Lydiaemily Archibald has created some of the most beautiful and detailed paintings you’ve ever seen, featured in cities all across the world. Just from the look of her artwork, you might not know that she has to tie her paintbrushes to her hands to hold onto them — because she’s living with a disabling disease called multiple sclerosis (MS).
Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the brain and spinal cord that can lead to numbness, weakness, coordination problems, and more, according to the Mayo Clinic.Read More
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Painting for a Purpose
Lydia Emily is an artist and advocate who uses her work to highlight social and political topics that are important to her. In recent years, her art has become more personal than ever.
In the past, she used her work to bring awareness to issues like sex trafficking. Perhaps because she was raised by a mother who was a civil rights activist, Lydia Emily believes in working adamantly for change.
In “The Art of Rebellion,” a recent documentary about her life and work, she says, “Growing up, the motto in the house was ‘Once you know, you can’t not know.’”
For example, Gucci’s charity, Chimes for Change, commissioned Lydia Emily to paint a mural in honor of Jessica, a young woman who had been a sex trafficking victim since she was six years old.
The final mural — an incredibly powerful depiction of Jessica — is displayed on a wall on East 6th Street in Los Angeles, in the city’s Skid Row district.
In more recent years, the artist — whose work has been featured in cities around the country and the world, such as Milan, Berlin, Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC, and San Francisco — has a new topic to educate the world about: life with MS.
Battling MS as an Artist
Lydia Emily knows a lot about survival. In 2010 she fought — and prevailed against — cervical cancer. She has been a single mother, raising two daughters, one of whom has autism.
However, in 2014, Lydia Emily was presented with a new battle to fight.
She was diagnosed with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, a disease that triggers the body’s immune system to attack its central nervous system.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, “The resulting damage to myelin, the protective layer insulating wire-like nerve fibers, disrupts signals to and from the brain.
“This interruption of communication signals causes unpredictable symptoms such as numbness, tingling, mood changes, memory problems, pain, fatigue, blindness and/or paralysis.”
In the secondary progressive form of multiple sclerosis, known as SPMS, a person’s neurologic function deteriorates progressively. For Lydia Emily, the pain can be overwhelming.
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In a profile in Multiple Sclerosis Today, Lydia Emily reported that she takes 28 different pills on a daily basis to be able to function through the constant pain that she endures.
However, because all that medication can cause her to be drowsy and tired, she must also drink two pots of coffee a day be able to get up and work.
Despite her pain, as well as the challenges of being a single mother, she continues to be an advocate for people like her who live with multiple sclerosis.
It is important to her to be able to communicate, through her artwork and her advocacy, what life with multiple sclerosis is like.
Painting Through the Pain
MS makes her job extremely difficult. Simple tasks, such as holding a paintbrush, now require additional work.
Because her hands shake regularly, Lydia Emily has to strap her brushes to her hands when working. She ties them to her palms with long strips of fabric to make sure that they don’t slip out.
It doesn’t matter whether the paintbrush is large or small, she explains. It’s the pressure of having to hold on to it at all, despite its size, that strains her abilities.
And when her hands begin to tremble, as they inevitably do, the straps keep the brush steady.
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“The impact [MS has] had on my art is total,” she says in the documentary “Lydia’s Story,” produced by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
“My hands shake and I do fine details of people’s eyelids and wrinkles and the things I love to paint,” she explains. “The fine details are very difficult to paint.”
Recently, she has also had another major setback: MS caused her to lose sight in her left eye.
The impact of blindness affects every aspect of her life, and of course, her art. In the documentary, she discusses how the lack of depth perception forces her to work harder to capture her subjects realistically.
“MS has made it challenging at best, but not impossible because nothing is impossible,” she says.
WATCH: Don’t Stop Me Now
For more inspirational stories about people living joyfully and triumphantly with MS, watch SurvivorNetTV.
“Nothing Is Impossible”
That mindset, doctors say, is vital to battling cancer and chronic disease.
Dr. Samantha Boardman, a New York-based psychiatrist and author, previously discussed with SurvivorNet what she calls “the three wellsprings of vitality.”
According to Dr. Boardman, these three wellsprings of vitality are:
- Connecting. This involves how you’re connecting with others and having meaningful interactions.
- Contribution. How are you adding value to the people around you? Are you helping them in ways that feel meaningful to them?
- Feeling challenged. Being “positively challenged” could involve learning something new and expanding your mind in some way.
“Those are the cores of vitality, and the core pathways to enhance your everyday resilience,” Dr. Boardman explains.
Lydia Emily’s art helps her remain resilient. Knowing that she is reaching others is also a key motivator.
“I was always socially conscious,” she says. “My motto has always been, ‘art can do more than just hang. It can help.’”
She doesn’t paint because she wants to, she explains, but because she has to. “And that’s the difference, right?” she said in “Lydia’s Story.”
“MS may have taken my sights, and my hands, and my legs. But it can’t have that,” she says of her art and her passion. “That’s mine.”
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