Written by Kerrie Alexander
When Mark Grimsley’s daughter handed him a Nikon camera for Christmas three years ago, little did she know that it would save her dad’s life.
The 55-year-old Dundowran resident served in the Air force for 17 years as an Aircraft Life Support Fitter where he ensured parachutes, life rafts, helmets, oxygen masks, and other imperative safety equipment was in good working order.
It was during active service in Kirgizstan, Afghanistan, that Mark endured an incident that led to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) and prior to that, he suffered the onset of Functional Neurological Disorder (FND) – a rare disease of the nervous system.
His illness coupled with the PTSD became all too much, and Mark was medically discharged from service in 2005.
With a rapid decline in his health, it was a distressing time for the veteran who had once led a highly active military life, rode his pushbike to and from work, and loved playing soccer.
Mark now suffers from short-term memory loss, sensory issues and tremors, spasms, jerky movements, and problems walking.
He can no longer enjoy his woodworking hobby because he can’t be around sharp or dangerous power tools, with many items having been flung around the family home in the past few years.
“Basically, the brain and the body don’t communicate like they used to, and the information just gets messed up somehow,” Mark said of his FND.
“With my disability, I have lost a lot. If there were a miracle pill that could fix me, I would go back (to the Air Force) today.”
However, the moment Mark picked up that camera three years ago, his life started to turn around.
“I felt trapped by my disability until my daughter gave me a camera for Christmas, and I taught myself photography,” Mark said.
“This experience helped me reshape my mind and find some independence and connection with the community again.
“I tell Jessica (daughter) every day that I’ve had the camera in my hand today and look at what it has done to my face today … the smile on my face is just amazing. I just absolutely love it!”
Mark started with taking shots of wildlife in the backyard of his Dundowran home and quickly grew in confidence enough to go to the nearby beach and surrounding lagoon in his beach trike or 4×4 camouflaged wheelchair.
His service dog, a border collie, by his side always.
“I go out without any expectation; ‘I’m not looking for anything in particular, and nature seems to provide everything I need for getting shots.”
Mark said safety is no longer an issue with the wheelchair acting as his safety net.
“I can’t walk easily because I thrash myself about, I fall. Now that I have the wheelchair, I take that down to the beach and take my camera on a chest harness and go around the lagoons as well.
“I used to do a lot in the military and was really active, so having to rely on other people is hard.
“I can also be dangerous, so being able to do something on my own is wonderful.
“When I go down the beach, many people know me, and we start up conversations and I feel confident doing that in the wheelchair.
“It’s a safe hobby for me.”
Today, the camera is in Mark’s hand before his morning coffee! It has become his life.
The exquisite images of birds, snakes, wild horses, turtles and more adorn the walls of the family home, and hundreds of images take pride of place on the aptly named “Mark’s photos to help reshape my mind” Facebook page.
It has not only changed his life but saved it!
“I’d almost sleep with the camera if I thought there was something I could get a shot out the window of,” he said with a laugh.
“I have been in and out of hospital with the FND, PTSD and depression, and it’s nearly finished me off a couple of times and without the camera, I would have given up.
“I’m getting back to a little bit of normal again; without the camera, I don’t know how I would have got through the last three years.
“Kelly, the dog, my daughter and the camera is what is keeping me going at the moment.
“It’s not just surviving now; it is clawing back to actually achieving something.”
What Mark has achieved is truly inspiring!
His biggest achievement in the last few months has been the launch of his online photography micro-business, with the help of his NDIS support person Kathy and unwavering support from his loving wife, Kelly.
The website, markgrimsleyphotos.com.au, is home to an extensive collection of Mark’s beautiful images that can be downloaded by becoming a subscriber.
The first 100 images can be downloaded for free, and two other levels of memberships are available.
Guests can also create their own calendar using the images of local birds and wildlife.
Mark’s story was even highlighted on the My Nikon Life Facebook page.
“They published five of my images and had a story about my disability, what photography does for me and advice for other people with FND; that gave me a boost!”
Mark and Kelly also started a local FND Group Meet-Up, with four to five other sufferers and their carers coming together once a month at the Hervey Bay RSL.
Mark said it’s important to let others in the same situation know that help is at hand.
“FND is very misunderstood, so when you need some help, the help is not there. It takes a while for help to get to you, so getting together to share those experiences is good.
“The disease is very isolating. Each person has different movements and ticks and no two are ever the same.
“The photography is linked to that too, so I can show people that there is something you can do.
“If you were to try and teach me photography, you couldn’t because I struggle to comprehend what’s going on, so trying to learn new things is very difficult.
“But the camera does a lot of the heavy thinking for me.
“By sharing that with other people, they might realise that you can find something that clicks for you. Just don’t give up!”