Healing through Art, Louise Mathewson’s Life Interrupted: Living with Brain Injury

Lynne Murray says:

In A Life Interrupted: Living with Brain Injury, author Louise Mathewson brings us small book of poems that resonate profoundly with me. The poems tell the story of reclaiming her life. She has brought back these words from a time of silence that followed a tremendous trauma caused by a serious auto accident.

In the one poem, “A Day to Remember,” she describes the moments that changed her life forever:

It’s Thursday
an anniversary, of sorts
my body remembers
my mind does not
heaviness builds in my chest
eyes fill
another wave of grief threatens
a storm
upon the ocean of my life
waves build slowly
life changed in an instant.

This story
I was told
hit from behind
our car spun on black ice
struck a guard rail
slid across the pavement
smashed into an oncoming car
my door
the target

My head hit hard
brain bounced inside my skull
blood vessels sheared
lobes bruised
neurons stretched
beyond capacity,
safety in the world destroyed.
The old me
put to rest.

Louise was in a coma for two weeks.

When she emerged, as her poems describe, she had to re-learn the most simple tasks. She was a writer before her 2003 auto accident–often she wrote articles in support of her work facilitating support groups for children dealing with the challenges of loss, including grief over loss of family members, divorce and parental alcoholism.

But as she worked on recovering her speech and cognition, the damage to her left brain, which deals with  organization and planning, made writing prose a struggle for her. Yet soon her words began to emerge in poetry, a right-brain activity.

Louise and I share a small press publisher, Pearlsong Press, so I’ve “met” her online and developed a tremendous admiration for her work and for her unsparing honesty in describing her struggle as she has, in her own words journeyed from “Traumatic Brain Injury” into a state of being “Transformed By Injury.”

At the end of A Life Interrupted, and on her website, Louise provides several pages of resources that helped her in her healing journey.

Writing is only one of the arts often used in healing work. One site, Art As Healing, describes common physiological measurements across the boundaries of many art forms:

How does art heal? Scientific studies tell us that art heals by changing a person’s physiology and attitude. The body’s physiology changes from one of stress to one of deep relaxation, from one of fear to one of creativity and inspiration. Art and music put a person in a different brain wave pattern, art and music affect a person’s autonomic nervous system, their hormonal balance and their brain neurotransmitters.

Art and music affect every cell in the body instantly to create a healing physiology that changes the immune system and blood flow to all the organs. Art and Music also immediately change a person’s perceptions of their world. They change attitude, emotional state, and pain perception. They create hope and positivity and they help people cope with difficulties. They transform a person’s outlook and way of being in the world.

In fact it is now known by neurophysiologists that art, prayer, and healing all come from the same source in the body, they all are associated with similar brain wave patterns, mind body changes and they all are deeply connected in feeling and meaning. Art, prayer, and healing all take us into our inner world, the world of imagery and emotion, of visions and feelings. This journey inward into what used to be called the spirit or soul and is now called the mind, is deeply healing. For healing comes to us from within, our own healing resources are freed to allow our immune system to operate optimally and that is always how we heal.

I love Louise’s poems. I’ve read a few of them to friends struggling with issues that sometimes arise with age and disability and the common reaction to each poem was, “Wow, that is so true” and “That is so profound.” Reading these poems (and re-reading them) has been in itself a transformative and healing experience for me.