Mother-of-three Thonia Brooks will never forget the day her whole world caved in.
A series of strokes almost killed her in October 2010.
The Hillcrest woman was 51 and found herself back at square one - unable to sit, stand, walk, speak or swallow.
Mrs Brooks was working 60 hours a week as a senior human resources manager when the first stroke hit.
"I was in an important meeting when I started feeling really nauseous. I told them I couldn't continue and drove myself home.
"After a while I tried to get out of bed and the whole room started spinning. It was the strangest feeling - as if the ground was pulling me downwards."
It was the barking of family dog Oscar that alerted her daughter who called for an ambulance.
Doctors feared the worst when Mrs Brooks suffered another a short while later.
Almost three years on and the memories still bring her to tears.
"It was very traumatic for my family. They never left my side, I'm so lucky because it isn't a journey one can make alone."
The strokes left Mrs Brooks paralysed on her left side and with the motor skills of a baby.
She was transferred to a rehabilitation facility after almost a month in North Shore Hospital.
"I was terribly depressed, I couldn't see past what I'd lost. My mantra was ‘just this breath, just this step'."
One of the hardest things was being unable to eat.
"I was fed every four hours through a tube. When finally I could chew one of the physios made me an apple and rhubarb crumble with ice cream. That was the most wonderful experience, it really filled my whole being with joy."
Mrs Brooks says she battled with a deep and dark sense of grief, despite small milestones.
"I went from someone in a high-powered job with excellent earnings, a nice car to drive and regular travel overseas. All the things that made up my life were gone.
"It was a feeling like, what's the point of living, because I felt useless."
But the gap in her life was filled once Mrs Brooks discovered the Spark Centre of Creative Development.
The art therapy has given her purpose again, she says.
"I have difficulty finding words to express myself now. Art is not hampered by that. I like the idea that just one stroke of the brush and there's something that wasn't there before."
Mrs Brooks has become an accomplished abstract artist known for her use of layers and textures. Her work features in the Dialect exhibition at the Mairangi Arts Centre until October 5.
She hopes to one day have her own exhibition and to teach art therapy.
Go to sparkcentre. org.nz for more information.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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