Meet Kathy Prudden, Brain Injury Survivor and winner of the BIS Has Talent Art Exhibition in the category “composition” in 2022!
How is your approach to creativity different after a brain injury?
Although I engage with the arts as part of my work as an intermodal expressive arts therapist, I have a new appreciation for its’ expressive ability following my brain injury. I began keeping a visual journal in which I’ve made many pieces about the struggles of life with a TBI and the healing journey. I’ve also been in talk therapy to address grief and loss, and there have been times when I’ve brought in artwork to say, “I have no words to describe what I’m feeling, but this art piece captures it.” What I make is rarely pretty! It is honest and raw. I’ve made ‘dark’ pieces that visually convey the depth and breadth of my pain in a more visceral way than words could ever do.
Post injury, I’ve felt compelled to make art based on how it makes me feel and less about how it looks. Some of my pieces clearly depict an issue or emotion, while others are more focused on the process than the product and are often pure emotion on a page.
How has your approach to poetry changed since surviving a brain injury?
I recently joined a poetry group and realized that the writing process reminded me of where I’m impaired. Pre-injury, structure felt constricting, but now I prefer poetry with an identifiable point that is clear and concise. In the group, I was often confused by what others wrote, getting lost in the meanderings of the poems and losing my place. I began to feel that my poems were childlike. Getting lost in a poem seemed to be a metaphor for getting lost now cognitively. It’s been a reminder of what’s changed in me.
Sometimes I think that since my poetry is not metaphoric or filled with symbolism, then it is not any good. But then I wonder how many brain injury survivors are like me and need to read something that they can readily understand. That inspires me to keep writing but to find an audience that appreciates my style!
Discuss your inspiration, thoughts on discipline or how you dedicate time to create, and barriers to creativity.
My process depends on the type of art I am creating. Poems, or “ingredients” for a future poem, most often come to me when I’m hiking. Nature is the place where I feel most free, and long hikes allow my thoughts and emotions to go on a journey as well. With visual art, images pop into my head when I’m thinking about an issue or experiencing feelings. I’ll then make notes about what I saw in my mind, with the intent of developing them into pieces when I have time. Unfortunately, following through on that is not a strength! I have a folder of pieces of scrap paper with ideas for visual art pieces.
There are times, though, when my “process” is much less formal. I’ll sometimes start with simple doodles, or use lines, shapes, and colors to try and depict what I feel. This often serves as a “warm-up” with themes emerging on the page or popping into my head. This might lead to a second, main, piece. At other times I’ll create a word cluster. I’ll start with a word that is rattling around in my brain – loss, for example. I’ll put that in the middle and sort of “free associate” around it. Looking at the concepts, thoughts, and feelings that emerge will sometimes give me an idea of what needs to be expressed.
In your own words, describe the relationship between creative expression and empowerment.
Creative expression is a means to articulate what logical discourse cannot. It goes beyond a straightforward description of what I am thinking and feeling. It is sometimes very difficult for me to express my lived experience. I grew up with a mother with an acquired brain injury (brain tumors), so I had more knowledge than the average person when I was thrust into life as a TBI survivor. But neither that nor my professional training prepared me for the challenges I’ve faced. And often, words simply cannot convey what life as a TBI survivor is like.
Creative expression is empowering because art, in whatever form, can evoke feelings from the viewer/listener and draw them into my world. It gives me an opportunity to express what I otherwise can’t find words to say. In some ways, art helps me to find my voice. To say, “This is me now, this is what my life is like, this is how I feel.”
Describe your experience participating in the 2022 BIS Has Talent Art Exhibition & Creativity Showcase.
Participating in the 2022 BIS Has Talent Art Exhibition was empowering and meaningful for me both in the process of creating my submission and participating in the live event. Since my injury, I’ve been frequently confronted by what I’ve lost and how I’ve changed. I used to be a highly competent professional. I was creative not only in artistic endeavors but also in how I approached situations. Post-injury, the creative ideas and energy are still there, but my impairments have prevented me from engaging with them in the way that I used to. This has been a significant source of grief for me as I feel it reflects my lost identity and feels like an upheaval of my perceived place in this world.
Another passion of mine is hiking. It was during a hike that I fell and sustained my brain injury. The poem I entered for the 2022 BIS Has Talent Art Exhibition was one that I wrote while hiking at Sky Meadows State Park (pictured below). When I was writing the poem, I was thinking and praying about the unknown of this new life as a TBI survivor and not being able to pinpoint what I needed. I was drawn to the old trees on the trail, noticing the twisted growth, the broken limbs, and young branches that grew wherever they could. I noticed these “flaws” and felt like those trees had a story to tell. At times, when no one is looking, I’ve entered into a full-body hug with these trees and have found unexpected comfort. Nature is the place where I feel most at ease, where I don’t have to prove anything or be anything except present. As I wrote, I was thinking about what I needed and was looking to nature and these “grandmother” trees to meet my needs.
I came to the 2022 BIS Has Talent Art Exhibition feeling that I had lost my competence in my creativity – something that I cherished as an important part of my identity pre-injury. I was pleased with the poem that I wrote because I felt that it captured what I needed and what nature provides. When I read the poem, I felt empowered knowing that no one could dismiss my feelings in the lines. This poem is mine. It is me. It is what I need.
Being selected as the winner in the “composition” category confirmed for me that what I felt and how I conveyed those feelings through writing was recognizable, that people understood and related to what I was feeling. Putting my needs out there on a page and knowing that my words resonated with others confirmed that my needs were understandable and acceptable. It reaffirmed for me that I can create something that people can connect with. Thus, I still have something to contribute to this world that is of use. That was huge for me.
What do you want to share with other brain injury survivors who might be considering participating in the 2023 BIS Has Talent Art Exhibition & Creativity Showcase on Nov 8th?
Focus on creating, simply for the gifts that creating can bring you! Sharing what you’ve made is sharing part of you. That can be risky and a bit frightening. I get that! BIS is made up of a supportive and non-judgmental community. It is a place where you can share your creation, and thus yourself, without fear of having the expression of your experiences, feelings, or thoughts dismissed or minimized. It is important for people to understand what life is like with a brain injury. While no one can grasp that unless they’ve lived it, art can provide a small window into your life and lived experience.
To learn more about the BIS Has Talent Art Exhibition and Creativity Showcase, visit www.braininjurysvcs.org/bis-has-talent/.