Jolie's story: swimming in the slow lane

I’m an artist living in South London with my husband and two children. I wanted to write something about the experience of being a survivor of the psychiatric and long-term physical health condition, Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

Jolie will take you from the diagnosis to how she manages this condition.

MS is a disease of the brain and spinal cord, which are also known as the central nervous system. Find out more.

The diagnosis

I was diagnosed with the recurring and remitting type of MS eight years ago. After having used mental health services it was a strange to have a neurologist pointing to abnormalities in a scan of my brain. The diagnosis was a huge shock, but I was helped by a family friend who also has MS, who told me that MS was nothing to be afraid of.

Finding support

In 2017, my MS symptoms became more severe, when I tried to run my left leg felt like it was made of concrete. It was through Liz Bentley’s book of poems, Mind Full of Mad Verse that I first heard of the OMS programme. My husband did some research and with some trepidation I started the diet in May 2017. I was fortunate to have already been practicing Zen meditation which is also a part of the OMS programme. In addition, I work in mental health and trying to best manage my own mental health underpins the work I do in the sector.

Starting to improve

My health has improved. My left side is still weaker than my right, but my leg no longer feels like concrete. I no longer find myself so overwhelmed by exhaustion that I need to lie down on the floor to rest in the middle of hanging up the washing (and I now know that pizzas taste fantastic without cheese).

Keeping to the diet is not currently an issue for me. There are losses though. Spontaneity particularly. Eating out is a pleasure that’s less straightforward now. Sometimes I do catch myself wishing I could just eat without thinking about it.

Finding swimming

On the positive side, my family eats very differently now. I’m certainly healthier for the diet. My exercise of choice is swimming. I swim for health, exercise and because I enjoy it. I always feel better for a swim. I’m not fast but last Autumn I swam 2000 metres in one stretch. I find the experience of my morning swims inspiring.

I’ve been an artist for over 30 years. At a stage in my life when my artistic practice is pushed for time, making digital drawings after swimming has been a way to sustain my artwork. Each swim is different. The digital prints are my memories of the people and goings on in the slow lane.

Being on the OMS programme has provided me with a way to be more in control of my life, to change lanes when life is challenging, to improve my quality of life and to feel hopeful for the future.

Giving back

I held a private view and fundraiser for my show Swimming in the Slow Lane on Thursday 5th December 2019. I am donating 10% of the profits I make from the exhibition to two charities, Overcoming MS and the Mental Health Foundation where I work four days a week as, Programmes Manager for Empowerment & Later Life.

Find out more about Jolie's work by visiting her website and Instragram.