June is Brain Injury Awareness Month

My name is Amee and I am an occupational therapist (OT) working with persons diagnosed with a serious head injury in a community setting.  I’ve had the opportunity to be part of the lives of those affected by a sudden and serious event that resulted in irrevocable damage to the brain.

The truth is, accidents do not discriminate based on age, gender, ethnicity, income, education, nor geography. Meaning – anyone is at risk of having an acquired brain injury (ABI).  In a moment, your life can change forever. Acquired brain injury may be an organic and irreversible change to your brain but there is hope. There are information, research, and services for those with a head injuries. There are organizations and people who care for those who have been injured. One of those organization is CHIRS – Community Head Injury Resource Services of Toronto and the Brain Injury Society of Toronto who is talking about this important topic through their #areyouaware campaign.

  • #areyouaware iPad mini contest –  Visit www.areyouaware.ca for your chance to win an iPad mini – we’ll be giving one away each week in June and the contest starts today! You can also help us spread awareness by letting all your friends, family, and co-workers know about brain injury awareness month and the contest.

#areyouaware

June is Brain Injury Awareness Month and to bring a spot light on this important issue, my Occupational Therapy Assistant Student Nicola John and I decided to transform the ordinary space of an elevator into an exhibition space to display the art work of those whose lives have been affected by an acquired brain injury. We involved survivors, staff, and students in creating individual letters for the banner as each person is unique, each injury is unique and every one is important.

Brain Injury Awareness Month in Toronto
Brain Injury Awareness Month in Toronto

The art displayed on the boards represents the effort and artistic abilities of people whose lives have been shaped by an acquired brain injury. This includes survivors, students, and therapists.

Images can be less threatening than words and talking, so using visual art may make it easier to express difficult emotions. This method of communication allows people to feel free to reflect, and to express themselves and connect with others to gain personal insights and awareness.

Brain Injury Awareness Toronto

Most people in the group do not describe themselves as artists or identify as having any artistic abilities. Many of the people have never used a carving tool before. The workshop is often their first attempt at learning to meditate and carve and stamp their own individualized images.

Some people carve with two hands, while others carve with one hand. Some people have double vision, while others have partial paralysis in half of their body. Some have shaky hands and others have weak legs needing to use a cane to walk. Regardless of physically abilities, all persons are free to make their own decisions to experiment and test out ideas.

Brain Injury Awareness in Toronto

The images represent the resilience of each person to cope with adversities, search for meaning from difficult circumstances, remember what was lost, connect with feelings of love and inner peace, and rediscover a new self. Themes of spirituality arise, as does connection with memories that remain and memories that were lost. The creative process involves meditation and relaxation, which provide stress relief and connection with a person’s inner essence. When minds are calm, creativity can more freely emerge.

Each person who participates in the group created, sketched, designed, and printed their own images from their own hearts and minds. Through engaging in the creative process, each person builds confidence and receives validation from seeing their artwork and from group members. Each person feels nourished and supported by other members of the group and this allows a person to be genuine and sincere. This insight allows a person to explore hidden abilities and realize their potential. The result is the feeling of accomplishment from creating something personally meaningful. This allows a person to grow emotionally thus creating an imprint of a new memory and way of being.

Brain Injury Awarenss in Toronto

We also featured the art work from the Art Exchange with Nancy Morin, Occupational Therapist from Horizon Health Network in Fredericton and asked people to write their comments. Here are a few…

Brain Injury Awareness TorontoBrain Injury Awareness in TorontoBrain Injury Awarenss in TorontoBrain Injury Awareness in Toronto

Brain Injury Awareness in TorontoBrain Injury Awareness in Toronto

Brain Injury Awareness in Toronto

Brain Injury Awareness in Toronto

Brain Injury Awareness in Toronto

Brain Injury Awareness in Toronto

From Toronto to Fredericton with Love

Spring is finally here and the warm sun rays have returned to kiss our faces. It’s about time because this past February had been the coldest month in recorded history of Toronto. The East Coast also had record snow fall this year and cars had been buried in the snow.

This February I was also contacted my Nancy Morin, Occupational Therapist in Fredericton. I met Nancy through a lunch and learn session held in June 2014 hosted by the Canadian Association of Occupation Therapists. We’ve exchanged emails and talked about program development to connect our clients to meaningful occupation and artistic expression. At the time, Nancy had been interested in starting a creative expression group and was putting together the bits and pieces to combine Occupational Therapy with creative expression and even mindfulness. We exchanged ideas and encouragement and several months later Nancy had started her creative expression group and was wondering if I would be interested in participating in an Art Exchange with her group. I happily accepted!

I introduced this idea of an art exchange to the artists in my Winter 2015 workshop. Most people had not heard of an art exchange and did not know what it was all about. There was some hesitation as I explained the concept to the group. With encouragement several clients came forward to have their art work featured in the art exchange. Some people were unsure if they were ready to share their art work with others. Our group worked on putting together a collection of gift tags. I also contacted past participants and asked if they would be interested in adding their beautiful art work to this collection. Three weeks later we had a completed collection from the artists at Community Head Injury Resource Services of Toronto (for further information on CHIRS click here). This was mailed out with love to Fredericton.

From Toronto to Fredericton with Love
From Toronto to Fredericton with Love

On the last day of my winter workshop when I was feeling distracted and consumed by emails. I walked down the hall feeling a bit defeated by my to-do list and scheduled appointments, I checked my mail box and saw a brown paper envelope. The art collection from Fredericton had arrived and opening each paper envelope brought a smile to my face. By the time I finished opening all the envelopes, my mood had changed from exhaustion to delight and inspiration. Here is the collection of art from Fredericton to Toronto with Love.

The art you see below was sent to CHIRS as part of an art exchange with the Horizon Health Network of Fredericton, New Brunswick. Five artists in the Addiction and Mental Health Services program in New Brunswick contributed their art. They are: Sam, Sunayna, Lynn, Vicki, and Amanda.

In exchange, the artists in Mindfulness Art Workshop at CHIRS sent a collection of their art to Fredericton. The artists from CHIRS are: Orlando, Roxanne, RB, Chris, Scott, Ali, Cathy, Elisheva (Rehabilitation Student) and Amee (Occupational Therapist).

So where did where did this art work come from? Nancy kindly wrote the following explanation:

The Recovery Art Studio creative expression group was founded in September 2014 by Occupational Therapist Nancy Morin and Visual Artist Marsha Clark. The Studio is open to adult clients of Horizon Health Network Addictions and Mental Health Services, Fredericton Region. We also work in partnership with the Capital Region Mental Health and Addictions Association (CRMHAA) and their R.E.A.C.H. Centre (Resources, Education, Activities, Connections & Help Centre). The approach in the Studio is to fully integrate healing based on the principles of Recovery, Occupational Therapy, mental health care, visual arts, mindfulness and vocational counseling. Members are supported on their own recovery journey to self discovery and expression through art, greater self-esteem, skill building and improved confidence.

From Fredericton to Toronto with Love
From Fredericton to Toronto with Love

As Nancy said “members are supported on their own recovery journey to self discovery and expression through art, greater self-esteem, skill building and improved confidence” and that is the power of art contributing to positive health outcomes. The power of art to connect groups of people from one province to another is a testament to our ability  to form new social connections with one another. Through creative expression we can connect with a part of our self suppressed but longing to speak. Sharing art and stories improves self efficacy and boosts self esteem.  When we can push through the barriers of judgmental thinking social pressures, we may be surprised at the results and once we create we should share this genuine inspiration with others.

My teacher at the Kadampa Meditation Centre in Toronto  told me that after Buddha attained enlightenment he was unsure if he could share his experience and knowledge to the world. What he had attained was so great that he was uncertain if the world could understand these teachings. He waited two months and with a special request from Indra and Brahma he was asked to turn the Dharma wheel (teach the path to widsom) and he did. Imagine if he had never shared his experiences to his disciples and pass on his knowledge and wisdom. There would be no Buddhist concepts of: meditation, mindfulness, loving-kindness, and compassion in the world. There would be no path, no teachings, no guidance, no ways to change your mind to cope with difficulties. This gives all of us the encouragement we need to start sharing. We will never know how much our life can touch another’s. The only thing we can do is try our best everyday to put effort in being kind to others and being true to our inner voice and share these moments. Knowing this we can slowly learn to appreciate the preciousness of this human life.

Brain Injury Awareness Month!

June is Brain Injury Awareness Month and to kick off the month the Brain Injury Society of Toronto (BIST) is launching a campaign asking if you are aware?

Are you aware that a BRAIN INJURY CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE?

The impact of a brain injury can be devastating not only to the survivors themselves, but to their family members, caregivers, friends and their community. It can affect every aspect of their life, often resulting in loss of livelihood, isolation, and physical, emotional and behavioral challenges.

Your brain is who you are, it’s your humanity. Just as no two people are alike, no two acquired brain injuries are alike. Survivors will experience the effects of acquired brain injuries in many different ways.

http://www.areyouaware.ca/

areyouaware

After a brain injury a person may experience many of the following changes:

  • difficulties remembering new events, appointments, daily tasks
  • changes to his or her personality
  • frustration over things that used to be easily accomplished which are all of a sudden difficult tasks
  • increase in impulsive behaviours

These changes and many more can be very confusing. There is also a tremendous loss of aspects of their pre-injury life and routine – things that are no longer possible for a person to continue to do. Although on the surface, a person may look exactly the same, his or her brain has changed and this can be frustrating for brain injury survivors to convey to people.

Many people with a brain injury experience seizure activities. We talked about this in our group and most participants are able to manage the frequency of seizures with medication. When a person has a seizure, they are unsafe to drive and for a person who is used to hopping in the car daily and enjoys the experience of driving – this loss of independence is massive.

FOND MEMORIES – A Series by Inder

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I am very fond of driving. It gives me freedom, independence and excitement. I am very comfortable in the car. I’ve always wanted to buy a particular car.

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Last year, I finally bought the car – a Red Convertible.

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Exactly two days later, my Neurologist advised me that I shouldn’t be driving so I respected what the Doctor said and I stopped driving.

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I went through the Drive Again program – and passed. Then the winter came and I decided to park the car in the garage. Then spring came and I took the car out and drove for about a week or so.

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Then I had a seizure and the Doctor told me I shouldn’t be driving and I got a letter from the Ministry advising me to stop driving.

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Within a week, the car went back in the garage and I felt devastated.

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Then I made a decision. I felt that there was no point in keeping the car sitting in the garage, so I told my friend to help me sell my car. So he took the car two days ago.

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So, there’s a saying back home – if you want to do something good tomorrow, do it today. If you want to do something good today, do it now. Whatever happens, happens for the good. In spite of going through a tough last 3-4 years, medically, I met a number of very nice people who are very kind to me that I may not have met otherwise. — Inder

Inder shared his story with our group and the impact of this loss was palpable to everyone in the room. When Inder and I sat down to write this story, he look distant at times, worried, concerned, and at a loss yet the story that was very clear and visible in his mind. At the end of the story, when he sold his car, I had asked him “Is this the end of the story?” After sitting back and reflecting, he was able say “Whatever happens, happens for the good” and he had a big smile on his face as he thought about the people whom he has met due to his brain injury and although the journey is tough and arduous at times, and life gives and takes, survival is victory and reminds us that we are strong and life is a gift.