In 2001, Adelaide woman Kirsty Martinsen was living the dream in New York City.
The up-and-coming artist had won a scholarship and was studying full time at the New York Studio of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture.
But everything changed for Ms Martinsen when two planes crashed into the World Trade Centre on September 11, with the traumatic event setting off a series of events that led to her being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis just months later.
Now she’s told her story in the film Limited Surrender, which premiered on TV last night as part of SBS’ Short Film Festival.
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When Ms Martinsen found out about the attacks, she said her first instinct was to go downtown to find out what was happening.
“I just absolutely felt like my bubble had been burst,” she told news.com.au.
“I was like, what we’re in New York City and it’s a beautiful day and this is war, what is going on?”
Shocked by the “complete chaos” unfolding around her Ms Martinsen began drawing what she saw as a way of processing the horrific event.
“I just remember cars and sirens and people yelling and people walking past me covered in grey ash, with just tears running down their face,” she recalled.
As well as coming to terms with witnessing such a traumatic event in the months that followed, Ms Martinsen also began experiencing worrying symptoms of headaches, falls and lost vision in one eye.
She also came under financial stress as the hospitality work and odd jobs Ms Martinsen relied on to support herself while studying dried up.
Just months later in April 2002, she was diagnosed with MS. Looking back, Ms Martinsen believes the events of 9/11 “absolutely” contributed to her condition.
“The air around New York was very toxic and I was down at the site drawing as soon as I could,” she said. “I had no idea about the toxicity levels, of what was coming from the building.
“I think the stress of the time, I lost all my jobs because there was nobody going out, nobody doing anything so my work dried up. That caused a huge amount of stress and financial problems just impacted on everything.”
Ms Martinsen stayed in New York for two more years until she was forced home to Adelaide “because Australia has Medicare”.
The next few years were difficult as her MS symptoms got worse and she struggled to find an accessible art studio to work in. She stopped creating altogether until she enrolled in an art production class at TAFE and her teacher encouraged her to try something new.
Ms Martinsen now paints using her wheelchair and with the help of an assistant who works with her in a studio nine hours a week thanks to the NDIS.
“Just that itself has just lifted any feelings of depression, just being able to see different possibilities has shifted my thinking and I’m so excited about that work I’m doing now, I feel like it’s the best work I’ve ever done,” she said.
Through Limited Surrender and sharing her story, Ms Martinsen wants others with MS to know that “everything expands when you become disabled”.
“I was told once do what you can do until you can’t do it anymore but I want to extend on that,” she said.
“There are always possibilities that you don’t know about, constantly keep reaching and thinking beyond what is available to you right now.”
You can watch Limited Surrender on SBS On Demand now. The SBS Short Film Festival runs until Sunday
Originally published as How 9/11 ‘chaos’ changed woman’s life