Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) impact a substantial number of individuals, contributing to about 30% of all deaths in the United States. For Traumatic Brain Injury survivors, day-to-day life can feel isolated. TBI survivors often face challenges with communication, which can lead to confusion and misunderstandings.
Because the injury is highly misunderstood by the public, TBI survivors sometimes feel detached from the rest of society. However, one art initiative plans to bridge the gap between TBI survivors and their communities.
Survivors Unite to Unmask Brain Injuries
A traveling art exhibit called Unmasking Brain Injury showcases painted masks created by brain injury survivors. The project has produced a collection of over 800 masks, available on display and online. Unmasking Brain Injury began in the United States and is now becoming an international initiative.
“The mission of Unmasking Brain Injury is to promote awareness of the prevalence of brain injury; to give survivors a voice and the means to educate others of what it’s like to live with a brain injury; to show others that persons living with a disability due to their brain injury are like anyone else, deserving of dignity, respect, compassion and the opportunity to prove their value as citizens in their respective communities.” (TASS Brain Injury Rehabilitation Center)
Survivors and advocates can now come together to redefine a disability that affects millions of victims each year.
Voices Heard Through Art Installation
The artwork included in Unmasking Brain Injury is as varied as the individuals who painted them. Participants included in the project became injured through a myriad of traumatic events, from car and train accidents, workplace injuries, criminal assaults, electrocutions, to brain tumors and birth-related injuries.
The art display includes real stories written by brain-injured artists or their caregivers. The masks express raw emotion, telling the story of life before and after the incident.
One brain injury survivor, Steve B. From Hammond, Louisiana shared his mask as part of the exhibit. Steve’s life changed when he was involved in a work-related accident where he was hit by a large bolt. He suffered an irreversible brain injury as a result.
Steve described the emotion that he put into his mask,
“Hopeless, cheated, afraid and anger… these are just a few of the emotions I feel and wanted to show on my mask. I feel I have been cheated out of my life and spending time with my family and friends. Much of my time is spent being afraid because I suffer from memory loss. I am also very angry at my situation, so I tried to show that on my mask.”
Karyn H. from Roswell, Georgia who suffered a brain injury after a car accident, also decorated a mask in support of the art installation.
As Karyn explained,
“The secret to maintaining my intelligence is my love for books. I have the best potential for dealing with special needs. The puzzle is my brain being solved. I have been through so much. My speech deficit takes away the power of language. To regain my speech will give me life!”
With the use of some paint and a little imagination, TBI survivors make their stories come to life and contribute to the expanding movement. Survivors and caretakers who come together as a community can offer support while sharing a healing experience.
Depending on their specific injury, TBI survivors can face a variety of challenges. Some are affected by impaired thinking, memory problems, troubles with movement and sensation (e.g., vision of hearing), and emotional changes (e.g., personality changes, depression, anxiety). Other brain injuries fit the description of a “silent epidemic” when symptoms and effects go largely unnoticed.
While injuries can vary from person to person, most TBI survivors never return to their previous way of life.
Joey Buchanan’s life forever changed after his accident. The former firefighter was extinguishing a house fire when a 50-pound load of sheetrock fell from an 8-foot vaulted ceiling and struck his head. He suffered a mild brain injury.
Buchanan has accepted his disability as his new reality.
“Those with traumatic brain injuries are no different than anyone else. We have just been chosen to live a new kind of life. A different kind of life. We are not special. Maybe even more normal than many out there.”
After his initial shock following his diagnosis, Joey felt bombarded with internal questions, wondering why he had to endure such an injury. Through much contemplation, he found a purpose in his pain.
Joey believes his accident happened,
“so that others may be educated about this injury…so that others may see that there are huge struggles associated with this injury…so that others may see there is hope and life after this injury.”
Join the Movement
The traveling exhibit is a learning experience for everyone, from students, parents, survivors, and everyone in-between. Now you can spread the word by requesting this art display to be showcased at your event.
Interested in becoming an advocate of the movement? Unmasking Brain Injury is currently looking for volunteers to serve as guides to answer questions while the masks are on display. As first-hand experiences dispel stigmas, TBI survivors and advocates are collectively taking steps towards public acceptance and understanding.
If you are a brain injury survivor and would like to make a mask to be displayed at a traveling exhibit, submit your information to share your story with the world. TBI survivors can now harness their emotions, one art piece at a time.