SPEAK OUT! – Rainbow Artist, Orlando L.
(Kevin Orlando Lau)
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
1. What is your name? (last name optional)
My name is Kevin Orlando Lau.
(I’m also known as the Rainbow Artist, Orlando L., in the art community.)
2. Where do you live? (city and/or state and/or country) Email (optional)
Currently I live in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, as a Canadian.
I was born and raised in Hong Kong, China, as a Chinese.
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
My art page on Facebook is https://www.facebook.com/RainbowArtistOrlando.
3. When did you have your brain injury? At what age?
I had my brain injury back in 1996 when I was age 24. I don’t think my injury is a TBI. I am guessing it is an ABI (acquired brain injury). The doctor at the ICU (intensive care unit) mentioned a medical term to me, but I couldn’t understand it back then, nor do I remember it now. She translated it to me as “partial brain damage.”
4. How did your brain injury occur?
My injury was caused by severe poisoning. I was committing suicide by swallowing a whole jar of an extra-strength painkiller. I wanted to end my hellish life on earth once and for all. I was a heavily abused child – physical, verbal, sexual/molestation, emotional, and psychological. I observed lots of chaos with my relatives, like gang relations, violence, prostitution, excessive gambling, sex addition, and hardcore drug addiction. I had watched my mother’s brother sexually molest my sister and all my female cousins, individually and multiple times. They were only 2-6 years old. I was around 10. I was raped in 1993 by a trusted man twice my age. I attracted a possessive and abusive boyfriend in 1996. He constantly threatened to kill me and my cats if I left him. I worked in the family business of my parents seven days per week, 10+ hours each day, for many months in a row without a break. (All day-off requests were denied.) I was completely stressed out and exhausted!! Death was the only way out….
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
I first realized I had a problem when I started vomiting neon-green liquid non-stop after I had those pills. I vomited at least eighteen times within a 24-hour period. Then when I woke up in the ICU, the doctor told me that I suffered a brain injury. She said she didn’t expect that I would have any memory. She hadn’t expected me to wake up and to be talking to her. She hadn’t expected that I would survive at all, due to the overwhelming amount of poison I had consumed. She explained that 99% of the people who had the same experience as me did not survive and that 99% of the 1% who survived stayed in a coma for the rest of their lives. So, she found it a miracle that I was alive and talking. She said I must have an important mission in life that I have not yet fulfilled – that I was not ready to go.
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
I honestly have no idea. I think I never asked, and they never told me.
7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?
I am assuming I wasn’t in a coma. Even if I had been, it must have been a very short one. I never asked, and I don’t recall anyone ever saying that I had been in one. I only remember being brought to the hospital unwillingly. The next thing I remember was waking up in ICU, thinking to myself Is this what heaven looks like? – because I was so sure I would be dead.
8. Did you do rehab? What kind of rehab (i.e., inpatient or outpatient and occupational and/or physical and/or speech and/or other)? How long were you in rehab?
Although the brain doctor at the ICU suggested to me that I see her at least three times per week, I never had the luxury of seeing her again. I also didn’t have any kind of treatment or rehab after I got out of the hospital. I WISH I had had some rehab because it would have made my life so much easier. But, rehab of any kind was forbidden. My family said my injury was a disgrace to them and would create negative publicity for their social status/circle. (My mom was the district president of a major charity organization that same year.) I was strictly instructed to just act “normal” in public. I was not allowed to see any doctors, nor have any treatment or rehab. I was also not allowed to ever talk to anyone about my brain injury because I only had “food poisoning” and nothing more. They put me back to work ten days after I got out of the hospital! All these years, I have dealt with my brain injury by myself – in the dark and with endless confusion. I never talked about it until after my mom retired in 2012. I am planning to seek help now. I just need to figure out how.
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your brain injury (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
Oh, there are so many problems…. Here are a few. My personality and self-image changed. (I don’t recognize myself. When I look in the mirror, I might ask, “Is that me?” – as if I am just meeting that person in the reflection for the first time.) I can’t tell the difference between reality or imagination or dreams. Time, space, people, and dates – nothing makes sense. My short-term and long-term memories are affected. I have a huge problem with faces, names, locations, passwords, spellings, and numbers. I have difficulties translating thoughts into verbal words, which are often spoken with a delay. I lost body awareness. I have a low energy level. I am very underweight (5 ft. 10 in. and 110 lbs.). Time always seems to be “missing,” and I have no idea what I do during the “missing” hours. Being late and missing appointments is the norm. Plus, I have other stuff, like depression, a mood disorder, a food disorder, insomnia, allergies of all kinds (from food to smell to chemicals), and many new fears and strange phobias of all types (e.g., fears of small flying objects; of oceans, lakes, and rivers; of doorbells; of telephone rings; etc.)…SIGH!
10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
I guess the answer depends on one’s perspective and point of view. My life is both worse and better!
My life is worse because I feel like I am a stupid, walking zombie – incapable of paying for and supporting my own life. I am forever stuck in my own invisible jail, being misunderstood by society.
My life is better because I got the chance to know my true self so much deeper and to live a brand new life with more kindness and compassion to myself and to others. I can appreciate everything in this universe in a whole new light. I have learned to see good in the bad and to see beauty in everything. I have learned how not to take life and ordinary things for granted. I feel more connected with nature and all lives in creation. Having the time and opportunity to learn who I really am as a soul is truly the greatest gift of my injury. It makes all my life changes worthwhile.
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-brain-injury life?
Actually I miss several things. I miss being self-sufficient and independent. I miss life without debts. I miss the ability to learn new things without forgetting them. (I mean I still can learn, but the knowledge simply won’t stay for long. I can watch the same movie or read the same book or email repeatedly, and the content will still feel new.) I miss the freedom of travelling around without panic and stress. I used to love taking flights and driving cars, but now I don’t enjoy them anymore. I miss tasting the rich flavours of good food too. Nowadays everything tastes like cardboard – kind of boring.
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-brain-injury life?
Creating art!! I never knew I could paint at all. I suddenly started watercolour-painting in 2012 during a 16-week neurofeedback brain treatment. As a gift, I got a used brush and some watercolours from my therapists. The next thing I know, I just picked up that brush and started painting! It was the first time in my life. Watercolour-painting quickly became a new hobby, and now it’s part of who I am. I have no training in painting at all. I still don’t have any today. I don’t know how I paint my own art because I cannot remember how the paintings were created. I just keep creating them to make myself feel happy. Art became my new life! I enjoyed very much the discovery of this new side of me and of this new artistic experience. It’s a most pleasant surprise!
13. What do you like least about your brain injury?
I dislike seeing me as being slow, indecisive, forgetful, withdrawn, over-sensitive, and super-dependent. I really dislike being so dependent on my loved ones. It’s my heart’s desire to give financial support to them (particularly to my parents and relatives as they get older) and to make sure they all have a good life. But now, I rely and depend on them. I can’t function without them. It makes me feel horrible and useless – as if I am human garbage and a burden forced upon them. It breaks my heart because I am the one who committed the “crime” of turning me into a brain-injured person. Only I should be in “prison,” not them!! It’s not fair.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your brain injury?
Spirituality, meditation, and my cats have helped me to accept my brain injury big time! My cats are my best friends and my life-support. They stayed with me regardless of what condition I had. Their unconditional love, company, and loyalty to me gave me lots of strength, support, comfort, and growth. They taught me to be myself and to accept myself exactly the way I am. Spirituality changed my outlook towards life positively, helped me to realize life has bigger and deeper meanings, and showed me that my injury is only a spiritual learning experience to expand my consciousness. Meditation gave me inner peace, higher knowledge, and the wisdom to accept what happened, instead of victimizing me with guilt, shame, and resentment.
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
My brain injury changed everything immediately. My life was like living in a painful hell. Everyone took advantage of me. I became easily used, controlled, and manipulated because I lost the ability and the willingness to confront or to fight back. I was like a living puppet, like a slave. People were free to toy with my emotions and to undress me anytime without concern for my feelings. I was lied to all the time because people knew I would accept all information without the ability to judge them. All relationships at all levels fell apart. No one cared about my injury, except me! It took me another twelve years after my injury before I could move out of my parents’ house and to be strong enough to end the abusive relationship with my boyfriend. He had stalked and harassed me for years after our breakup in 2008. I ended up moving to another city in 2012.
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
Gradually all my friends stayed away from me (literally no more contact) when they realized I was “different,” and I do mean ALL, including my best friends! I suddenly had many social anxieties that I never had before. I became very afraid of human beings – I developed a phobia of mankind. The anxieties made me feel very uncomfortable in public, crowded, or noisy places. Interacting with people face-to-face (including one-on-one, even in private) or on phones gave me intense panic. In fact, seeing people is enough to trigger me. I feel as if I am an alien creature living among the human race and everyone out there is trying to hurt me in some way. I avoid social interactions as much as I can. I stopped trying to fit into the world.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
My answer depends on the definition of “caregiver.” If it means financially, like giving me shelter, food, rides, etc., then my “caregiver” is my family and relatives. If it means giving me brain health and assisting me in my life physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, then my “caregiver” is me and my spirit-guides. Ever since my injury, I can clearly get telepathic directions from invisible entities to help me cope with my daily life and activities – much like a 24-hour nurse – which I appreciate very much. No, I don’t fully understand what it takes to be a caregiver because I have no experience in that. I can only imagine that it might be similar to my caring for my cats with lots of unconditional love. I really only know what it means to be a brain-injury survivor.
18. What are your future plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
I have no future plans really…because I can only handle one day at a time. So, I just do my best to stay in the present moment. I do fantasize that I will have my own art exhibition around the world one day – to share my stories and my art. I would like to teach people what brain-injury survivors can achieve and to let other survivors be proud, be inspired, and get motivated to excel and reach their potential. I guess I wish I could do something to give other survivors hope and fuel their inner fire for continuing on bravely to conquer their battle. I believe ALL survivors are warriors. They are still capable of doing great things for themselves and the world. Survivors are not lesser or weaker – we are simply more unique and special! Survivors are strong souls and great teachers. We understand our strengths and that peace comes from within.
19. Are you able to provide a helpful hint that may have taken you a long time to learn, but which you wished you had known earlier? If so, please state what it is to potentially help other survivors with your specific kind of brain injury.
My advice is to be kind to yourself and to stop comparing the post-injury you to the pre-injury you because you will never be that person again. Release the idea, and let it go. Instead, start loving, accepting, and embracing the “new” you like you have a brand new life in the same body. Relearn your boundaries, abilities, and potential. You are absolutely perfect the way you are now. Be open and receptive to all kinds of alternative non-medical healing-methods because they are excellent tools to help you and your new life. Neurofeedback is the best thing that happened to me. It completely flipped my life upside-down for the better. I am eternally grateful for that. You might want to do your own research on that. Always have faith in yourself and in your capability. Your body’s ability to heal itself is far greater than anyone has permitted you to believe. Your soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind. Meditation can help with quieting it.
20. What advice would you offer to other brain-injured survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
Art has been very healing for me. If you have never tried art or using creativity as a form of home-based therapy, I highly encourage you to try it now! You don’t need to know how or to be good at it. You just need to do it. Let it be a fun game for your inner child to play! The point is to allow yourself to express and release “something” that needs to be out of your system – that needs to set you free! I gained a lot of self-worth, self-esteem, and confidence since I started painting. Nothing is impossible! Miracles happen to those who believe. Faith is the key to a universe full of blessings. You are way STRONGER than you can imagine. That’s why you have this life. Truly FORGIVE yourself for your injury. Blame will not bring you any healing – only unconditional love and inner peace will. Be the biggest supporter of yourself. You deserve it. Love, Light, and Strength to you all.
You can learn more about Kevin at Rainbow Artist Orlando L. You can also see more of Rainbow Artist Orlando l.’s work and an article by him in “Disabled Magazine,” titled, “Peace, Love, and Neurofeedback.”
Thank you, Kevin, for taking part in this interview. I know that it was a painful journey for you as you examined and faced the wounds of your brain injury. I am grateful to you for your courage and hopeful that by sharing your story you will be offering hope, comfort, and inspiration to my readers.
(Disclaimer: The views or opinions in this post are solely that of the interviewee.)
If you would like to be a part of the SPEAK OUT! project, please go to TBI Survivor Interview Questionnaire for a copy of the questions and the release form.
(Photos compliments of Kevin.)