By Bill Herrin
Working with the topic of brain injury at Lash & Associates Publishing, I’ve heard on quite a few occasions that TBI can seriously alter a person’s ability to do certain things that they were once highly skilled at. Some basic things can also be affected, like driving a car, riding a bicycle, outdoor activities, walking/balance and more.
Many may also sustain a brain injury that affects them on an even deeper level – such as paralysis, cognition, thought patterns, speech, logic, etc. The one thing that is very intriguing about TBI is how it can affect creativity – and how it may change a more logical “left-brained” person, and make them more creative, imaginative, musical, or artistic. This also could bring the opposite effect to a more “right-brained” person and erase most or all of their previous creative strengths and talents. Although I’m not a TBI Survivor, I truly empathize with those who have dealt with these extreme changes and thought that it would be an interesting topic to explore.
One such case was Hilary Zayed. She worked as a teacher, was a flutist, a passionate horseback rider, and a mother of 2 grown children when she had a brain injury. Her recovery and subsequent reinvention of her prior life came with much hard work. She couldn’t enjoy music like she used to, so she worked toward finding a creative outlet – and soon discovered the art of making mosaics, paintings, and more.
After three years of being at home with a rotation of visiting nurses – often lying on the couch, she started to maneuver down the stairs to her art studio/space more and more. Some health professionals encouraged her to exhibit her works (art and writing), and soon she found herself doing several other solo shows across the Northeast. She found that sharing her experience through her art opened doors for others to be inspired to try harder after their own TBI. Here is a quote taken directly from Hilary’s book titled: Reinventing Oneself After Loss:
“One of the biggest lessons I learned was the importance of sharing my experience. It seemed to speak to people and inspire them to do the same. It felt as if the “butterfly effect” was happening and I was the one with the moving wings. As I finish writing this personal journey it has been almost seven years. I cannot say that I have fully reinvented myself but I have attempted to stay on course, refine my goals and continue to work hard on moving through
obstacles and leaning forward. Oddly, it was leaning forward on my horse, that fateful day, which changed my life. That action gave me the gift of making art and writing about it, on this journey to reinvent myself after loss.
May you find the courage to move forward as you deal with loss.”*
With every instance of people that make gains creatively after TBI, there are also people who suffer losses in the same arena. Being creative, artistic, musical, inventor, a writer, etc. is a gift that can be rewarding, and even help a person identify with others on a huge level. Losing that creative spark can be a harsh reality. Overall “loss of self” is basically the same thing, but it’s a huge transition for a creative person.
Shown below, I’m referencing an incredible article (by Dahlia W. Zaidel) that discusses the neurological changes that can take place in the brain of a creative person after a TBI, and also changes in a less creative person…here’s an excerpt:
“Neurological cases of visual artists who had practiced their craft professionally prior to the brain damage can help point the way to neuroanatomical and neurofunctional underpinnings of creativity. Approximately 50 or so cases with unilateral brain damage (largely in one side of the brain, and where the etiology is commonly stroke or tumor) have by now been described in the neurological literature (Rose, 2004; Bogousslavsky and Boller, 2005; Zaidel, 2005, 2013a,c; Finger et al., 2013; Mazzucchi et al., 2013; Piechowski-Jozwiak and Bogousslavsky, 2013).
The key questions concern post-damage alterations in creativity, as well as loss of talent, or skill. A review of the majority of these neurological cases suggests that, on the whole, they go on producing art, sometimes prolifically, despite the damage’s laterality or localization (Zaidel, 2005). Importantly, post-damage output has revealed that their creativity does not increase, nor diminish (Zaidel, 2005, 2010, 2013b). Given that the damage arises unilaterally (only one or the other hemisphere), artistic creativity in the healthy brain can not simply be attributed to a single hemisphere, dedicated neural “regional center”, network, or pathway, but rather to a diffusely represented capacity in the brain. Indeed, it would further seem that creativity is highly sensitive to brain damage, more so than artistic productivity, talent, or skill.
We could speculate that in the healthy brain cognitive associative networks in the left hemisphere alone, in the right hemisphere alone, or both hemispheres working together contribute to the creative process in art. However, recent functional neuroimaging evidence based on non-artistic behavior in healthy volunteers points to greater left hemisphere involvement in creativity (Gonen-Yaacovi et al., 2013). Where do the original ideas in the artwork arise, is a complex question that researchers would like understand (Dietrich and Kanso, 2010; Heilman and Acosta, 2013; Jung and Haier, 2013). The likely answer with regards to the cerebral hemispheres is that both are functional in exceptional creativity, but with each hemisphere contributing a different facet, yet little understood, to the creativity process (Zaidel, 2013d).”**
From the most basic approaches to eye/hand coordination, thought and cognition, and creative expression – to advanced creativity and artistic endeavors after TBI, the persistence and determination required to persevere takes incredible inner strength. As I often say, every person’s TBI is different, and each has its own starting point – and the ending point remains to be determined. Finding your way through the maze of TBI (of which there may be many causes such as concussions, blast injuries, stroke, etc.) is one of total commitment to stay the course. Time, along with effort brings results for many TBI survivors, but not all.
It’s my hope to encourage you in your creative outlets, to find solace in your “new normal”, and to express yourself through creativity…and creativity doesn’t just have to be visual arts, it can be writing, crafting, music, knitting or crocheting, poetry, relaxing with an adult coloring book, and lots more. Everything we see around us was created by someone – including the devices we are reading this post on! Make the most of every day, and my prayer for all of us is that we find abundant personal reward from all that we aspire to accomplish in life…creative or otherwise!
Feel free to leave a comment, and share your story regarding the changes in creativity, too. It may inspire, it may not…but your story is important – and it’s worth sharing!
* Excerpt from Hilary Zayed’s book: “Reinventing Oneself After Loss”
**Here is the link to the entire referenced article by Dahlia W. Zaidel: