The pain of post-ABI boredom


After my concussion, I lived in ‘stimulation jail’ for several months (and, when my symptoms require it, I still do.) The boredom I felt was at times more insufferable than the plethora of pain and other concussion-related symptoms I experienced. 

photo credit: Alyssa L. Miller The Safety of Fear via photopin (license)

During the acute recovery phase of a brain injury, patients are often instructed, quite literally, to do nothing. Some endure this ‘jail’ for a few days to weeks. Others remain confined for much longer with no foreseeable end in sight.

I would risk worsening my symptoms just to do something, anything to help pass the time. My family would then get angry at me for overexerting myself. I didn’t know how to explain to them that boredom was causing me real pain and suffering. They assumed that I was exaggerating, until now.

Recently, a psychology experiment found that most people would rather self-inflict physical pain than be bored.

Subjects were placed alone with their thoughts in sparsely furnished rooms for 15 minutes. As to be expected, most of the subjects indicated that they did not enjoy “just thinking” and preferred to have something else to do.

What surprised the investigators (but not me), was that a majority of the subjects preferred to have an unpleasant activity than no activity at all. Prior to the start of one experiment, male and female volunteers received a single electric shock.

42 volunteers said that they would pay money to avoid being shocked again. However, when those same volunteers were left alone for only 15 minutes in a room devoid of distractions other than the option to receive electric shocks, 67 per cent of the males and 25 per cent of the females chose to self-administer at least one shock.

So the next time someone invalidates your experience with boredom or confinement, you can smile and politely tell them about this study.

Mind Yourself with Alison is a collection of self-help tips, research, and personal experiences dedicated to helping people thrive after brain injury (or other trauma). You can read her other articles HERE.

Planned structure: why it’s important post-ABI + 8 tips getting started


One of the many things we lose during recovery from an ABI is structure in our day-to-day routines.


While rehab and specialist appointments may maintain a facsimile of structure to your day or week, what are you doing with the rest of your time?  Have you fallen into a routine of sleeping the morning away, followed by an afternoon marathon of talk shows, soaps and game shows? Does your wardrobe consist of pajamas or sweat pants? By supper time do you start thinking about all the ‘things’ you should have done – only now you are beyond tired, and you remember you didn’t really eat anything (does a chocolate and left over pizza count?), and you’re now counting down the time until you move from your sofa to your bed – only to start the cycle again tomorrow? Unless of course there is a medical appointment you need to attend.

This type of day I call unplanned structurein the early days of recovery you went from bed to medical/rehab appointments and back to bed, because that’s all your body and brain could handle. Over time, this became unplanned structure, as it was easier to do nothing than to think and make a decision about how you were going to carry out an activity, which may take more planning now than before you acquired a brain injury.

Know, I’m not judging. I‘ve lived this, but I’m here to let you in on a little secret – planned structure is key to getting back to adding more fun and enjoyment into your day.

For many people the word structure can conjure up visons of rigidity, being controlled, or being stuck in a boring routine. But structure can be a very powerful tool to help you get back to functioning on a regular basis and enjoying life. When you have structure in your life you know ‘what’s next’, which enables you to get on with your day. As ABI-survivors we can use up valuable energy trying to figure out what to do next. We might not do anything because we can’t decide or figure out what to do.

In the early years of recovery from ABI, I too was against structure, just ask my rehab girl Catherine. My reasoning was that I couldn’t predict what my energy level was going to be on any given day, so why plan anything? This left me doing nothing most of the time.

I also wanted to feel like I had control over my own day. Boy, was I wrong! When I finally gave planning structure a try – with the caveat that it was OK to re-schedule an activity if I didn’t have the energy for it (without guilt, or feeling like a failure) – it was such a liberating feeling!

Planned structure became my ticket to freedom, independence and a sense of accomplishment. Knowing what came next in my day helped reduce my daily struggle with anxiety and stress. I made sure there was always built in rest time between activities, and the more I repeated an activity on a regular basis the more it became a habit. My brain started to automatically know ‘what’s next’, and before I knew it I was doing my morning grooming without having to stop and think about it.

I’m not going to sugar coat it – it takes time, and some things will continue to need to be written down (that is a post for another day) but, know that each small step (no matter how trivial and small it may seem) will get you to where you want to be, living life to its fullest no matter what your new abilities may be.

When our food, exercise and sleep patterns are consistent our body and brain function better. This makes it possible to enjoy not only the tasks we need to do but to enjoy activities we like and try new activities too.


Benefits of structure

  • You know ‘what’s next’ and don’t waste energy thinking about what to do next
  • You habituate a new task or behavior
  • Automates activities in your day
  • You feel more in control being able to enjoy  your day and your life

Eight tips that helped me add planned structure into my day that included activities to make my day and life more enjoyable

  • A regular wake up time
  • Morning rituals to prepare for the day ahead (showering, dressing, breakfast etc.)
  • Fitness activities (walking, stretching, gym, yoga etc.)
  • Meal times
  • Leisure time (hobbies, ‘you’ time, a nap, etc.)
  • Time with family and friends
  • Evening rituals to prepare your mind and body for rest (unplug from computers, television 1-2 hours before your bedtime;  read a book, have a bath, meditate/pray, etc.)
  • A regular bedtime

NOTE: there will be times where you will need to add your daily structured planned activities around your medical / rehab needs, and there will be times that you will be able to add your medical rehab appointments around the things you enjoy in life. With patience and time you will find balance between the two – this is when the magic of planned structure happens.


Bonus Tips

  • Allow for flexibility, especially on days you find your energy supply low
  • Its ok to add/remove activities as your likes change
  • Seek the help of a rehab team member, friend/family member, or psychologist in creating your daily structured plan if you are not sure how to get started.

Today, I have more enjoyment in my days and life in general because; I have created a daily structured plan that works for me.  I encourage you to give adding structure to your day a chance. And let’s not tell Catherine that she was right about structure, that will be our little secret. ☺

Celia is an ABI survivor who is dedicated to helping others move forward in their journey and live the life they dream of. She is the founder of the internationally read blog High Heeled Life – inspiration for living a luxurious and balanced life; featured author in Soulful Relationships part of the best-selling series Adventures in Manifesting; a Peer Mentor with BIST; a regular speaker for Canadian Blood Services – Speakers Bureau; Self-care advocate; Lifestyle writer/blogger.  In 2016 Celia launched the website Resilientista to inspire women to put themselves in their day, practice self-care on the daily and live their version of a High Heeled Life. Learn more about Celia and be inspired: visit or

We love Celia! You can catch her at our next Community  Meeting on October 24th, where she’ll help us put inspiration into action at an Inspiration Board workshop

Super Easy Pumpkin Cheesecake


Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and if you’re the type who can’t get through the weekend without enjoying a slice or two of delicious pumpkin pie, Chef Janet Craig has nabbed this recipe from the Kraft website just for you.

This recipe offers the best of both worlds: it’s super easy to make but you still get to enjoy the ‘I made it myself’ bragging rights and taste its homemade goodness.



1-1/4 cups graham crumbs (or use a pre-formed graham crust from the supermarket)
1/3 cup butter, melted


1 pkg. (8 oz) brick cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 cup whip cream

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix crumbs and butter. Press firmly onto bottom and up side of 9-inch pie plate.

2. Beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Add eggs, pumpkin and spices; mix just until blended. Pour into crust.

3. Bake 40 min. or until centre is almost set. Cool. Refrigerate 3 hours or overnight. Cut into 8 slices. Top each slice with 1 Tbsp. of the whipped topping just before serving. Store leftover cheesecake in refrigerator. Freezes well.

Chef Janet Craig’s recipes are simple, healthy, delicious and ABI friendly. You can find out more about her HERE.


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Mighty Mike

The heroes of brain injury are assembling for the BIST 5K Run, Walk and Roll on October 1st!

As we prepare for Race Day, BIST has selected a special superhero squad of amazing heroes of brain injury we will feature on a weekly basis until the big day.

Meet Mighty Mike – #7 in our Heroes of Brain Injury Series.


Be sure to collect all seven heroes!

A father of two, Mike lives in a long term care facility outside of Toronto. Every year, he raises money for a wheelchair accessible taxi so he can get to the BIST 5K Run, Walk and Roll, and walk over the finish line.

Because of where he lives, Mike can’t get to BIST’s programs and services, but he says he looks forward to Race Day as a highlight of his year. Find out why staff and residents at Mike’s long term care facility call him an inspiration. 


Can you talk about how you acquired your brain injury?

I was driving home from work at 2:30 in the morning and I blacked out and hit a tree head on. I drove into a shallow ditch. According to the doctor, I hit the windshield which caused a brain bleed.

The right side of the brain was damaged. That’s what they told me what happened.

I was put into a coma for several months. After they showed me the CT scan of my brain and it was submerged in blood.

Prior to the accident, I didn’t know [I had an aneurysm]. The aneurysm moved to the part of the brain responsible for eye sight, which caused me to black out. That was 10 years ago this October 15th.

I still have the aneurysm, and I have a shunt in my brain.


Why do you participate in the BIST 5K?

My therapist Phil told me about the race. He asked me if I would go with him, get fresh air and do the run, he told me all about BIST.

I do it for my cause and possibly to inspire people to achieve [their own] goals.

I look forward to the Run. I walk over the finish line with no assistance or with very little assistance. I can’t walk or run [yet] but I’m getting closer and closer ever day. I walk every day [in therapy].

Mike walking across the finish line in 2015.

What does being a hero of brain injury mean to you?

I’m a survivor of a traumatic brain injury which affected my personal life as well as work life. I’ve had intense therapy to achieve the goals I’ve achieved so far. I still have goals and would like to inspire others to set goals and achieve them.

[My goal] is to be able to walk home and be home with my wife and kids like a father and a husband should be.

A card from Mike’s son displayed in his room.

I think it would be a better life experience than sitting here all the time. But I understand the injury and the situation.

My wife is my anchor. She’s my soul mate and my best friend.


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Join the Heroes of Brain Injury Squad – sign up for the BIST 5K Run, Walk and Roll TODAY!

Fast Frank

The heroes of brain injury are assembling for the BIST 5K Run, Walk and Roll on October 1st!

As we prepare for Race Day, BIST has selected a special superhero squad of amazing heroes of brain injury we will feature on a weekly basis until the big day.

Meet Fast Frank – #6 in our Heroes of Brain Injury Series.

Be sure to collect all seven heroes!


Can you talk about how you acquired your brain injury?

I was at work and I fell 20 feet. I have no memory of it, my subconscious won’t allow me [to remember]. I spent three weeks in a coma. I was a four on the Glasgow Coma Scale. A score of four means you’ve got a foot and a half in the grave. Part of my injury is that I never understood the extent of my injury.

How long have you been involved with BIST?

 I did HIAT/BIAT first [BIST’s predecessor].

Why do you participate in the BIST 5K?

We need money. We don’t get government support.

What does being a hero of brain injury mean to you?

I guess it means that we keep plugging away every single day, so we get better. Mistakes are proof that you’re trying. There’s nothing wrong with failure, it’s a teaching tool.

It’s the most difficult thing to learn how to do everything all over again.

What are you looking forward to on Race Day?

It’s everyone helping everyone else. It’s the whole brain injury community coming together.


Fast Frank is totally a BIST hero!

You can find out more about Frank’s story HERE and read about his experience running the Pan Am Relay HERE.

Join the Heroes of Brain Injury Squad – sign up for the BIST 5K Run, Walk and Roll TODAY!