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Traumatic Brain Injury

Can You Regain Lost Talents After Brain Injury?

Personal Perspective: Fictional characters remind, but a facilitator helps.

Shireen Anne Jeejeebhoy
Source: Shireen Anne Jeejeebhoy

In 2023, Candlish, Fadyl, and D’Cruz reviewed the literature on using storytelling as a rehabilitation tool for traumatic brain injury.

“Thirteen studies met inclusion criteria, describing eleven distinct interventions fitting into four categories: film production, visual art, written publication and song composition. Rationale for the interventions included identity reconstruction, emotional processing, sense-making, and community (re)engagement. Varying levels of specialist materials and facilities were utilized. Most required facilitation by professionals trained in specialist areas such as narrative, art or music therapy.”

I’ve written earlier about using bibliotherapy and how self-bibliotherapy can help one heal. Since many of us don’t have the means or the access to effective brain injury treatments, we must rely on ourselves to recover and accept much downtime. I’ve watched television, and in recent years, streaming apps, to provide rest and escape from daily life with brain injury. What I hadn’t considered is how a well-constructed television storyline can unearth memories of an injured talent and perhaps spark the thought of restoring it.

This past week, I began watching the Korean Drama DoDoSolSolLaLaSol. For those of us who learned music, “sol” is a little confusing. English speakers learn the major scale as “do re mi fa so la ti do.” The note names in the K-Drama title refer to the notes played for Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.

When I was nine years old, I begged my parents for piano lessons. At 12 years old, they bought me a piano, deciding that maybe this was not a passing whim. Later in life, I learned that a member of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra would stand at our shared fence to listen to me play. I reached grade-10 level, but my family background and my science and medical inclinations set aside piano lessons, even though my teacher wanted me to study it at university. I played the piano haphazardly in my adult years and counted on my natural sight-reading ability to compensate for my lack of practice.

Then one day I couldn’t sight read. Confusion struck me. The group I was with probably thought I wasn’t as good as I’d thought, even though I played familiar pieces as well as ever.

I didn’t know until about a decade later that I’d suffered a sub-clinical concussion, and this sort of isolated loss is how it can manifest.

The second car crash that caused my catastrophic brain injury erased my entire talent. Nine years later, it unexpectedly returned, albeit at a basic level. That astonished me because I hadn’t played my piano in most of that time; lack of practice would surely lead to even less ability, right? I tried to work on what had re-emerged, but I didn’t have money to tune my piano, and I had to restore my reading and writing, which consumed all my energy.

As I began watching the K-Drama, I resonated with the protagonist who quit her lessons upon graduation. Then a car crash injured her wrists and fingers. Although in true television style, her wrist injuries healed fully and quickly, not reflecting reality at all, her injury igniting her passion to play the piano, to use music to express her emotions, resurrected my own memories of playing my emotions.

My piano playing wasn’t technically brilliant — it was the emotions that brought people to listen.

Brain injury stole that. How can you play emotions you can’t feel? How can you read music and discern the keys with broken neurons?

But I continue to experience healing 24 years later, and watching the DoDoSolSolLaLaSol protagonist play brought my fingers alive.

As she mimicked playing while her wrists were in casts, which had left her unable to play the piano, so I used to mimic playing in the early post-brain injury years during alpha brainwave training. As I watched and listened to her stellar playing, I missed my own talent.

How do you resurrect a talent brain injury stole?

To me, my writing was both a skill and a talent, which brain injury treatments restored, while my piano playing, in my mind, was predominantly talent buttressed by as little practice as I could get away with during my lesson years.

The protagonist didn’t have talent. She had a formidable at-home teacher who kept her practicing. A lot.

Practice is key in brain injury recovery, evident in relearning my reading comprehension after attending Lindamood-Bell and relearning my writing after taking an email writing course.

Up to now, I haven’t had the energy to do that for my music, a core part of my former self-identity.

The reviewers concluded that “Intervention models suggest that storytelling is intended for self-identity reconstruction after TBI [traumatic brain injury].”

The problem is, as with all my effective brain injury treatments, the intervention models they studied included professionals facilitating the process. I have no facilitator to encourage me through the fatigue and disappointment of having slid so very far back in my talent. Plus no funds to tune my piano.

I’m not alone in having to navigate back to one’s talents and skills by myself. The how of it remains an open question. But now I’m wondering if simply playing for a few minutes will reconnect me enough to create a storytelling healing effect.

Copyright ©2024 Shireen Anne Jeejeebhoy


Candlish L, Fadyl JK, D'Cruz K. Storytelling as an intervention in traumatic brain injury rehabilitation: a scoping review. Disabil Rehabil. 2023 Jun;45(13):2248-2262. doi: 10.1080/09638288.2022.2084778. Epub 2022 Jun 16. PMID: 35710308.

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