Queensland-based artist and MS Queensland Ambassador, Amanda, was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 25. Now, eleven years on, Amanda looks at life as a new blank canvas; using the power of art as a means of expression and education. Talking artist therapy, self-discovery, and the role MS Queensland has played along the way, Amanda shares her story with us.
With an art teacher as a father, art was introduced into my life from a very young age. I loved to learn about art history, so weekends growing up were filled with trips to galleries and museums. After finishing high school, I decided to study Human Resources – I thought at the time it was a more sensible career path than the arts. I worked as a workforce planner in the mining industry in Mackay; it was fast-paced, and I loved problem-solving. At 23, that all changed. I was undergoing a medical investigation and was subsequently diagnosed with MS at 25. Whilst dealing with the diagnosis, I signed up for a certificate III in visual arts at TAFE as a way to cope and process the rapid changes in my life. I’m now in my second year studying a Bachelor of Fine Arts majoring in photo art at the Queensland College of Art (QCA) in Brisbane!
When I was first seeking a diagnosis for the strange symptoms I was feeling; my ophthalmologist told me that it would be highly unlikely that I would see a neurologist in Queensland within 6 months. I was so unsure of what to do next that I called MS Queensland before I even called my family. Within a few minutes, the caring and reassuring woman on the phone had emailed me information on what MS is, and a list of contact details for every neurologist in the country. As a result of MS Queensland’s help, I was able to see a neurologist in Sydney within two weeks!
From that first call, MS Queensland has continued to support me on my journey. I have attended workshops run by the local service coordinators and been introduced to various MS support groups. They have helped me with the daunting task of pre planning my NDIS and also attended my first NDIS appointment with me. I now attend neurological physiotherapy sessions at the wellbeing centre on the Sunshine Coast. Taking that step and reaching out can be daunting, but no one should face this disease alone. It’s unfortunate that we have a disease like MS, but it’s fortunate that we have an organisation like MS Queensland to support us.
I like to explore the relationship with my body now that I live with MS. Fragility and the broken body are themes I commonly work with and mostly all my work is a reflection on identity through various mediums. I create through photography, video, installations, printmaking, drawing and painting. I was really excited when I was selected as a finalist and touring artist for the 2019 Queensland Regional Art Awards for my artwork “Self Portrait.” The 3D self-portrait, with its sci-fi clinical aesthetics, repurposes my MRI brain scan slices, enabling the viewer to access my inner psyche and ecosystem. It allowed people to see the unseen in a very vulnerable and personal manner.
With my artistic process, I like to brainstorm ideas and research other artists before having a clear understanding of what I would like to create. I then refine and change it from there. You can find me working from a dining table, home office, veranda, the studios at uni and my shed (my partner sacrificed half of it, cleared out his stuff and made me a great studio at home!). I love to collaborate, bounce ideas and receive feedback from fellow artists and peers – it’s so important to me for growth as an artist.
Those who know me well, know that I am an outgoing and bubbly person who happens to create art that explores serious and very personal themes. When I was diagnosed, I turned into a recluse. So many people had quick remedies and unsolicited advice which made me feel like I wasn’t coping with my diagnosis at a level that was acceptable to others. I found a great psychologist, and instead of talk therapy, he introduced hypnotherapy and mindfulness. Introducing this into my life has been ground-breaking to my recovery out of depression, which can be caused by the onset of the disease. Art also really helped me work through the challenges I faced, the diagnosis, winding up my career in HR and also grieving the person I was before having MS.
Art is an ongoing journey and it really has been a form of therapy for me to deal with all that life throws at me as a consequence of having MS. I haven’t always been so open to talking about having MS either. In the past, I would’ve loathed the positive person I’ve become. Now, eleven years later, I’m an ambassador for MS Queensland and pursuing a career I’m extremely passionate about. I think when you take the time out to do something you really love, it’s great for your mind and acts as a breather out of everyday life.