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Out of the darkness
|Messenger photo by Christine Bryant
|Chenne Richardson was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2001 and uses painting to help with her motor skills, as well as to offer an escape from the disease.
At first, darkness.
Grays, blacks, deep blues - all hues Chenne Richardson used in her paintings.
After being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2001, her anger seemed to be the only thing she was able to express -whether toward others or in her artwork.
"When I first started out, my art was very dark," Richardson said. "It has been my way of screaming."
Looking at Richardson, one might never suspect she is one of 400,000 living with MS. But that's the face of Multiple Sclerosis, Richardson points out - or the many faces of MS.
Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system. While symptoms vary, the disease can take away a person's ability to perform the most basic tasks.
"It robs you of everything," Richardson said.
Whether it's walking, grasping items or simply swallowing, MS can make every day activities a challenge. For Richardson, the disease has claimed her peripheral vision and she has undergone therapy to help her swallow so she doesn't choke when eating.
But perhaps the hardest thing Richardson found herself struggling to overcome was the rage she felt inside - the question of "Why me?" that those inflicted with pain often feel.
"It's not fair," Richardson remembers thinking.
For years, the MS Society tried to contact Richardson to offer support services to help her deal with the questions. But each time the organization sent her a newsletter, she discarded it.
At one point, she even called the organization to tell it to stop sending the information to her. But the MS Society didn't stop, and finally one day in 2005 she walked into a support group meeting for the first time.
Her life changed that day, she says.
"At that very moment, I recognized we all had this one thing in common and we weren't alone," Richardson said.
Now a facilitator for the MS support group on the Eastside of Columbus, Richardson says there are no differences among the group - no matter race, gender or condition.
"We all have this one thing in common," she said. "We are fighting for all our lives."
Once a small group of eight or nine members, the Eastside support group has grown to nearly 40, with members traveling from Reynoldsburg, Pickerington and throughout the Eastside to attend. Richardson said the group is branching out to include other areas of Columbus, including Canal Winchester and Grove City.
And that's not the only thing that has changed.
Richardson's artwork now features symbolic splashes of color that have gained the attention and recognition of several art shows across the country.
Richardson uses the acrylic paint, water colors, plaster, and oil and pastel sticks to not only help with her motor functions, but offer her an escape from her disease as well.
"If I don't paint, I get lost in the MS," Richardson said.
At 50, she says she knows there may not be a cure for MS in her lifetime.
"And if there is, there's already so much damage to my nervous system," she said.
But she says her goal is to promote awareness and help those afflicted with the disease so that her daughters‚ generation will continue the fight. Part of her work with the Eastside MS support group is to educate and offer support.
"We want people to know the latest treatments," Richardson said.
For more information on the Eastside MS support group, call Richardson at (614) 806-5322 or the Multiple Sclerosis Society at (800) 667-7131.
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