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'Writing gives me mean...

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'Writing gives me meaning'

"Writing gives me meaning"

We look at how creative writing can help people gain renewed confidence after brain injury

Like many other forms of art therapy, creative writing is a popular rehabilitation aid for many brain injury survivors. It gives people the chance to express their thoughts, feelings and emotions in a safe and confidential place without any judgement.

Here, we look at how Headway groups and branches across the UK are helping people gain renewed confidence and express themselves using the power of the pen – or more often, the keyboard!

More than words

One of the challenges faced by many brain injury survivors is managing or articulating their emotions. Creative writing can often help people to put their thoughts onto paper and process what they are feeling or thinking.

Brain injury survivor Candice, who regularly attends Headway Nottingham, said: “Creative writing has given me such meaning in my world since sustaining my brain injury.

“It has shown me that I still have the ability to write and it has helped me to get in touch with my feelings and now I am able to express them in my poetry. Three years on from my first creative writing class and I’m still surprised at what I am able to achieve.

“The creative writing sessions at Headway Nottingham have given me the opportunity to produce something really special that I’m proud of.”

Julie Wedgbury, Fundraising Manager at Headway Birmingham & Solihull, agrees: “Many of our service users have been able to express their emotions and have grown in confidence with the help of our creative writing sessions.

Overall, it has proved to be a wonderful avenue for communication and self-esteem among our members.

Sharni Haque is one of those members. In 2017, Sharni suffered a brain haemorrhage that resulted in her being dependant on a wheelchair. Since then, she has found that creative writing has helped to build her confidence and reveal more of her bubbly personality.

Some brain injury survivors find it cathartic to share their story with the rest of the world, whilst others prefer to keep their writing to themselves. Either way, creative writing is a great way of opening up and releasing emotions that may have built up over time.

Rose Gleeson, an English and Creative Writing graduate, said: “I think it’s really important for those with an ABI to have a safe space where they can explore self expression, build confidence and enjoy the creative process.

“The creative writing sessions I tutor at Headway Cardiff do just that.”

Phillip Owen is just one of many Headway Cardiff service users to have benefited from that support. Since sustaining his brain injury in 2007, Phillip has written a memoir titled, If I could remember, I would try to forget.

“Creative writing presents a way for me to dissipate my frustrations, and to reiterate how strongly I feel about certain issues, especially incorrect assumptions about the effects of a brain injury,” he said.

Lover of literature Ken Hazeldine, who regularly visits Headway East London, echoed those thoughts: “The writing sessions here at Headway have given me the opportunity to get creative again.

“Before my brain injury I was someone who always had a novel on the go, since then I haven’t read that much. “But instead, I seem to have developed a passion for creative writing. I find it really therapeutic.”

Drawing My Inner Self, by Sharni Haque

Drawing My Inner Self, by Sharni Haque

Simply put, creative writing gives people the chance to explore their life after brain injury with the possibility of reaching out to those in a similar situation.

Cognitive boost

Driftwood, by Phillip Owen

Driftwood, by Phillip Owen

Creative writing also has a number of cognitive benefits for those living with a brain injury. Not only can it help to improve the cognitive abilities of brain injury survivors, but it can also help to highlight areas for improvement during rehabilitation.

Maintaining focus is key when it comes to creative writing, but a reduced concentration span is common following brain injury. However, creative writing can sometimes help to strengthen this area of cognitive functioning.

Colette, a service user at Headway Oxfordshire, said: “The creative writing sessions at Headway Oxfordshire have been so helpful during my rehabilitation.

“They help with my concentration as I have to focus on the storyline and actually putting pen to paper. I’ve found that creative writing also helps me to organise my thoughts and put them into a creative manner.”

For many with a brain injury, engaging in conversation and being surrounded by a number of distractions and interruptions in a social setting can be daunting, and sometimes impossible to manage.

Writing, on the other hand, gives the author the chance to solely concentrate on expressing themselves by putting pen to paper. The pressure to keep up with the conversation – both verbally and mentally – is removed and instead, the author can write at their own pace, free from judgement.

“Creative writing has helped me immensely to express myself as I can’t get the words out quick enough in normal conversation,” says keen blogger and brain injury survivor, Laura-Rose Smith. “I find creative writing affords me the time to fully articulate my thoughts and feelings.”

Creative writing has also helped many brain injury survivors with their memory difficulties.

Phil, a service user at Headway Oxfordshire, said: “Creative writing has really helped with my memory.

It helps me to establish timelines in my stories and in my own life, which means I can put everything into perspective.

Blogging after brain injury

The inspiring stories being told by people living with brain injury are not just limited to traditional paper-based writing.

Online blogging is often considered to be just for those who want to rant, rave and put forward their (often strong) views on topical issues. But as the community of bloggers – both amateur and professional – continues to grow, so does the diversity and quality of posts.

More and more people are choosing to express themselves online. This includes brain injury survivors, who are posting to share their experiences in order to give support to others, or simply to showcase their creative writing talent.

Blogging gives people with brain injuries the opportunity to share their stories and easily connect with those who have experienced similar trauma – something that can be extremely beneficial in terms of developing friendships and support networks.

Sam Robinson, a brain injury survivor who attends Headway Cambridgeshire, is an avid blogger. He posts a monthly blog about life after brain injury, some of the challenges he faces, and how blogging has helped him following the diagnosis of his brain tumour.

His piece To blog or not to blog looks at the pros and cons of blogging after brain injury.

Sam says: “Being a blogger has been incredibly helpful in understanding and combating my own brain injury.

“Making myself aware of my feelings and aspirations, through the platform of blogging, means that I can identify and bring them to the surface. This enables me to put plans into action and helps reduce the impact of my worries.”

The blogging basics

What is a blog?

A blog is a website or webpage which is made up of diary-style text entries that often document life events.

Who can blog?

Anyone can create a blog. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, tech-savvy or just starting out.

Where do you upload a blog?

There are various different websites that allow you to upload your blog posts – this is often called ‘guest blogging’. Alternatively, you can create a website dedicated purely to your own blog posts.

What should you blog about?

You can blog about anything. Health and wellbeing, travel, and personal development are just a few popular blog-worthy topics.

Brain injury survivors may want to blog about their recovery so that they can look back to their first entry and see how much they’ve progressed. Caution is advised with this, however. It’s important to remember that everything you post is potentially there for all to see. It’s easy to post in haste and repent at leisure, so we would always suggest you create a draft before publishing, and speak to someone you trust before deciding on whether or not to post.

Blogging after a brain injury can also a great way of keeping loved ones and friends informed along the rehabilitation and recovery process.

How do you get more people to read your blog?

One easy way to get more people to read your blog is to share it on social media. Some of your Facebook friends may even turn into regular readers.

What restrictions are there when blogging?

While blogging is relatively rule free, there are a few restrictions in terms of copyright. It’s important to remember that when blogging, you don’t claim the work or ideas of others as your own.

In terms of photographs to feature alongside your blog, you must ensure that you have permission from the owner of the photograph to host it on your website. If you are unable to get permission, there are numerous stock image sites that allow you to use photographs free from copyright restrictions.

Staying safe

It’s important that, before publishing your writing online or in print, you get a trusted friend or family member to read your work. This means that they’ll be able to spot any errors and ensure that you’re not giving away any personal information. Think carefully about what you’re comfortable sharing, and never give details that could compromise your safety, such as your address and date of birth.

Four top tips to help you get started with creative writing:

  • Buy yourself a nice diary, journal or notebook. It doesn’t need to be expensive. If you have somewhere to showcase all your work, you’ll feel proud of what you’ve accomplished.

  • Find inspiration in your surroundings. If you don’t know what to write about, just take a look around you and write about the first thing that catches your eye. It could be the weather outside, a friend sat across from you or your beloved pet.

  • Get a friend or family member to read your work. They can check for any spelling or grammar mistakes.

  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It may take a few attempts before you master your first sentence. You might want to start writing with a pencil so that it is easy to rub out any mistakes you make.

Share your words

If you would like to share one of your poems, short stories, limericks or blog entries, then visit our Send us your story form.

Alternatively, you can send in a snap of your favourite literary creation, with the possibility of it being featured on our Instagram page as part of our #TakeoverTuesday on Instagram. Just send your pictures to: website@headway.org.uk or use the hashtag #HeadwayTakeover in your social media posts.

My Brain suffered a bash, My emotions became very brash, I lost control, In my life as a whole, And like the hulk I would smash.

- Headway Birmingham & Solihull’s Mark Hannaby’s, My Brain Suffered a Bash

A stroke has damaged my brain, It has left me in a lot of pain, I’ve lost the use of one side, My emotions I really do hide, But walking I am starting to regain.

- A limerick by Corinne Springer, service user at Headway Birmingham & Solihull

 

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