Published! Ontario Brain Injury Association (OBIA) Magazine

This story was written by one of my clients. It was chosen for publication by the Ontario Brain Injury Association (OBIA Review) Magazine.

“I am sitting with a few people in the Orchard Library on Thursday afternoon. The room is half the size of a basketball court covered with grey carpet. There is a central island formed by four rectangular tables. Close to the entrance, several juice bottles and two baskets of energy bars are waiting on the welcome table. The room looks quite empty with five big windows overlooking the busy Yonge-and-Eglinton intersection. We all look “normal” or at least most of us do not look like we have a disability. One person is in a wheelchair, and another has a twisted hand….” Click here (OBIA-Review-24-3-online-with-links) for the rest of the story.

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The adventures of the Headway T-Shirt in Toronto!

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.

Headway Essex
Headway Essex – 58b Head Street, Colchester, Essex

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.

BounceAbility – Special Needs Trampoline Centre

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.

Ankle Foot Orthosis
A Manchester United Ankle Foot Orthosis

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.

Rob ordering a burger
Rob ordering a burger

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.

Welcome to Toronto, Canada!
Welcome to Toronto, Canada!
Rob in front of Tim Hortons - a Canadian favourite for coffee lovers
Rob in front of Tim Hortons – a Canadian favourite for coffee lovers

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.

Anointed by Rob Ashe
Anointed by Rob Ashe – art work from Mindful Art Workshop 2014
Rob in front of CHIRS - Community Head Injury Resource Services of Toronto
Rob in front of CHIRS – Community Head Injury Resource Services of Toronto

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.

Rob at Hockey Night - a CHIRS program for persons of all abilities to have fun playing floor hockey in teams
Rob at Hockey Night – a CHIRS program for persons of all abilities to have fun playing floor hockey in teams
Rob taking the Subway Train in Toronto
Rob taking the Subway Train in Toronto
Rob with a street performer in front of Yonge/Dundas Square
Rob with a street performer at buskerfest in front of Yonge/Dundas Square
Rob with a street performer on Yonge Street in Toronto
Rob with a street performer at buskerfest
Rob in front one of his favourite places - HMV a store that sells music and movies
Rob in front one of his favourite places – HMV a store that sells music and movies

 

Rob with volunteers collecting funds to support Epilepsy Toronto
Rob with volunteers collecting funds to support Epilepsy Toronto
Rob in front of Yonge/Dundas Square holding purple balloons to support Epilepsy Awareness - a cause that is close to his heart
Rob in front of Yonge/Dundas Square holding purple balloons to support Epilepsy Awareness – a cause that is close to his heart
Rob and David Slonim, Mentor's Coordinator in front of Pape Subway Station
Rob and David Slonim, (Mentor’s Coordinator) in front of Pape Subway Station
Rob and his friend sitting outside her childhood school
Rob and his friend Jen, sitting outside her childhood school – a private school for girls
Rob at Spadina Subway Station in Toronto
Rob at Spadina Subway Station in Toronto “This shows the humanistic side to us. He was playing guitar and I waited for him to finish and I gave him some money and asked if he would like to take a picture together and he said sure”
Rob in front of the Old Mills. This is an important place as it is where he received his 25 years watch for working with the city.
Rob in front of the Old Mills. This is an important place as it is where he received his 25 years watch for working with the city.
Rob in front of David's Tea a popular place for tea drinkers to enjoy many types of teas
Rob in front of David’s Tea a popular place for tea drinkers to enjoy many types of teas
Rob taking a picture for his wife who is originally from the United Kingdom
Rob taking a picture for his wife who is originally from the United Kingdom because she loves Union Jacks or anything to do with England

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.

Rob's Message
Rob’s Message
Rob's message
Rob’s message

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

Rob and his wife Amanda. “We’ve been married 19 years and she helps me a lot”
Rob and his wife Amanda. “We’ve been married 19 years and she helps me a lot”

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.

What we have lost, what we can learn and the road ahead

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.

Turn that frown upside down by Tobi Banjo
Turn that frown upside down by Tobi Banjo
Mindful Art Workshop - Spring 2015
Mindful Art Workshop – Participants in the Spring 2015 group

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.

 

Night Flower in The Wind

Ken participated in Mindful Art Workshop – Autumn 2014. He was referred to the group by his Community Facilitator – Greg Vayenas.

During this session he came into the group and said to me “I don’t want to do art today, can I just meditate?” as he was feeling particularly negative about his abilities.

I said to him “you don’t have to do something you don’t want to do” and that we always start the group with meditation. Let’s see how you feel after the meditation and “you should give yourself a chance and see what happens.” We proceeded with our meditation and discussion.

The group discussion was on black and white thoughts. Discussion was based around the concept that white thoughts are positive and allow for a more realistic perspective that promotes positive actions, while black thoughts can be negative and can impede an accurate perspective of situations lead to more negative actions.

During the art activity Ken decided to try to carve. He was careful when printing his flower onto the dark paper to avoid finger prints and created his finest print to date. Ken also wrote a poem during this group called – Night Flower in the Wind. This experience was surprising for Ken as he started out being negative and with encouragement he was able to transform a negative mind into a creative mind. If you know Ken then you may be surprised to see his art and poetry as you would not normally associate Ken with art and poetry.

I absolutely love this print and his poem. Every time I read the words, I smile. The image and words really captured the black and white theme and the contrast between delicate beauty and harshness of this world.

Actions of change” shows us that things are not permanent, including our negative thoughts and feelings. Just like anything else negative thoughts come and go and if we watch them long enough, they simply dissolve back into our mind. When we create the space to watch our thoughts, we are also creating a space for more virtuous thoughts to arise and beauty to emerge. At the end of the group Ken said:

Ken

“I’m thankful to my creator for life and health and everyone’s creator, and I’m thankful for the food that we received in the mentor’s luncheon downstairs earlier, and the service of the staff. I thank Greg for driving me here because it wasn’t that much effort to come, just got a ride from Greg because he met me this morning and he spoke to me. I’m thankful for the encouragement for doing some art because I was kind of negative about doing art at first but then with encouragement I was persuaded to do some art and for all the viewpoints of people, listening to them.”

Ken’s quote in included in the audio file below. This unedited version gives you a glimpse into the group. At the end of the group we complete a gratitude exercise where all members are invited to speak and share their experiences. It is a wonderful way for everyone to reflect on the themes of the group and share a something meaningful with each other. This is a great exercise to practice speaking from the heart and also listening with an open mind.

Night flower in the wind by Ken
Night flower in the wind by Ken

It is amazing how much we can grow with the right amount of support, encouragement and care. Just like flowers, we need the right conditions (soil, water, sunshine – a wish, effort, encouragement) to develop good qualities and shine. When someone else can see the good qualities inside you and help to water and nourish these qualities – it is amazing what can be achieved.

Print and poetry were created by Ken. Photograph by Joshua Armstrong, rehabilitation student. Graphic design and layout by Amee Le & Joshua Armstrong.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mindful Art Celebration!

We would like to celebrate our first Art Sale for 2013. I’ve put together a video showcase of all the art work from our group and would like to thank all of the participants for their time, dedication, and creativity to the group enabling a safe space for everyone to express.

Mindful Art Workshop Developed by Amee Le, Occupational Therapist

Art by Chris, Micky, Orlando, WSM, Roxanne, Paul

Music Credit by Capital Cities Safe and Sound Instrumental Version

Photographs and Video by Amee Le

Mindful Art at the Holiday Party

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.

Mindful Art Display
Mindful Art Display by Amee Le & Dr. Carolyn Lemsky
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Mindful Art Display at the CHIRS Holiday Party 2013
Chris and Amanda at the Art Sale
Chris and Amanda at the Art Sale
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A proud artist smiling by his art!

Preparing for an Art Sale!

We are working hard to prepare for our first Art Sale, stay tuned!

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Tree Star by Micky

Here are the gratitude comments from the group:

“I am thankful for my friends and my co-workers who have supported me while going through a transition in my life.” Amee

“I am thankful for the CHIRS clubhouse for the people within this building who have changed my life and made everything a lot easier, also thankful for family and just community and people helping each other.” Chris

“I am thankful for getting here safely every day and it’s cold and soon I’ll be not taking the bus during the winter because it’s too cold, so I am really thankful for that. Also I am thankful that my dog is ok, hopefully, because two times this week she vomited so hopefully she’ll be alright.” Micky

“I am thankful for my health. I am very thankful for my family and all the wonderful people that I meet every day, being at CHIRS. I would like to send a very special prayers for all the people around the world suffering from disasters today.” Roxanne

“I am thankful for being here, for having you guys to support me and help me, it’s really nice. I hope that I can keep coming, for as long as this class is until, so I can get something out of it.” Paul

“I am thankful that I get to come to work every day and do things that I enjoy and I get to discover new talents that I didn’t know I had, not necessarily in this class. I do enjoy the class so I am very grateful for it too.” Amanda

“I am thankful for the blessings and knowledge.” Orlando

“I am thankful that I woke up in time to sign myself in, go out for a smoke, and make it at the right time to open the door for Amee.” WSM

Kihelakayo – Keep Going

The theme for this week’s Mindful Art Workshop is Kihelakayo – Keep Going

“A young man asked his Lakota grandfather what the answer was to life’s difficulties. Kihelakayo said the old man – we must keep going.”  Joseph M Marshall III

Keep Going by Amanda Muise
Keep Going by Amanda Muise
“I am thankful for a safe place to express.”
Leaves by Orlando “I am thankful for this group. I am thankful for friends.”
Leaves by Orlando
“I am thankful for this group. I am thankful for friends.”
Mauley by WSM “I am thankful for being alive.”
Mauley by WSM
“I am thankful for being alive.”
An apple a day keeps the doctor away by Roxanne “I am thankful for life. I am thankful for my tooth feeling better. I am thankful for my granddaughter coming over to dance, I am dancing even with a cane!”
An apple a day keeps the doctor away by Roxanne
“I am thankful for life. I am thankful for my tooth feeling better. I am thankful for my granddaughter coming over to dance. I am dancing even with a cane!”
Five Keys by Chris “I am thankful for being here and taking this class.”
Five Keys by Chris
“I am thankful for being here and taking this class.”
Acorns by Mickey “I am thankful for being here with people to have fun with.”
Acorns by Mickey
“I am thankful for being here with people to have fun with.”
Blanca by Orlando
Blanca by Orlando

Blockage + Vulnerability = Freedom

Blockage, vulnerability, freedom gif

Have you ever felt so closed up that it became normal? Do you remember a time when you felt free? Have you asked yourself – “Why am I so guarded?”

When it comes to art and expressing ourselves there is a conscious effort to connect with our heart and that takes courage to be vulnerable. The word vulnerable can have a negative edge to it. I have heard of people with an acquired brain injury being referred to as the vulnerable population.

There is truth in this, as many of the people who come to share their time with me are vulnerable, even tender, but with encouragement they are intensely brave to take on the task of looking at their barriers their blockage and express what is inside.

The barriers come to try and protect us because our past histories are occupied with pain, hurt, and disappointment and this can lead to the feeling of blockage, being closed up and guarded. To expand on the perception of blockage and vulnerability I’ve tried to explain this as black and white thoughts. We have black thoughts and we have white thoughts. During the Mindful Art Workshop, we meditate on the black and white perspectives and the participants created these eraser carvings (click here) to illustrate the two sides of the same coin.

We then printed the stamps on a black canvas, and it magnified the white art. Perhaps we need the barriers and the ‘black thoughts to have a canvas where our vulnerability and white thoughts can shine. When we show ourselves love and kindness we accept our blockage and we accept our vulnerability; for without one the other would not glow so brightly.

Then we find ourselves starting to open up and the barriers perhaps are lowered slightly. Then perhaps our hearts beat a bit more mighty as we gather the courage to show ourselves love and kindness for all the parts, bit and pieces of ourselves. Then we are that much closer to freedom.

Prints from this workshop:

Black & White Print by Chris
Black & White Print by Chris
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Black & White Print by Workshop Participant
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Art Work by Workshop Participant