this time there is no cure. MS symptoms are variable and unpredictable. No two people have exactly the same symptoms, and each person’s symptoms can change or fluctuate over time.
MS not only affects your physical health it affects your emotional health as well. Denial , grieving, stress and depression are just some of the emotions that people with MS have to face to regain control of their own life. Telling others that they have MS can be a very difficult thing to do. Dealing with the diagnosis and symptoms is hard enough but telling others and talking about their disease is a challenge in itself.
Michigan artist Jennifer Reida found a way to help herself heal and cope with the disease and at the same time helping others share their own story in a unique way. Jennifer created the online journal A year of MS which is 365 portraits in a year all of some affected by MS. Each portrait is accompanied by the person’s story as told by them. Jennifer hopes this will help others on their MS journey.
I had the privilege to speak with Jennifer not only about her wonderful artwork in her online journal A Year of MS but also about the disease and the inspiration she has brought to others whose daily lives have been altered and the obstacles one must face.
Interview with Jennifer
Your project A Year of MS which is 365 portraits in a year, all of someone affected by MS. You had started this project as a way for people to tell their story. I have read some the stories and how the inspiration just seems to flow. Who is the inspiration behind Jennifer?
My inspiration is my husband and my niece. My husband inspires me every day to share my story and my art. He is my biggest fan. My niece is so special to me and I will do everything in my power to make sure that she never has to call me to tell me she has MS
A Year in MS was developed by you for persons to tell their story, all of someone affected by MS. What made you decide to portraits with the story?
I decided to tell the stories through portraits because, art is my therapy. It was also to convey that behind every story is an actual person. This way we get to link up the story with a face. I chose to use the different mediums to convey the different symptoms of MS.
MS can affect many areas of one’s life based on the person s symptoms. What one aspect to your life was the most challenge for you to change and how did you handle this change?
The aspect of my life that has changed and has had the biggest effect on me has been my inability to work I have always worked sometimes 2 or 3 jobs at a time, and I had finally gotten a job doing something that I loved and was good at, Teaching art. When I realized I had to give that up it devastated me, but I couldn't do it anymore. I try to stay busy, I work on my art and on taking care of my fur babies.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), about 80% of people diagnosed with MS endure fatigue. Have you experienced fatigue and how often? What advice would you give to others concerning fatigue?
Fatigue is an everyday part of my life. I suffer from extreme fatigue; going to the grocery store is like I am running a marathon at full speed. My advice on fatigue is to know your body and your limits. Learn how to conserve your energy. There will be days when you feel like you have all of the energy in the world, but tomorrow you may not have any.
According Bill Cosby, "Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it." In your own opinion how important is having humor in your life when you’re living with MS?
I agree with Mr. Cosby humor is very important. My husband is great at making me laugh through tears or stumbles. I always think to myself what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger and at this point i should be able to lift a F250 over my head.
There are many persons with MS that believe there is a link between stress and MS. It has been shown that stress can make symptoms worse and even lead to relapsing. What approaches do you take to relieve stress? What advice would you give others for stress relief?
Stress is a big one, it can cause symptoms to flare or cause a relapse faster than anything else. You and this is for everyone not just people with MS have to have an outlet to relieve stress. For me it my art, even on days when my right hand isn’t working properly or I can’t see I pick up a pencil( paint is usually too messy at these times) and put something on paper, it usually isn't pretty enough to share but it helps with the stress.
MS affects everyone in the family. How did your family cope with your diagnosis? What advice would you give to family and friends about coping with disease of a loved one?
Not everyone with MS has been as lucky as I have been to have the support from my family and friends. My husband and I believe that MS has strengthened our marriage, he is there every step that I take. My sisters are who i can vent to, they both are medical assistants and one works for a neurologist so she makes sure that I know what questions I should be asking. (both sisters drove 9 hours to be with me at my first MS walk last month). My advice would be to ask questions if you have them, and to support your loved one. And know that we understand that this is as tough on you as it is on us.
On Saturday you will be attending the event One Day Can Make A Difference where you will be conducting a workshop, Effectively Communicate Your MS Story where you will be helping others tell their story. When you had to tell your story to family, friends, co-workers, what was the one message that was the most important to convey?
When I needed to tell family and coworkers the one thing that I wanted to convey is that this is different for everyone. I wanted them to know that I was capable of handling it and that they were welcome to ask questions. If I didn’t know the answer I would help them find it.
Tell the persons closest to you and watch their reactions and see if you’re okay with it before telling others.
You’re an inspiration for others, how do they inspire you?
Others inspire me by being brave enough to tell their stories, good and bad. They inspire me by living their life, even if it has limitations they live to the best of their abilities.
Mostly everyone has plans and schedule, but as we know symptom of MS are unpredictable. How important is it to have a backup plan?
Very Important. I never had one and hated it when people would strayed from my schedule. I had to let go of the anger and frustration.
What do you feel your greatest accomplishment is thus far?
My greatest accomplishment up until this point was that I was teaching art, now I believe that my greatest accomplishment is in progress. My project, being able to tell me story and helping others to tell their stories is what I am most proud of.
You are showing other's how to share their story and have shared yours. What is next for you after A Year of MS?
As for my future plans, I have some ideas for a new project. It will involve brain scans (MRI imaging) MS is a part of my life therefore it will be a part of my personal art. I will continue to work on my art and to tell me story and hopefully be able to help others to share their stories.
If someone is interested in your art work how can they contact you?