Making Invisible Symptoms Visible
Creating art allows Julia Nieves to see her multiple sclerosis in a new light.
Julia Nieves, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2014, was looking for a way to deal with the physical and emotional challenges of living with the disease.
She used to sew and draw when she was younger and reconnected with her creative side during the pandemic when she began working with an expressive arts therapist/coach.
“Not only did I need an outlet to express myself, but I also wanted to create more space in my life for fun, laughter, and joy,” says Julia (who pronounces her name HOO-liah).
In the last year, Julia has created paintings, quilts, photographs, and digital art that portray the various MS symptoms she feels, such as vertigo, “wobbliness” when walking, balance issues, and fatigue, all of which impact her daily life. She has even compiled this art onto her website, www.julianievesstudio.com.
“Art has allowed me to make the un-seeable reality of living in my body visible first to myself and then to my family and friends,” Julia says. “Seeing a visual representation of what it feels like to be dizzy and off-balance that existed outside of my body was absolutely liberating for me! I immediately felt less alone.”
Julia says the medium she uses on any given day depends on how she feels. On a “good day” with little fatigue and more energy, she might choose to sew or paint. On other days when she’s not feeling as strong, she usually draws, writes, or takes photos to use later in digital art.
Being able to find solace in art is just another example of Julia’s “can do” attitude.
When she was first diagnosed, a doctor in Raleigh, North Carolina – where she and her family lived at the time - told her that all she could hope for was to slow the “inevitable decline” due to MS. That was not a satisfactory answer for Julia.
“I had a pity party for about a month,” Julia admits. “But then I decided I would not be in a war with my body. I started looking for a doctor who believed things were possible before they were declared impossible.”
“Shepherd Center is a community of compassionate, innovative, and skilled people who believe in and work for miraculous transformation on behalf of the people they serve,” Julia says. “It is an amazing place.”
Written by Sara Baxter
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.