Life with MS

My Story: Art Improves Quality of Life with MS

By Raymond Schnell
I started painting way back in my elementary school days. As a young boy, my comprehension was slower than most, and as a result, I worked with a tutor. Still, my grades were lacking, which shattered my self-esteem. All and all, I didn't believe in myself anymore. Though some say I’m wrong, while diagnosed with MS on Sept. 24, 2018, I think my fatigue, depression, and cognitive struggles back then were early signs of multiple sclerosis.

In school, I was bored with class curriculums and started doodling to pass the time. My doodling led to drawing, and by my late teens, I found myself glued to the television after tuning in to PBS segments of William Alexander and Bob Ross. The attraction to their work was magnetic, similar to being a child and watching Saturday morning cartoons. It was then I realized this was what I wanted to do.

Soon after, I put aside my dream of painting to pursue a career in the culinary arts as a chef. While it may have been sound advice on one end, it discouraged me on the other, but I proceeded to try and make a living down this new path. Eventually, I got married, and my wife and I had a little girl. When my daughter was five, the three of us moved in with my mother to lend a hand after her Alzheimer’s diagnosis. At this time, the stress began mounting.

I couldn't help but think of my daughter and how young she was in the midst of all this. Meanwhile, I felt as if I were losing my sense of self and needed to find some way of regaining my control. It was in the attic where I came across paneling material, and a light bulb turned on inside me. I thought, “What if I put primer on this material and start oil painting again? What do I have to lose?” That was nearly ten years ago, and I have no plans for slowing down.

I love to paint because I have the final say over what happens within the walls of my canvas. It also fills me with the momentum I need to push forward in my fight against MS, and I find peace and joy in those accomplishments. I’ve even challenged myself to explore the different varieties of painting. I managed to go from land and seascapes to architectural and even portraiture styles, something I never thought I'd attempt. I am forever grateful to my family and friends for their years of loving support, encouragement, and enthusiasm!

From there, I adopted a new way of thinking by believing in my abilities and myself. I am no longer afraid to try new things, nor am I afraid of failure. To me, I feel this is an excellent mentality for someone with multiple sclerosis, or for anyone who feels things could be better in their lives. This change of mind has brought on many positive results. My family and I live in an original Levitt home, which isn't very roomy, and I have many paintings taking up space. One day, my wife questioned what I was going to do with all my artwork. “Are you going to get rid of them?” she asked. Immediately, I heard the sound of a needle scratching a record in my head. Rather than react, I thought about it, and a few mornings later, I was having coffee while looking out at my yard. Another light bulb turned on inside of me. I thought, "If I can figure out a way to get my paintings on the fence to display, I can have a one-person show right in the comfort of my home!

I invited as many as I could, and prepared the food and beverages. (I was a chef and didn't believe in serving only cheese.) Of course, we added music to set the atmosphere, and to distract us from the clouds and wind. Sure, it wasn't your typical gallery in Manhattan, but I did it, and I did it my way. At the end of the night, sales were good; however, it meant more to me that my guests were there because they wanted to be. Not only was there an overflow of support, but I got to pass my work along, too. It was a magical day.

My reasons for painting and how I cope with MS parallels in that I channel my innermost thoughts and emotions of everyday life through my work. Just the colors alone have a profound effect on what I go through moment by moment. My studio is where I get to release what's inside without limitations, to try new things, and push the envelope. Quality of life has increased along with my confidence, and knowing that there is plenty I can do.