By Mitchell Clarke
Cara-Ann Simpson spent close to a year in hospital being unable to tolerate light or sound, she was completely bedridden but doctor’s had no leads as to what was wrong.
After being unable to walk, sit up on her own or care for herself, Ms Simpson was finally diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Neurosarcoidosis after numerous tests and scans.
Multiple Sclerosis is a disease that attacks the brain, spine and optic nerves. More than 25,000 Australian’s are affected by MS.
It’s been a long road to recovery for the Pakenham woman who endured two months of in-patient rehabilitation, learning to walk and re-gain her mobility. Despite continuing to suffer a number of side effects from medication, she’s defying the odds and is now walking unaided. Earlier this year, she participated in a 25km hike at Wilson’s Promontory.
But the disease took its toll and tested her endurance. She was forced to resign from a job she loved while at the peak of her career, and now Cara-Ann is unable to find work.
Coming from an artistic background, Cara studied visual arts at university and practiced as a professional artist in Australia and internationally for some time until a career as a curator, cultural heritage expert and organisational director took off.
“Becoming ill has given me an opportunity to start making art again,” Ms Simpson said.
And she’s putting art to good use – entering a personal piece into the ‘Art talks, art connects, art heals’ exhibition at the Nerve Centre in Blackburn.
The exhibition opened on Friday 9 August and garnered over 150 works of art created by people living with MS and other neurological conditions across Victoria, Tasmania, NSW and ACT.
Ms Simpson took out the Photography and Digital Award with her piece ‘M.ake R.eal Improvements #8”. She entered the award to become part of the Australian MS community.
“Being part of the MS Art Exhibition is an honour and a privilege on its own. I am so appreciative of the people and artists involved,” she said.
“I was thrilled to receive the award. It means a lot to me and is really helping me to believe in myself, and give me back some of the confidence that was stripped away during my extreme illness and from my diagnosis.”
MS Limited CEO John Blewonski said art is an important way of helping people deal with multiple sclerosis.
“It’s a life changing and debilitating condition that changes a person’s outlook on life. Art is transformational, providing time out from the day to day of living with a chronic illness and a way of expressing how one feels,” Mr Blewonski said.
“The exhibition presents a unique opportunity to own a piece of art that is interesting and affordable, while supporting the work of people living with multiple sclerosis or other neurological conditions.”
The inspiration behind Cara-Ann’s piece of artwork was truly personal, basing it off real MRIs of her brain, overlaid with text and spectrographs (soundwaves).
“I have had numerous MRIs, the images are incredible, beautiful and scary,” she said.
“A tiny ‘blip’ could be unrecoverable damage or cause any of my symptoms.”
The spectrograph used in the artwork is a recording of the quote, “build an inclusive culture, rather than ask a person to fit around an existing closed culture”.
“It’s about my experience with disability and the discrimination I have faced trying to re-enter the workforce while being open about my condition,” she said.
“These spectrographs are overlaid on approximately one in five images – the same statistic as those in Australia living with disability.
“Having a disability means being stronger and smarter in many ways – finding alternatives to solve problems that fall within your abilities.”
Her positive outlook on life saw her receive the Young Alumnus of the Year from University of Southern Queensland in 2017, recognised for her work in the arts and cultural sectors, alongside her perseverance in the face of adversity.
Currently a board member with Living and Learning Pakenham, Cara-Ann is looking forward to finding employment which embraces her differences and fulfils her abilities, but is adamant that art will continue to remain a strong part of her life.
“I’m slowly developing two new artwork series – this one around medical imaging, and another around still life – both involve spectrographs, something that has been in my artwork for around 12 years,” she said.
“I would really like to have a solo exhibition that explores my relationship with MS.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up to assist Cara-Ann’s ongoing treatment and living costs. You can donate via https://au.gofundme.com/help-cara-find-a-diagnosis.