Figure holding hands up imploringly while in background they search through cards looking for the right words

Susan's story

The story may contain themes of a sensitive nature. See our guidance on viewing the exhibition.

Susan was involved in a serious snowmobile accident that left her with two hidden disabilities: a brain injury and visual impairment She described the recovery as like moving to a foreign country and having to learn a new language:

It's been a very difficult journey going from being non-disabled to being disabled person.

Susan’s brain injury means that she struggles with her short-term memory, and it has slowed down her ability to process information. Both issues make understanding and responding to communication difficult and frustrating:

If I try to do too much at the same time, or at a fast pace or multi-task, I will suffer from information overload and make mistakes.

What makes this particularly stressful is that from the outside these difficulties are not immediately apparent, so she finds that other people get annoyed with her. But she knows that if they phrased the questions more clearly she would be able to understand and be able to respond effectively.

Susan also becomes annoyed with herself because during interactions with people she feels herself struggling to find the right words, and then afterwards she knows there are things that she wished she'd said or done This is even more frustrating because she remembers the sharpness that she used to have as a computing graduate.

Susan finds it difficult to explain her disability to others, explaining what she can and can't do. Andy and Susan discussed ways of conveying this outer and inner conflict that would give others an insight into her disability. One analogy was to a filing cabinet, except that all the files have been scattered all over the floor:

She is desperately rummaging through those files trying to find the right one.

But it always seems to be slightly out of reach.

There is a battle with her own brain which makes her agitated.

And barriers in her brain stopping her achieving what she wants to achieve.

So she struggles to cope.

The painting illustrates this inner conflict by showing both the outer Susan, the one others would see, with no visible disability. And showing two representations of her inner self, firstly frantically searching for the correct words on the floor, and then throwing her arms up in frustration as she fails to find the right response.

Susan hopes that by portraying her own struggles it will helps others to interact better with people who have hidden disabilities. She knows there are times when if people were clearer in their communication, she would be able to respond more easily. As she says:

A lack of understanding about how to support people with hidden disabilities makes mental health problems worse for the disabled person.


Click or tap to see another painting.


See the full image and read Rani's story
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See the full image and read Kainaat's story
See the full image and read Katrina's story
See the full image and read Mustak's story
See the full image and read Peem's story
See the full image and read Sarah's story
Faded image of figure holding hands up imploringly while in background they search through cards looking for the right words and the words "Current painting" over the top
See the full image and read Sharm's story

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