Kirsty is a designer who received her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) whilst completing her degree. Here, she shares her story, the ways she coped with her diagnosis and how it has influenced her work.
Please tell us a bit about your diagnosis – what were your symptoms and what happened?
I was in my third year of a Jewellery and Metalwork Honours Degree at Duncan of Jordanstone Art School in Dundee when I had my first symptoms. My left eye became painful to move left and right and my vision in that eye deteriorated quite rapidly until I couldn’t see anything. Also my gait was way off, I couldn’t walk in a straight line and I was so tired. These symptoms escalated and I was admitted to hospital, I didn’t really know what was going on, I was in a dream like state, which I am quite thankful for as I can’t even remember having a lumbar puncture! MS was mentioned as a possibility at this time but the doctors seemed pretty sure it was another condition called A.D.E.M, which is like MS but it just hits you once and never comes back, so I didn’t even consider it would be MS! I was then diagnosed about six months later after experiencing slightly blurred vision, twitchy nerves and having a couple of MRI scans. Even though MS had been mentioned I really didn’t expect it, so it came as a massive shock!
Tell us about your design work – what do you make and how did you come by the idea to do this?
I took a year out of my studies when I was diagnosed to come to terms with it all. During that year, I learned that living with MS was manageable - just because I had been given this ‘chronically ill’ label it didn’t mean my life was going to change instantly! I also learned that MS was so misunderstood, yes I was still learning about it myself, but people didn’t know anything about it or had misconceptions about it. So, when I returned to uni I decided to use MS as the inspiration for my final years' work. I wanted to make MS visible through my degree show pieces and share my experiences of living with MS in a bold way.
My work had such a great response from the public and my peers I knew I had to continue raising MS awareness this way as it opens conversations about MS in a new and innovative way. I developed my creative business, Charcot years later as I ran off to London after art school for a few years to intern for designers and design labels which was a great experience, but I was always thinking about my MS inspired design ideas. Named after the ‘Father of Neurology’ Jean-Martin Charcot, ‘Charcot’ is my surface pattern design label where I use my own MRI scans and lesions shapes, the damaged caused by MS, to design prints and patterns which are then printed or etched on to various materials to make this invisible illness visible in the most fabulous way.
Has your work improved your experience of living with MS?
My work has definitely improved my experience of living with MS as at first, I was embarrassed to tell people that I had MS as it made them feel awkward! But now I have no trouble telling people and sharing how I have used it as a positive and raise awareness in an exciting way!
What kind of feedback have you had for your work?
I have received incredible feedback for my work, it really has been more than I could have ever imagined! I have the continued support from the MS community, which means so much and I love how it engages people that don’t have MS and that might not even know what it is, I really love taking it to new audiences! My work has also taken me to China to represent Dundee UNESCO City of design at the first ever Design Week in Shenzhen and at the same time I was announced as the first Design Champion for V&A Dundee, the first design museum in Scotland, which was an incredible honour! I have also leased work internationally and collaborated with pharma and digital imaging companies.
How was lockdown for you, what changed and how did you cope?
Lockdown has been interesting!? I work from a home studio so it wasn’t all that different but my years plans and potential work opportunities had to be scrapped, but the time has allowed me to focus on myself and even re-evaluate what Charcot is all about! I was supposed to be starting a new medication when it all kicked off but that was postponed, which I was thankful for as it is an immunosuppressant drug, which would weaken my immune system which isn’t ideal amid a pandemic! Also over the past few months I have noticed more symptoms and my legs are pretty wonky! So, I am being as active as possible to regain strength and feel more like myself! The online leg work outs from MS UK, have been great!
What advice would you give to someone who is newly diagnosed?
I would say, yes, it is a scary and daunting thing to be told but it doesn’t mean that’s it for you! Cliched as it sounds take each day as it comes, do what works for you and enjoy every bit! It has taken me my 13 years of living with MS to realise this, so just go for it!