I spent yesterday morning at the Town House Library in Hamilton preparing display boards for the Step Inside MS exhibition. The exhibition is due to run from April 14th until May 19th in Hamilton and will then tour other libraries in South Lanarkshire. From May 14th until May 31st, a parallel exhibition will run in the William Patrick Library in Kirkintilloch.
My hope is that this exhibition will allow others to experience a little of what it’s like to be diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Most people know someone, perhaps even love someone, with this condition, but may not feel comfortable asking about it for fear of causing upset or offence. Hopefully this display of letters will offer a valuable insight and will help to increase understanding and awareness.
The Step Inside MS exhibition has come about as a result of an editing and publishing project I’ve had to do for my MLitt in creative writing at Glasgow University. I thought it would be a perfect excuse to achieve a couple of things that are important to me: raise awareness of MS and in particular, how people are diagnosed, and encourage folks with MS to write, as doing so can prove very therapeutic.
I put out a call for letters via email, facebook and twitter at the end of January 2014. By the closing date of February 28th, I had 32 letters. This fantastic response was thanks to the MS Society Scotland, the MS Society UK, friends, family and strangers who all got involved to help publicise the call for letters.
I chose to ask people to write letters because I felt it would open my project up to those who, like myself, might not see themselves as writers in any grand sense. Also, it’s been my experience that most people are happy to write letters and everyone enjoys reading them (well, I do).
Another choice I made was to ask people to write about their experience of being diagnosed. I could have asked for letters about a different aspect of having MS, but as a volunteer self-management trainer for the MS Society, I’ve learned that the starting point of someone’s journey is of upmost importance. It seems that often, the way in which the news is broken has a profound effect on a person’s ability to manage the road ahead.
I’d like to take this opportunity to say a special word of thanks to Sarah Liddell and Scott Broadfoot from Hamilton Town House Library; to Hannah Maunder from the MS Society Scotland for her generous support; to my tutor, Zöe Strachan, for her invaluable advice and guidance; to artist Barrie Herbert who designed and painted the Step Inside MS image that is being used to publicise the exhibition, and finally to all the wonderful letter writers who took the time to get involved and who have made the Step Inside MS exhibition possible.
If you’re local, please come along and read these powerful letters.