June is Brain Injury Awareness Month.
We started our spring workshop last week. Often, survivors with a traumatic brain injuries have a sudden and abrupt change to their life. One moment they are on one path and suddenly the next moment, their life is flipped upside down. Group gathering allows survivors to come together to connect and share their experiences. This helps people to feel less alone and isolated. It also helps people to gain insights into their struggles and difficulties and come out with new perspectives and tools to cope with the difficult moments.
Dr. Joseph DeSouza, a neuroscientist at York University came to the workshop to gain insights about how to use meditation and art in a group setting. His research on the Neural Mechanisms behind Dance Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease hopes to improve the quality of life of people with Parkinson’s. The outcomes from this dance therapy aspire to give people with Parkinson’s hope as participants gather on a weekly basis to dance, move, connect and share. Here is what Joe had to say about Mindful Art Workshop.
“Dear Amee,It was a very well-led, blessed and blissful Mindful Arts session on this morning of the 7th of April, 2017.I had the tremendous opportunity of meeting new people and accommodate newer insights about my life.I have some remaining challenges with my sleep, motivation and thinking processes. This workshop made me feel revived and revitalized.”
Recently I’ve had a chance to visit England and walked through the doors of Headway Essex, an organization that provides brain injury care and support. I came in contact with Headway East through discovering their art studio website. I discovered Headway Essex through Dr. Carolyn Lemsky, Clinical Director at CHIRS introduced me to Steve Shears, Trainer and Psychotherapist at Headway Essex. Steve kindly showed me the agency and I had a chance to visit and meet the people at Headway.
During my day visit, I had the opportunity to visit BounceAbility – Special Needs Trampoline Centre. Watching people of all physical abilities getting out of their wheelchairs and working on balance, coordination and stretching. There was also added “stealth benefits” (according to Andy Plowright, Service Manager) such as allowing another person to help you with your balance and relying on another person to support you on a moving surface can build trust and re-establish physical and emotional connections with another person. This supportive and trusting relationship is especially important for a person who have experienced physical trauma that have resulted in the head injury.
Visiting the day program and meeting people at Headway was heartwarming. One person showed me his ankle foot orthosis (AFO) brace that is very well made and seems to be protective of sensitive skin areas in the lower extremities. The brace was red and the owner of this brace is proud to be a Manchester United Fan; in Toronto, our AFO brace are uniformly white.
I had a chance to talk about my meditation and art program which hopefully generated some interest in developing meditation and art programming for people at Headway. When it was time to part, I was given several information guides, newsletter and a large Headway T-Shirt. Andy Plowright, Service Manager at Headway Essex was apologetic that the T-shirt would not fit me but generous in his giving spirit and gesture of appreciation.
When I came back to Toronto, I wanted to do something special and carry on the momentum of giving. I was speaking with my colleague Amanda Muise, Behavioural Therapist about my excitement and ideas. I thought it would be cool for CHIRS and Headway to connect and a T-shirt could be a good catalyst. We talked about who could wear this T-shirt and she suggested Mr. Rob Ashe.
When I told Rob about my idea and showed him the picture, newsletter and T-shirt, he was very excited about the idea. He eagerly put the Tshirt safely away in his backpack. When I saw Rob two days later, he had taken pictures of himself around the city with the help of his friend James.
Rob and I know each other through his participation in Mindful Art Workshop – Winter 2014. During the workshop, Rob learnt to meditate and try to do an art activity that was new to him. He made new friends whom he tries to keep in touch with. Rob was able to complete his art activity quickly and was ready to move on to the next task. So sitting still and waiting and listening was new to him. He is very articulate and easily shares his stories, successes and difficulties but this ability to articulate could overshadow others who had a harder time sharing their voices. As the workshop progressed, Rob learnt to sit back and listen. To reflect quietly, then use his articulate voice to deeply appreciate other people’s talents and gifts. He talked more about others and less about his stories and came to appreciate this new way of being. Below is a sample of his art work. He called this piece – Anointed.
After taking a series of photographs, Rob and I sat down and I helped to upload the photographs from his phone. During the summer months in Toronto, there are several festivals and celebrations. Below are the places that Rob visited with his friends from CHIRS.
When I arrived at work on Monday morning, I found a treasure inside my mailbox. When Rob and I were sharing stories and photographs, he had tears in his eyes. He said that “you couldn’t have asked for a more perfect person to do this task” as he loves to connect with people and especially people of all abilities. Rob understands that people with a brain injury may not have the same physical abilities as they did prior to the injury. Through his travels he wanted to share with people the places and events that he has access to and hopefully through these images, all persons may have access to these places and events.
This is Rob’s Message
Hi!! My name is Rob Ashe and I am a client at CHIRS (Community Head Injury Resource Services) in Toronto. When I was asked to have pictures wearing your group shirt, I took on the task because I feel strongly that groups wherever and whoever need to make contact and then we have a better understanding of each other and That is Great!!!!
I want to thank you for this opportunity and let you know that I believe that having a brain injury should not hold us back as we have much to say, much to experience and above all, much TO GIVE
I can’t begin to tell you how much this has touched my heart. Sometimes the work that we do can feel like work and there are good days and challenging days. Some days are full of beautiful moments and some days are problem solving days. My motivation for doing this work is to help others, whoever comes to my door. Knowing that we can touch each other’s lives and share in meaningful moments is a good reminder for me of the goodness inside each person that I’ve met. I am sure many therapists, helpers, teachers out there will share in my experience that the work that we do is relational and it takes two to form a relationship. The support and encouragement I give to the clients that have come into my life are reciprocated in so many ways that surprises me when I need it the most. It is these moments that helps me to remember what is important to me. To help others knowing that we all have an important part in each others lives.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
Anniversaries, birthdays and milestone markers can bring fourth positive emotions like joy and happiness but can also call for sadness, grief and avoidance.
For people with an acquired brain injury the anniversary date of their accident is a day that is clearly remembered. Loss after a brain injury include memory impairments, planning problems , regulating emotions and although these people will forget new name, new faces and daily, the one thing they have engraved in their minds is their anniversary date.
I would like to share a story about a young man learning to cope with the effects of an acquired brain injury. Our Mindful Art group started on May 7, 2015 and I was informed that this is two days before the anniversary of his traumatic motor vehicle accident resulting in two fatalities and one survivor – Tobi. I was informed by his case manager that “this can be a more difficult time for him.” Tobi is a 22 year old young man who sustained injuries as a result of a severe motor vehicle accident
During this group, participants tried to meditate and learn to carve and print linoleum blocks. This was the first time each participant tried this art activity. Tobi carved his first print called “Turn that frown upside down.” Initially, he drew many set of eyes in his art journal when he was designing his print. However, when it was time to draw on his linoleum block, Tobi’s image evolved into something different – faces expressing emotions. He seemed very pleased with the final result. As each person shared their art work everyone was supportive of each other and was delighted at the results of their efforts. There was an unconscious theme – ghosts, two graves and block of eyes. As I placed each piece of art work in the center of the table, the collective theme that emerged was a big surprise. The mindfulness theme of this session was: judgment + acceptance = surprise! (for further details click here) and this abstract theme became personally meaningful for each individual person as each was was delightfully surprised by their own creation.
I like to end our group with a gratitude exercise. From previous experience, I have found this exercise to be a powerful experience for people wishing to reflect and found it to be an opportunity for everyone to say something personally meaningful and share their thoughts. So I use the opportunity to explore the topic of anniversaries, as it is also my birthday in 3 days – an anniversary of birth.
I start the gratitude exercise by asking each person to thank themselves and those involved in helping them arrive to the group. It takes a lot of effort and planning to make a decision then stick with it and show up. Next, we thank each other for friendship and company and we thank our community for giving us a safe space to gather. Then I lead the exercise with something I am personally thankful for. I stated to the group that an anniversary is coming up, and that my birthday will be on Sunday. I wanted to express my gratitude for life and being alive and being thankful for my parents who gave me a body and life those many years ago. I could sense some tension from Tobi when I was talking about anniversaries. He was sitting beside me so I could see he was intently listening to my words. Then I asked other people in the group to share what they were grateful for and this is what Tobi said:
“It’s going to be two years since my accident in two days, so I am thankful that I am here and I am thankful for the people who have come into my life and the lessons I’ve learnt throughout these two years.”
When all seems lost and in a moment, the world we thought we knew seems to crumble, we can remember – that the most precious gift we have is our life. By living and surviving we can continue to learn and grow. We can become kinder, wiser and open our hearts in ways we had never previously imagined. When we learn to accept the difficulties of life, we can create a space in which our real essence can reveal itself in so many surprising ways.
I shared this story with Meka Sadler, another young 24 year old woman that I work with. She had also sustained a traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle crash almost 2 years ago. Two young people, two accidents, two moments that changed lives forever. Now two years later these two people are able to connect in ways that they would have never thought of before. I showed her Tobi’s art work and explained some of the overall details of his creation. Then I asked Meka, “After everything you’ve been through, if you had to give advice to this person (Tobi), what would you say?” She responded:
“It gets better…let go of the past, because it only weighs you down. (Because this is when things started to change for me. When I stopped focusing on the past and focused on what I needed to do) Focus on the new you. And still aim for your old goals and if you don’t achieve them, change your markers of success, or change your course of action”
I suggested to Meka that perhaps she should write her story down and share it with others. Because after all, we do not know how one person can shape another and the most precious gift we have is your precious human life.
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.
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.
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.
The name of this print is Charity. I asked RB “So why charity?”
He answered ‘I’ve always thought of flowers as charitable, as a charitable thing to do.’
“As an act of giving?” I said
And he agreed.
Print and poetry were created by RB. Photograph by Elisheva, rehabilitation student. Graphic design and layout by Amee Le.
A series by RB
Prints and poetry were created by RB. All photographs were taken by Elisheva, rehabilitation student.
The song is bright today
breeze, leaves, needles
create soft melodies
Become a community of sound
Lost in concrete
toward grey sun
My feet find earth
islands of pine
Lost my Green.
in emerging sun
I don’t listen
and like a largemouth
shatter lake glass
for my meal
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.
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
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.
Last year, I finally bought the car – a Red Convertible.
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.
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.
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.
Within a week, the car went back in the garage and I felt devastated.
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.
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.
A series by Neil.
All photographs were taken by Fiona. The narrative was written by Neil with the help of Carrie M. who recommended Neil for the group and provides weekly encouragement and support, to help Neil through his week.
This print shows the connection between family and life. The four corners represent each member of my family (me, mom, dad and brother) and shows how we are all connected to each other.
Life means love. Loving everything that is possible and not being scared of trying things and fitting in. Caring for the place you are living in.
This print came to mind because of the relationship with my brother and how my parents have to interfere as opposed to us all being happy together as a family. This interrelationship within my family impacts my life. When my family is connected and happy, I am happy. –Neil
After a long and dark winter, spring has arrived in Toronto. The flowers have arrived and we are blooming with inspiration from our new group of participants. All photographs below were artfully arranged by Fiona, our new mentor for the group. I officially would like to welcome all new participants to the group and look forward to our time together meditating, creating art, sharing stories and finding meaning.
“I’m thankful for getting the opportunity to meet everyone here, it’s always a pleasure to be able to meet other people who know about brain injury and who are generous enough to share their story. Thankful to the community I have around me, my friends, family, and colleagues. I’m just thankful to be here today.” Fiona
“Thankful to Amee for letting me be here and attend this session and letting me get to know two other very nice people. Also thankful to the god for giving me two legs to stand on and two arms for holding other people’s hands. 2 meals a day and a roof over my head and family and friends. For everything despite the head injury I have, I’m still able to breathe and walk and talk and do many things which millions of other people are not able to do.” Inder
“I’m thankful this group is very, very, very relaxing, I like doing the art which I get frustrated over, it was very relaxing this group, this group is a very good group, and I am thankful I joined it. Thank you all to the leaders and the two people I met here. Thank you for such a relaxing and good group.” Neil
New year and we have a new group! This is our second week and the theme of the class is: storms, strength and wisdom. In Toronto, we have had a series of ice storms that have caused electrical blackouts and icy conditions. Many living in the city, especially those with a disability have had to live through days without electricity. This means limited access or no access to elevators, hot water, assistive devices that depends on electricity. So our theme for the week starts with the storm – both the ice storm and personal, emotional, traumatic storms of our lives. I read the following message of resilience to our group:
“The earth has a heartbeat. In between each beat is silence. That silence is when the life force gathers strength for the next beat. You must learn to do the same. Use the silence to gather yourself. Life can give you strength. Life gives and life takes. As it is teaching you even now. Life takes our time and everyday is one day closer to the end of our journey on this. It takes our efforts our sweat, our best intentions, our noble ideas, our dreams and sacrifices. And often demands more. Then it gives us obstacles, surprises, disappointment, indifference, confusion, doubt and heartache. Yet life does give us much more than the obvious. If we can look back on the difficulties we have know, whether old or new, then we have moved past them at least in time. That we are looking back on a tough experience from the perspective of the present moment means we have survived it. The experience may have taken a toll, as difficulties do. But whatever our losses have been, we have survived. Survival is victory, because we know or we are reminded that is it possible. Survival is victory because life has given us something along with the difficulty.”
“The experience the difficulty has taught us or reminded us that we can be strong.” by Joseph Marshall III – Keep Going from Soundstrue
I would also like to add, that through hard times, we also gain wisdom that comes from the enduring the difficulties. This can open our hearts further so we surface with more love and compassion for others who have also endured this journey. I am proud to share art work from this theme.
We had our first Mindful Art Display at the CHIRS’ (cheers) holiday party (Community Head Injury Resource Services of Toronto). It was a wonderful night to celebrate this special events with friends and family and our community of persons whose lives have all been shaped by an acquired brain injury.
Check out this video made by the drama club at Community Head Injury Resources Services of Toronto. It is a dedication to the one’s will to survive, live and thrive.