Grabbing Life by the Roots
Diagnosis: Multiple Sclerosis
Treatment: MS rehabilitation
Debbie Casteel uses painting, along with holistic medical care, as a therapeutic release from living with MS.
When Debbie Casteel was just 26 years old she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.
“My whole life changed,” she remembered.
The diagnosis uprooted Debbie's life as day-to-day activities became increasingly more difficult due to the physical and cognitive symptoms of MS, such as fatigue, vision problems and loss of coordination.
Over time, she stopped practicing her favorite hobby, painting, due to her unsteady movements and lack of energy.
New treatments, new energy
Two years ago, however, Debbie was referred to EvergreenHealth’s Dr. Ted Brown, a physician and MS rehabilitation specialist, who provided her with new treatments.
Beyond supporting Debbie with medicine, he also encouraged her to join a self-help group for patients with MS.
It was there she rekindled her passion for painting, and learned she could still find joy in the same activities she practiced before her diagnosis.
“When I first met Debbie, her enthusiasm for finding her healthiest best was clear,” Dr. Brown said.
“Beyond her passion, her vision for treatment perfectly aligned with our approach towards wellness. We believe in treating the whole patient, which means expanding the focus beyond just medication and incorporating overall health, such as diet, exercise, sleep and stress management. A holistic outlook is key to managing a chronic illness like MS.”
"Painting is my therapy now"
Now, Debbie uses art to communicate the small victories, as well as the frustrations, of living with MS.
She even donated one of her paintings to Dr. Brown’s office as a gesture of appreciation, not only for the medical treatment he provides but also for his help in restoring her confidence.
“Dr. Brown and his team really opened a whole new pathway of opportunities for me,” said Debbie. “I’ve made so many new friends, and I’ve gotten out of my comfort zone in ways I never would have before.”
“Painting is my therapy now,” she said.
Debbie says it’s like a private joke that will put a smile on the faces of other MS patients, since they are the only ones who understand this unique feeling of frustration.
“It can be extremely difficult for patients to receive a diagnosis of a chronic illness like MS,” said Dr. Brown. “But it’s very possible to continue living a meaningful life—living with purpose—if they embrace the changes that come with managing symptoms. Developing a trusting relationship with health care providers lays the foundation for a smooth transition process.”
For anyone with MS, Casteel advises patience and persistence. “Don’t give up. Keep going. But do it carefully. Then do it again.”