Painting through the pain, woman copes

As she gingerly swivels her body around in her seat, Valerie Mayer concentrates on her foot placement as she exits her van. Today is a good day. She’s able to walk short distances with a cane while recently on a shopping trip to Langley.

Mayer doesn’t always have such physical freedom. By looking at her youthful appearance, many wouldn’t guess that walking down the street is often times a daunting task for this 44-year-old woman.

Mayer has spasticity — a debilitating condition commonly associated with cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, stroke, brain or spinal cord injuries that is characterized by stiff, painful and sometimes uncontrollable muscles.

After being diagnosed with MS in January of 1986, she realized that the numbness and other symptoms she felt in her muscles over the years were signs of the condition.

“It was scary,” she said. “At times I didn’t have control over my limbs and when I walked my leg would swing out.”

A Point Roberts resident since November and 18-year Freeland resident, Mayer is one of 13 artists who’s work is included in the calendar “Exploring Spasticity.” The calendar is aimed to heighten awareness for the debilitating condition that effects half a million Americans each year.

Mayer’s work selected, a watercolor of a purple iris with a background of green leaves, will be displayed for April.

As a child Mayer would watch over her grandmother’s shoulder as she painted seascapes. Throughout her life she has worked in a variety of mediums including charcoal, pen and ink, watercolor, pottery and stained glass. But for the past 16 years painting has been a driving force in her life.

After she was diagnosed with MS, painting became her therapy. Currently she works primarily in watercolors, with her subject focus as nature — predominantly flowers, marine life, and forests.

Despite beginning treatment immediately, Mayer’s troubling and often painful mobility problems due to spasticity gradually worsened and she became reliant on a cane, and at times even a wheelchair. Her medications caused her to sleep much of the day and had negative effects on cognition and memory.

In 2002, Mayer began receiving Intrathecal Baclofen Therapy, ITB, and it has since been with this treatment she is able to live with less pain, have more control over her life and rely on her cane half as much.

“Painting was my therapy,” she said. “It helps physically to have an emotional balance, and I get such satisfaction from it.”

For more information about spasticity or the “Exploring Spasticity” calendar, visit

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