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Interview with Judith Johnston

Can you please tell me a bit about yourself, you can start wherever you would like.

My name is Judith Johnston and before I suffered a brain injury I was an executive of an insurance company brokerage and I was an employees benefits consultant for over thirty years. I have no memory of the accident. It was a car accident. I was hit from behind and sent across five lanes of highway into a guardrail. I was airlifted to a trauma centre and I was in that trauma centre for about ten days or so and then I was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital. I was in the rehab hospital for almost six weeks. My injury happened almost seven years ago.

Can you please tell me about your symptoms after your injury?

Memory loss was certainly a big issue. I thought I was 39 but I was really 50-something. But I don’t remember the accident or the time in the trauma hospital. Being at the rehab hospital helped my memory. I started to work on a schedule: I had physio at a certain time, had my medication at a certain time, meals were brought in at a certain time. I sort of had more of a focus of that's what the day entailed. The exhaustion was a big difficulty. I would forget words. I probably didn’t speak that much at that time. The physical impact of the car accident injury, I lost the vision in my left eye, I have lost some of my hearing in my left ear, I have no sense of taste or smell, and I have mobility issues in terms of balance. When you lose the use of one eye you also lose depth perception, so with that I need a cane for walking. I found my way back to getting in the pool, that was a big step in helping with my mobility.

What were some of the steps that you took after your injury to help cope with your symptoms?

It really was a team effort; on my own I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I didn’t have much memory until I started working with my occupational therapist and she brought in a physiotherapist. Gradually we brought in a rehab support worker and then a PSW, a personal support worker, to help. I am married and I have a husband and we live in a home with my sister. So between the two of them and my team, I really felt that I had wonderful support. Three years into it I was introduced to my speech language pathologist. I was also introduced to an art teacher who does watercolours. So it was trying to find myself during the past seven years and the individuals who have been brought into my life have been truly enlightening and productive and they gave me grounding.

Can you please tell me a bit more about your journey with art?

When I was in my teens I painted. I had a grandmother who was a professional artist, but I was always concerned that, you know, it was great as a hobby but to make a living and to go to university and to study art and make it a pay-making job, I wasn’t comfortable with that. So I went to university, I ended up in the insurance business, that was my father’s business and it just grew from there. So my art fell behind. With being introduced to an art teacher, it really brought back things that I really did enjoy. However, this time, I’m ok with being critiqued. If I feel it's finished, it's finished. If it's not I can go away then come back to it, maybe start something else. My experience with art has allowed me to develop and grow as a person not with a brain injury, but as Judith Ann Johnston.

Do you have any other hobbies?

I write. I’ve written an article about finding your creative self in Hope magazine, a US magazine. And I also have written an article that will be in the Canadian Society of Painters of Watercolour. I also have a blog, it's called: If there is anyone that needs or wants to be in touch, I am there! I am available. It's a long journey that we are taking and sometimes you just need a person to say, “You know what, it's ok.” I’ve had my blog for almost two years. I have a list of strategies in terms of how to manage. Really the things that I blog about are things that I have learned or things that have caught me off guard, and what it takes to try and get control of those situations. I also speak to groups. To ABI groups. I spoke at the conference in Toronto two years ago. I will be speaking virtually at the Ottawa conference in June. I have also spoken to some social workers about their role and a lot of the issues that we face.

How has living during covid affected your recovery process?

It has had an impact. Because I can’t have physical access with all my therapists it's all virtual. We do it and that does help keep me grounded, but it’s a different kind of exhaustion because focusing on an individual on a screen is very demanding of my brain energy.

What is the first thing you would like to do after the pandemic?

I would like to go to Bermuda. I have a son who's there and he's working. We had a flight already booked, but our flights were cancelled. That’s what I am looking forward to, and I know it will happen!

Interviewed by Jasper Delichte

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