Monday, November 10, 2014

Draw What You See: Student Takes Class for Art Therapy

Patsy Johnson holds her service dog, Tiara, in front of some her artwork. 
Art can be more than just a creative outlet. It can also be a therapeutic way of dealing with the stress of everyday life. That's just one of the reasons why Patsy Johnson, of Castalian Springs, is taking a drawing class at Volunteer State Community College.

Johnson has multiple system atrophy, or MSA, which is a neurological disorder that affects the body's involuntary functions. She was first diagnosed in 1980, but suspected she had it much earlier in life.

"Something was off all my life, because I couldn't pass P.E., and there was no reason for it. I couldn't climb the rope. I couldn't jump. I couldn't run. I fell down a lot," she said.

Because of her condition, Johnson uses a walker or scooter to get around. She also has a service dog named Tiara. A Bichon Frisé, Tiara has been a part of Johnson's life for nearly six years — five of which have been as a service dog.

"Most people think of service dogs as labs and for seeing eyes only, but that's not true. This one can predict seizures, plus she goes to get help if I fall. She's also learning to smell the enzymes in a heart attack, so she'll eventually be able to tell a stroke or heart attack," she said.

Following a conversation with her doctor, Johnson learned that drawing could potentially help her regain some of the muscle aptitude she has lost over the years, so she is auditing Drawing I, which is taught by professor of art Susan Mulcahy.

"I was losing all my motor skills. I couldn't even feed myself. The doctor said I needed to start using the muscles in my shoulders and arms, because I was going to deteriorate really quick," she said.

Johnson also has severe dyslexia, so she often sees subjects upside down. That could make taking an art class difficult, but Johnson's artistic ability has been growing because she has been pushed to draw the world as she sees it.

"I'm learning from this teacher that art is interpreted as how you see things. If that's how you see things, then that's what you put down. Draw what you see, not what you think you see. I like that," she said.

Not only has the class helped her perception of things, but Johnson believes the practice of drawing is also helping her motor skills.

"I'm now eating with a big spoon instead of a small spoon, and I'm actually getting some in my mouth," she said with a laugh.

Johnson said the people at Vol State have very accommodating to her since she started taking the drawing class at the beginning of the semester. It has allowed her to socialize more than she has in the past.

"Everybody's been so nice to me in this school. I can't believe it. The world is a mean place, but I haven't had any of that here," she said. "I really like it here. This school is fantastic. I would recommend it to anybody, especially people that have disabilities that are struggling and think they can't be accepted. That's not going to happen here."

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