My story: Cassie Harris, Winner of the 2021 MS Virtual Art Show

 

Cassie Harris
For over 15 years, MSL has been encouraging the MS community to share their talent and love for art. This year, the theme was ‘Celebrating Connections Through Art’ and Cassie was the winner of the main prize, the Barry Allen Art Award, for her piece titled ‘The Garden of MS.’ We caught up with Cassie to find out how art helps her on her journey with MS.


What does art mean to you?  

I have always wholeheartedly loved colour, it brings joy to my soul and that feeling should be on tap for all to taste! Hence that is why I paint. I paint in the hope that someone will see a painting I’ve done, and it will bring them immediate joy, hope, happiness, ignite a feeling or a connection, and if COVID has taught us anything, it’s that we all want to be connected. 


What inspired you to take part in this years Virtual Art Show? 

Bringing joy and connection to others was the main driver for me to enter ‘My Garden of MS’ into the art show. I must admit, I’m a terrible painter because I’m a perfectionist, so I’m constantly changing and repainting (drives my husband nuts!). But surprisingly, I had a clear plan in my mind as to how I wanted to paint my MS journey and it just all came together with minimal repainting. 


Does making art help strengthen your emotional and mental wellbeing? How? 

For me, yes. Painting ‘My Garden of MS’ made me see that when times are tough, I’ve gotten through it.  As much as I love a good cathartic cry, I also tend to have a stiff upper lip when it comes to my health and being defined as “The Person With MS” and also frustration with myself as, at times, I can’t do something that’s important to me. So, painting ‘My Garden of MS,’ weirdly provided permission (in a way) to take the time out when I need to, knowing that this particular relapse episode will pass, and the day will soon come when I’ll be able to trip over my feet again (laughs).   

When I paint, I stop and focus on what’s in front of me. I get lost in the texture of a colour or how the paint moves, it’s a very meditative process and we all know that is good for the soul.


How did you feel when you found out you’d won the main prize?

It’s an extremely vulnerable feeling (like this interview) to put a part of yourself out there and it was the first I had entered. When I found out, I was just so elated and humbled. It was joyous and I am so grateful for the MS Virtual Art Show. 


Do you have any tips for someone living with MS who’s thinking of starting a project of their own but is a bit afraid of taking the leap or doesn’t know how to start? 

We live in an age now where there is a YouTube clip that can show you how to do almost anything. So Google or YouTube and find the medium that is going to give you the good feels. Work with your type of MS and what you can do, start small, practice, grow your confidence, practice, tell your inner critic to talk to your inner coach and just do.   


What did your MS diagnosis mean to you? 

I was first diagnosed with MS back in 2007, when I was 33 years old. I had gone to the GP with a persistent pain in my right eye that had gotten worse, and I remember becoming really worried when I couldn’t see properly out of it. He sent me to the eye and ear hospital, and it was in the very late hours on a Monday night that I learnt about MS. After my diagnosis was confirmed, I remember asking my neurologist if I was going to die from it. She said “no, only from complications,” so I thought that was a win! (Still not really sure!). 

She also had an accent, and I remember concentrating really hard, so I didn’t miss anything as I’m not good with accents, so I only let out a few tears when I heard the news. I remember getting phone calls from concerned relatives, but I had the relapsing and remitting kind, which in my mind, was the best kind if you were going to have MS, so I pretty much kept a stiff upper lip. 

A couple of weeks later, I interviewed a lady with MS for a job and she told me all about her MS experience. I remember feeling so scared for my future and later on that night, when I was in the comfort of my home, I cried like a baby, pure snot tears that took a long time to stop.  

The next morning, I got up and put one foot in front of the other and have been doing so ever since. That doesn’t mean I don’t trip over my feet – both physically and metaphorically – but it does mean that I’ve been fortunate enough to still have the life I had imagined, albeit with a few bumps along the way, and I know you will all know what that means.   

This year, over 270 wonderful art pieces were submitted by 139 artists from the MS community, and four other awards were given out. To view all the art pieces and to find out who the other winners were, visit www.ms.org.au/2021-virtual-art-show



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