Art has not just aided in the Life Redesign journey for Dan, who has been living at CONNECT Hamilton since March, but is now helping to tell the story of stroke recovery during a pandemic.

“A Crooked Journey” is what Dan is calling the body of work he has put together since his stroke. It’s also the name of a website he is launching this week, with help from his brother, to showcase and sell his art.

A collection of Dan’s art will be displayed at CONNECT this Friday at 2pm. Posters advertising the event are currently hung around the building.

Dan had a stroke in early 2020 and, after a few months in hospital, moved into CONNECT in March.

He had previously worked in advertising and marketing and has always been a creative and artistic person. However, it had been about 25 years since he had actively worked on his art. He has worked tirelessly and prolifically since January with no intention of slowing down.

“I am fascinated by the pictures that magically appear. I have drawn and painted 20 years of work in just 1 year. And I talk Strokepoetry™ fluently now,” says Dan, with a laugh. “A Crooked Journey depicts, in picture and words, collectively, the highs and lows I have experienced.”

While still in the hospital, Dan started taking photographs and creating art and poetry. Inspiration was limited to within the hospital walls, so he started to see everyday things in a new way.

When he first moved to CONNECT, Dan would get up in the middle of the night and photograph chairs and plants. Initially CONNECT employees were concerned and frustrated with the behaviour, but once they realized Dan was battling insomnia and working on his art, they started to support, rather than dissuade the late-night activities.

CONNECT Communication Coach Melissa Mascio says Dan’s stroke caused significant aphasia or impairment of communication, which made it difficult for him to put his thoughts into sentences. He was frustrated and angry when he first moved to CONNECT and a lot of conflict initially surrounded him.

“Over time, Dan basically started healing himself through art,” says Melissa. “He is a poster person for the Life Redesign Model in action. Dan has driven his whole journey himself and continues to achieve goals he sets as he prepares to move out of CONNECT to his own apartment soon. We just try to support him along the way.”

Once he started to open up to Melissa and Social Wellness Coach Primrose Bonomale, who are part of the coaching team supporting Dan at CONNECT, he described the body of work he was building to tell his story.

“Once we understood what he was doing – the photos, works of art, poetry – we realized he was documenting recovering from a stroke during COVID-19,” says Melissa. “His art tells such a powerful story.”

Documenting his rehabilitation journey through art has been a healing endeavour for Dan, but he is also hoping it can be a source of income after CONNECT when he moves home. He describes the process of creation as fun, focusing, and hopefully insightful for those interacting with his art.

“We commandeered a hallway at CONNECT where we will display some of his work and put on an art show for Dan in conjunction with his website launch,” says Melissa.
She says his poetry is fascinating from the perspective of Speech Language Pathology because it’s abstract in a way to provide a window into aphasia. It also shows a transformation over time.

Primrose says one image Dan created, in particular (below) captures the essence of aphasia.

“When you see this picture, you just get it. This is what aphasia must feel like. It’s an image of ideas bursting from a person’s head, but his lips are sealed.”

She says Dan has provided unique insight into the emotional, frustrating and highly individual journey of stroke recovery.

“We are so touched to be part of Dan’s journey,” says Primrose. “He is an incredible man who has been through a pretty extraordinary journey.”

Dan says the people working at CONENCT are the incredible ones.

“I can’t say enough about the team here at CONNECT. I call them my brain wizards. These are pretty special people who do good work for people like me. I’m very, very fortunate to have had the chance to live at CONNECT.”

He says his crooked journey continues as he works on his communication every day and reminds himself to slow down and breathe. His art remains his place for expression and story and a place for him to find focus.

“I will try to keep on my crooked journey, square and true, seeing what is what.”