Lilli Murdoch, Digital Communications Officer at Breathe Arts Health Research interviews Breathe Magic participant Dave, about his journey with the magic for memory programme.
‘Breathe Magic has been more fun than you can wave a magic wand at’
Breathe Magic teamed up with Headway East London to deliver a magic for memory programme. The sessions were designed to improve sequencing, ordering, narrative and memory skills for those with memory loss and associated mental health difficulties as a result of a brain injury.
Dave took part in the Breathe Magic for Memory sessions in collaboration with Headway East London, back in February. Our conversation starts with Dave telling me that it is an absolute pleasure to give feedback on Breathe Magic, as it has been such an amazing experience and has given him the opportunity to express himself. Dave then starts to explain to me the journey that has led him here.
Fourteen years ago, Dave went to the doctors with what he though was flu. Later that day, he suffered a massive seizure and was rushed to hospital. The so-called flu turned out to be encephalitis, a viral inflammation of the brain. The person that entered the hospital was definitely not the same person who left.
Following encephalitis, some people may experience emotional and behavioural changes including difficulty in regulating emotions, changes to personality and speech, memory problems, and finding day to day activities challenging. The impact of encephalitis is different for every individual depending on which areas of the brain was affected.
“I was a completely different person to the one that went into hospital. I actually thought I was Snoop Dogg. I wanted to walk around in big diamond rings and tracksuits. Needless to say, my wife freaked out. I’ve calmed down quite a lot now, but I still have an element of this. For example, check out my trainers they are green, yellow, blue, red and white.”
Dave tells me how before his brain injury he used to be quite a reserved person with inhibitions, who wouldn’t normally talk about his feelings. How it wasn’t one of the skills that he possessed. But now Dave tells me that he can talk freely and express how he’s feeling and that he enjoys the experience of being so open and free with his emotions.
“Three years after my brain injury, I suddenly realised that I was an artist. Everyone laughed at me, but appeased me anyway. I worked out I couldn’t actually paint or draw but that I was a cracking 3D collage artist. My memory and cognitive abilities are terrible, but I can spend hours doing artwork. I can still cook, but if I’m not following the recipe and being really careful, I will forget to put the mince in the bolognaise.”
Dave didn’t suffer any physical disabilities as he was admitted to hospital so quickly. His challenges are mainly cognitive, impacting his memory, planning, and concentration. Dave has experienced behavioural and emotional difficulties. He can get quite frustrated about forgetting things, leading to mood swings, tantrums and swearing.
“My son has taken on an official young carer role; he is only 8 years old but has a great insight into brain injury. My brain injury has impacted my day-to-day life of being a dad, not in terms of physical things, but cognitively. Have I left the keys in the door, have I come back from the shops with the shopping, that kind of thing. It can be really challenging at times for everyone.”
Dave tells me about his Breathe Magic experience. He tells me how much he has enjoyed learning magic, and being able to remember the specially designed Breathe Magic tricks each week. He has also been able to share magic with his son.
“I never thought I’d be able to learn magic, I’ve tried in the past. Having an 8-year-old at home, of course magic appeared in the house from time to time, but I could never get my head around it.”
“Breathe Magic has been such a lovely, joyous and uplifting experience. I always feel in a better place after doing an hour of magic. Each session was planned and executed fantastically. The magic tricks were accessible, easy to pick up and the Breathe Magicians created an atmosphere of encouragement. It is a great feeling to be able to do these tricks and also remember them, especially when you’ve been told learning anything new would be difficult.”
I ask Dave if it was easy to remember the magic and if doing the same tricks each week helped with memory recall. He tells me of course sometimes he would make a mistake and get it wrong, but that was part of the fun. Dave shows me some of tricks he has learnt, the disappearing playing cards, rope cutter and ring on a string.
“Breathe Magic was the best thing about lockdown. Initially I was thrown, that the programme was for six weeks. Even just the thought of doing something for this long could be daunting for some people. But then after the sessions started, I looked forward to every Tuesday and learning a new skill. The Breathe Magic team understood us and our limitations and used magic to benefit us.”
”My neurologist always tells me that it’s very hard for me to learn new skills and take in new information. Well now there is a whole box of new skills and information that I can access and enjoy. The way in which the magic was taught was effective and simple, but it worked. When we learnt a new skill and realised we could do it, it was a great feeling. It boosted our confidence and emotional wellbeing.”
I ask Dave to summarise Breathe Magic in one word, at that point we both laugh, as he’s already given me so many words. He asks me if I understand how loquacious he is, and then we laugh again. But he still gives me his words; Accessible, enlightening, magic, amazing and thoughtful.
If you would like to learn more about Breathe Magic and the work we do or if you would like to work with us in the future please head over to our website and/or email Lorna at email@example.com