Michael Sawyer discovered the healing nature of painting after suffering a traumatic brain injury as a result of a traffic accident eight years ago.
The Maple Ridge locksmith lost most of his sense of self after the incident. In addition to his physical injuries, his memory, spatial orientation and sense of balance were also impacted. His behaviour became chaotic and without orientation, he said.
Now the father of three, who is in his 50s, is teaching a group of participants in a brain injury support group at the CEED Centre how the brain can recover from a traumatic injury through creativity.
“The hand-eye coordination stimulates the brain to create new neural pathways, which in turn helps to cope with everyday challenges,” said Sawyer who is a member of the Garibaldi Art Club and frequently attends the CEED Centre’s free weekly art group.
During his initial recovery period, Sawyer recalls having to blink repeatedly when he first entered a room to give his brain time to process what his eyes were seeing.
“You probably won’t find that coping strategy in the standard literature,” said Sawyer, who was not able to return to his former occupation.
When he regained sufficient cognitive ability to sit with a brush, he took up painting. Sawyer had dabbled with painting and meditation in the past. Now he wanted to explore where he found himself after the incident and also map out a route forward to recovery.
Since then he has given presentations to 25 psychiatrists and 200 occupational therapists and physiotherapists to demonstrate the body’s ability to recover from a brain injury through creativity.
Sawyer knows he will probably never fully recover. Art is one of the main tools he uses to build resilience, he said, in addition to Tai Chi, yoga and meditation.
He is still unable to drive.
Sawyer will also be teaching a series of workshops for beginner to intermediate painters at the CEED Centre.
The cost of the workshops is $65 and includes all six sessions plus materials.
They run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 27, March 5, 19, 26, and April 2 and 9 at the CEED Centre Neighbourhood House, 11739 223 St. in Maple Ridge.
Register at ceedcentre.com.