The picture of health
by Vicky Uhland
Mary Pettigrew was a happily married, successful marketing
director and event planner
in Dallas when, in 2001 at age
35, she was diagnosed with
multiple sclerosis. Within five
years, lesions in her brain had
affected her memory and
cognition so much that she had
to quit working full time and
apply for disability benefits.
If that weren’t enough, in 2008,
she underwent major surgery
on her neck for cervical stenosis,
leaving her unable to drive. Soon
after, her husband told her he
couldn’t cope with how her
disease had changed their lives
and wanted a divorce.
Lonely, anxious and depressed,
Pettigrew turned to music and
writing for solace. She resumed
her long-neglected piano practice
and taught herself to play the
acoustic guitar. She began
composing songs and eventually,
the lyrics morphed into poetry,
which grew into short stories and
outlines for television screenplays.
Today, Pettigrew no longer
feels depressed. She’s noticed an
improvement in her memory,
cognition and hand-eye coordination.
There’s no way of knowing
for sure what role her creative
endeavors played in these changes.
But there’s no question that her
artistic endeavors have helped
her to feel fulfilled once again.
An oil painting by Virginia Phillips. View the rest
of her Red Umbrellas series at VirginiaPhillips.com.
The act of creating
empowers the spirit—
and maybe the body,
“I’ve discovered new passions,
untapped talent, a connection
with words and stories, that have
bestowed an unfathomable gift
for this new journey, this new
chapter in life,” Pettigrew says.
She’s not alone. Many other
people with MS believe that
playing musical instruments,
singing, or engaging in art,
photography or creative writing
has helped relieve mental,
emotional and physical
symptoms associated with the
disease. A small but growing
body of research backs this up.
The science of art
“Art therapy nurtures the soul,
the superego and the id, which
is being challenged by disability,”
says Dr. Florian Thomas, director
of the Multiple Sclerosis Center
at St. Louis University and
professor of neurology at the