Welcome To My World - Mike
During Action for Brain Injury Week this year we launched a member-led campaign to raise awareness. Members from across our catchment area share their stories; inviting you into their world and how they experience it after brain injury. Today, we're talking to Day Service member Mike, who's telling his story through photography...
I now live in Kings Cross. I came to London in 1984 to train as a photo-artist after my ABI, as I wanted to work as a professional photographer. I did indeed become a photographer in London, doing fashion, weddings, still life, news and magazine pictures in the UK for Spanish companies.
I specialised in studio portrait photography for the stage and screen, photographing actors, models and business people. I would set up a studio where I was living. Can you see my chroma-key green screen there! A photographic darkroom needs running water, so I used my kitchen to mix my own photographic chemicals from powder and had photo-chemical bottles everywhere.
After my traffic accident, I disliked throwing things away, and I began to collect things impulsively, even broken things. As a photo-artist you see subject matter everywhere, in textures, shapes and especially in broken things. They tell a story and are so sad! The news is worrying. The empty milk bottles are full of water in case of burst pipes or the ‘private’ water company cuts off the supply. I worry about change and that things will be taken away. I don’t have a dog or a cat, but I have a plant to take care of.
I used to be an activity volunteer at a homeless charity. I used to provide a photography activity session to some of the guys there. For some, English was not their first language, they may have developed substance abuse problems, addictions or have mental health issues. Many refugees escaping to the UK have these problems and become homeless. The returning injured soldier who is trained to live undercover in a war zone becomes (and prefers) to live as a vulnerable homeless rough sleeper in London. Refugees are refused benefits in the UK and end up begging on the street.
I saw this person begging for money. He couldn’t speak English very well. I was thinking, is he a refugee? Can he access benefits? Where is he staying? He seems to have a physical disability, I wonder what happened to him?
When I encountered difficulties on training courses and in finding work, I was transferred to rehab and I was given an MRI scan of my head. I was clinically assessed and I was told I had a “severe brain injury” and that I did not have to look for work anymore, but I still really wanted to work.
To me, religion is about everything; about life, death and how to behave in-between. It is about submission to what is. This is of course about personal and social control. I needed a religious discipline to follow to think about the suffering of other people. After my near death experience, I like to think I became enlightened, that I am deeply connected and part of everything. Enlightenment is when a wave realises it is also the ocean.
As a trained photographer I was looking for something to photograph, so I decided to explore the religious group known as the Quakers. I joined the group (for copy-write reasons) and did voluntary photographic work for them. I was not allowed to earn money, so they paid my photographic expenses and I did photo-art exhibitions to display in their building. I was asked to make a book them, using their religious writing and pictures I had taken in Yorkshire and London. This book became Wider Visions, which has now sold out. It was printed and distributed by the Quakers and sold all over Europe!
As a disabled person, I was given a freedom pass. It is a great help for my high anxiety of making a public fool of myself and getting confused with the money. One of the changes in travel is there are more pushbikes and bike lanes being built.
Pushbikes freak me out, as they are silent, and at first, I would get into arguments with bike riders who would suddenly appear out of nowhere and almost run me over. I used to walk to Headway along the Regents canal and be terrorised by bikes. Very stressful. It takes a while to get used to the fact that the injury affects your body and mind.
Online shopping is very difficult for me, I can’t decide what I need or plan ahead. Plus, they send you other products when the one you ordered wasn’t available! I have to go shopping in person with help from my support worker. That’s why I carry lots of things with me all the time, I basically carry everything with me, as I will not be able to guess what I will need when out and about, so I just carry lots of bags with things in them with me.
During lockdown, I had builders from 8 am making noises for 6 weeks! I’m extra sensitive to noise, and I can get aggressive. My injury affected my frontal lobe, which affects my ability to control impulsivity. I struggle with anger management. When they left, I felt freedom again; although I just been told they need to come back to fix my windows…!
I am very influenced by the Yorkshire artist David Hockney and his polaroid works, where he would photograph a large scene with random polaroid snaps that were enlarged and made into a collage to (for me) show how your representation of an experience is made up of all these different moments and angles in a cubist space.
I think the picture of the builders clattering away as they take down the scaffolding, with the screaming children in the school playground is a good example of this!
Brunswick area has a shopping centre, a cinema, chemist where I go to pick up my medication from, they used to have a GP as well. It’s like the Barbican, brutalism architecture. That is my area, is a regular thing for me to go there. Now, this is my life.