Elizabeth Jameson reflects on how art and writing have helped her find her voice and share her story about life with multiple sclerosis (MS).
Chronically Creative is a series to celebrate the artistic passions and talents of Bezzy community members. This series highlights the many creators who are part of our community and celebrates what makes them unique, beyond their conditions. Here is Elizabeth Jameson’s story.
After Elizabeth received her MS diagnosis, she no longer felt comfortable practicing law. She began trying to figure out what she could do with her life instead. She shares, “I went with a friend to a painting class and fell in love with the smell of the paint and the freedom I felt with the paintbrush in my hand.”
While she didn’t expect to become so immersed in the practice, Elizabeth was shortly tired of painting “pretty” pictures.
She explains, “I only became inspired when I realized that I could use my art practice to create an important dialog about disability and chronic illness. There was a certain joy and power in reclaiming agency over the scary medical data that I was confronted with.”
When Elizabeth first began creating art, she still had the use of her arms and hands despite using a wheelchair. Due to the progression of her MS, Elizabeth eventually lost the use of her legs, arms, and hands. She turned to new ways of creating art.
“My work has had a profound impact on my overall well-being. I see beauty in my brain, and it is intimate and sacred.”
Now, Elizabeth writes and collaborates with another artist to write, create new art, and reimagine some of her original works.
She says, “I thought I had already reached the zenith of my creativity because I was paralyzed, but I was wrong! My creativity and excitement continue to grow. I’m living the time of my life!”
Elizabeth’s work focuses on transforming images of life with MS that she describes as unsettling and clinical into pieces that invite conversations about what it means to have an illness or disability.
She reflects on initially viewing MRIs and seeing them as ugly and upsetting. She explains that this was because she didn’t want to look at them or deal with what they were conveying. This perception shifted over time when she came to realize that these medical images were how neurologists were able to determine how the disease was progressing.
She explains, “I thought that maybe that is how I should use my art: to reinterpret the MRIs and communicate something different that is beautiful, complex, and conveys my humanity.”
Elizabeth feels like she has found her voice through creating art around MS and disability. When her art practice expanded to writing, she found an audience eager to hear her stories and thoughts about daily life with chronic illness and disability.
She says that when nationally recognized publications published some of her essays, she felt even more empowered to keep writing and telling her story.
Elizabeth’s practice has grown by seeing how other people find their own meaning in her artwork. When she hears from patients, practitioners, neuroscientists, or advocates, she says it feels like she is contributing to a larger story. She also finds inspiration in music, especially her current favorites, Janelle Monáe and Jon Batiste.
Elizabeth also loves reading “The Book of Delights” by Ross Gay, as it reminds her to try to chronicle what delights her each day. She explains, “Gratitude for the “simple” things — friends, food, exercise — allows me to keep living with joy.”
For Elizabeth, music and reading give her a “little oomph” to boost her creativity, mood, and energy when she needs extra inspiration.
While art has been incredibly powerful for Elizabeth, she urges others to find a practice that inspires them and makes them feel empowered.
She explains that this practice doesn’t necessarily need to be related to creating art. She says, “I think it’s important that people explore various things — art, writing, music, acting, or whatever inspires them — so they can also find their “voices” and share them with the world.”
Elizabeth finds purpose in creating work that normalizes the experience of chronic illness and disability. Her ultimate goal is to create a broader community to reduce the isolation, shame, and self-hatred that often accompanies chronic illness and reduce the barriers that prevent access to quality healthcare.
Elizabeth shares that she has been trying her best to find peace in her journey with progressive MS. She states, “My work has had a profound impact on my overall well-being. I see beauty in my brain, and it is intimate and sacred.”
Fact checked on September 29, 2023
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