March 2019 Community Meeting Recap: Transforming Your Stress with Michelle Jacob

BY: JULIA RENAUD

BIST’s March Community Meeting featured occupational therapist Michelle Jacob who discussed managing emotions and demonstrated HeartMath technology to our members.

Michelle Jacob
Michelle Jacob

About Michelle Jacob:

Michelle has been an occupational therapist for ten years. She is also currently following her passion as a therapeutic coach, speaker, and author. You can find out more about her on her website, rewiringminds.com, YouTube Channel and Instagram feeds.

The Nervous System & Brain under Stress:

The autonomic nervous system is comprised of two branches that ideally remain balanced:

  • The sympathetic system causes the flight/fight/freeze response.
  • The parasympathetic system permits body restoration and digestion.

When under stress, brain signals travel to the midbrain (the site of emotional processing) instead of to the frontal cortex (the site of decision making).

Why do we respond to stress in this way?

Back when our ancestors were hunters and gatherers, there were many threats they had to be prepared to encounter. If they were being chased by a tiger, it was helpful to have the fight or flight instinct. While we rarely have to outrun tigers these days, the stress we experience still causes the autonomic nervous system to react in a similar way, preparing our bodies to fight, run away (flight) or freeze.

What about the heart?

The heart responds directly to stress. Have you ever noticed your heart beating faster when you’re feeling nervous or concerned? During times of stress, the heart tends to have a variable/chaotic rhythm. When relaxed, it beats in a more consistent and smooth pattern. It’s all about balance!

Managing Stress

Several factors that can help manage stress are:

  • Breath
  • Emotions
  • Thoughts
  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • Physical activity

We will explore the first three factors in more detail below.

Breath

Breath is affected by awareness, so paying attention can help you recognize how you are breathing (i.e. fast, slow, irregular). Having this awareness can help you to modify your breath to gain a sense of calm.

Here are three different methods of conscious breathing that you can try:

Abdominal Breathing

Abdominal breathing is a technique that brings attention to your abdomen by contracting the diaphragm.

  • Breathe in while pushing your belly out; breathe out while pulling your belly in.
  • Place a hand on your stomach to feel the rise and fall with the breath.
  • Sit tall and pay attention to your posture;  this is so the diaphragm doesn’t get compressed.

Heart-Focused Breathing

Brings attention to the area of your heart as a stress reduction technique.

  • Breathe in carrying the breath through the heart area, to the stomach.
  • Breathe out from the stomach, through the area of the heart, and out your nose or mouth.

Rhythmic Breathing

Involves breathing to a count, or setting a rhythm to your own breath.

  • Breathe in to the count of four, and out to the count of six.
  • Alternatively, breathe in to the count of four, hold for four, and out to six.
  • If you would like, pick your own numbers. The out breath is generally slightly longer than the in breath.
  • Do what feels right to you!

Emotions

Emotions are central to the experience of stress, they are a reaction to something we perceive.

When under stress the body releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol regulates a   body functions such as: metabolism, immune response, memory and sleep. Having a cortisol level that is too high can be bad for the body.

Here are some different methods of to help ease stress:

Notice and Ease

  • Close your eyes and think of a situation that you would consider to be 5 / 10 on the stress scale.
  • Notice what is happening in your body and the emotion that is tied to it. Name the emotion (i.e., frustration, anger, resentment).
  • Imagine the emotion in the area of your heart; breathe into your heart, into your stomach, and out of your heart.
  • With each exhale, think of the word ‘ease’ and feel the emotion melting away.
  • Breathe until the emotion has been neutralized and you no longer feel it. When ready, open your eyes.

Quick Coherence Technique

Quick coherence technique is a combination of heart-focused and rhythmic breathing, while including a lovely memory.

  • With your focus on your heart, breathe through your heart, into your stomach, and out through your heart.
  • Breathe in for a count of five, and out for a count of five.
  • Bring to mind a memory that you cherish (this can be of a person, place, or thing) and hold it in your heart.
  • Stay with the positive feelings in your heart. When ready, open your eyes.

Taking It All In

Hopefully, you are now feeling re-energized and ready to tackle the world; but you may be wondering, how often should these exercises be done? Michelle recommends doing one exercise three times a day; morning, afternoon, and night. Using these techniques can help form new neural pathways to keep you cool under stress, but that doesn’t mean that you need to feel stressed to do them!

In case breathing exercises aren’t yet your thing, consider starting a Gratitude Journal: Write and/or draw the things that are going well for you in your life while focusing on feeling grateful.

With the weather warming up, I feel as though it’s even more fitting to sign off by saying, breathe deep and keep cool everyone! – J


Julia Renaud is a very talkative ABI survivor with a passion for learning new things, trying new activities, and meeting new people – all of which have led her to writing this column. When not chatting someone’s ear off, Julia can be found outside walking her dog while occasionally talking to him, of course!   

Next Community Meeting:

Osteopathy with Osteopathic Manual Practitioner Riki Richter

Wednesday May 29, 6-8 pm

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January 2019 Community Meeting: Vision Boards with Celia Missios

BY: JULIA RENAUD

I’ve been getting lots of good feedback about the Quick Facts section, so this month I am condensing the recap in hopes of better tailoring the article to the entire brain injury community. For this post, there is no need to scroll to the bottom of the article, just find the headings you like and read on! Also, don’t forget to let us know what you think!

Celia Missios
Our inspiring speaker and leader of the evening, Celia Missios.

Rolling into a new year or season is exciting and can usher in endless possibilities. For BIST’s January Community Meeting, we got our creative juices flowing to make Vision Boards. Celia Missios, ABI survivor, BIST board member, and founder of  the self care website Reslientista, stopped by to teach us what vision boards are all about. 

Discovering the power of manifestation – Celia’s Story:

While recovering from her ABI, Celia was looking for something to do to bring meaning to her life. She discovered scrapbooking and decided to create a scrapbook of her own about where she wanted her life to go and what she wanted it to look like. A couple of years later, while looking through her scrapbook, to Celia’s surprise, she realized that the things she had included in her books were coming to fruition!

A Vision Board
One of the many vision boards of the evening.

What’s a vision board? 

A collage of images, phrases, and quotes specifically made to help you manifest your life’s desires. They act as a reminder to envision your goals and take steps toward achieving them.

Why use one:

If you have dreams, goals, enjoy creative activities, or are interested in trying something new. If you like scrapbooking and/or motivational mind mapping, making a vision board is likely right up your alley.

Materials:

  • A canvas or thick paper backing (even cereal box cardboard will do!)
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Markers
  • A few magazines or pictures

Materials for Vision Boards

Steps for making your own:

  1. Assemble all of your materials.
  2. Decide on the type of vision board you’d like to make:
  • Themed: Can help you hone in on a specific area of your life for a more focused manifestation. Examples: Nature, Career, Family, Travel, Design, etc.
  • Life: A smattering of everything and anything that resonates with you!
  1. Flip through magazines or browse the internet to find pictures, words, or quotes that you are drawn to.
  2. Get cutting and gluing, arranging your chosen clippings in a way that is pleasing to you.
  3. Make sure to leave a blank space somewhere on your board. Here you will write, ‘This or something better’
  4. Once complete, look, appreciate, and become inspired!

A person places a large cut of of a picture of an eye on her vision board

One of the BIST members how to arrange their board.

Work together:

Making vision boards as a group activity is quite fun! Not only can it help save time, but if you are working on a themed board, you can make your theme known to the group so they can send found pictures, words, or quotes your way.

Three Steps to using your vision board:

Step 1:  LOOK! 

Hang or prop up your vision board someplace you will see it every day (think bedside table, beside your television or computer, or, if you’re anything like me, near your fridge!)

Step 2:  IMAGINE!

Spend a few moments every day looking at your vision board and imagineyourself experiencing all of the wonderful things on your board.

For example, if I have a picture of a person crossing the finish line of a race, I would envision running (or walking, or rolling – whichever suits you) toward the finish, and paying attention to how I feel while doing so.

Step 3: ACT!

Do something to align yourself with your vision.

Using the race example, I would go for a walk as a way of working toward my goal in hopes of manifesting the act of crossing the finish line.

Not feeling crafty? You could try this instead:

  • Make a Vision Board on Pinterest!
  • Prefer words to pictures? Make a word-only vision board by displaying words that resonate with you. Alternatively, write a vision journal where you describe what you would like more of in your life.

BIST members hold up their completed vision boards

The BIST Social Learning Attendees holding up their (mostly) completed vision boards. Great work everyone!

My Experience:

I have been looking at my vision board every day since I have made it. It was really fun to make and I find it beautiful, inspiring to look at. While I’m still working on manifesting my dreams and desires, I’m definitely enjoying the process!


Julia Renaud is a very talkative ABI survivor with a passion for learning new things, trying new activities, and meeting new people – all of which have led her to writing this column. When not chatting someone’s ear off, Julia can be found outside walking her dog while occasionally talking to him, of course!   

 

 

Welcome spring with Balinese cucumber salad

BY: JANET CRAIG

Looking for a new salad idea to welcome spring?

This is a gluten and oiĺ free vegan salad which is really refreshing. Make it using the new Spiralizer tool, which is available in several dollar stores.

 

Balinese Cucumber Salad

Ingredients

  • 4 oz of dry roasted peanuts unsalted or raw peanuts toasted
  • 4 oz (100 grams) rice vermicelli
  • 1 English cucumber, spiral cut
  • 1 bunch of green onions chopped
  • 2 tbsp fresh cilantro or parsley chopped
  • 3 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp chilli paste or dry red chilli flakes – optional

Directions

  1. Cover noodles with boiling water let sit for 3 minutes (drained).
  2. If you need to toast nuts, place in dry stir-fry pan on low and shake for five minutes. Be careful – they tend to toast quickly.
  3. Spiralize the cucumber then add all ingredients topping with peanuts.

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

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10 things you need to know about traveling with a brain injury

BY: BLUE HELMET GIRL

My first big trip after my TBI was three years post accident, and I was terrified. Traveling is exhausting for a person without a brain injury, so it’s ten times more exhausting for someone with one. Dealing with symptoms of a brain injury is all about finding what strategies work for you.

Last spring, I traveled to Portugal and Spain for a total of 14 days and it was one of the best trips I’ve ever been on. It was my first time in Europe and I learned a lot traveling to there with a brain injury. Here are the ten biggest things I learned from this trip.

Author looking at ocean view on rocks

1. Plan

Planning your itinerary before the trip is the number one advice I have. Spacing out activities is helpful so you have time to rest. Maybe plan nothing for the day you get in and something easy for the next day. Take it easy at the start so you can adjust to jet lag. No matter where you are, your vacation does not need to be fast paced.

2. Spend on comfort – you’re worth it:

  • Buy the extra legroom on the plane. Long flights suck for anyone, the extra few bucks for that comfort for seven, eight or even 12 hours is the one thing I wouldn’t go without.
  • Stay in a hotel. Having a quiet room is a must have for rests when traveling.
  • Buy first class train tickets. Trains in Europe are extremely bumpy and horrible for someone with motion sickness. Spend the extra 20 euros and get a seat in a first class car. Your ride will be so smooth you won’t even know you’re on a train.
  • Public transportation drains a lot of energy for me. Cabs in Europe are inexpensive, easily accessible and they’re everywhere on city streets. So avoid the mental drain of subways, streetcars and busses by opting for a cab instead.

3. Tours:

Private tours are a good option for someone traveling with a brain injury. It’s more intimate and the less people around the better. Half-day tours are also an option.

4. Flying:

My best advice is a good pair of noise canceling headphones and an eye mask. Also avoid alcohol on the plane.

5. Breaks:

Jet lag is the worst! Having never traveled to a time difference of longer than two hours, the six-hour difference will affect anyone. As mentioned in tip #1, plan breaks into your trip. Every day I had two or three breaks and some included a nap.

6. Alcohol:

Depending on where you travel, alcohol will be different than what you’re used to, if you drink. For example, wine is a lot stronger in Europe. In Portugal, the minimum alcohol percentage in wine is 23 per cent. I’m not a big drinker, but on vacation it’s hard to say no to Portuguese or Spanish wine. For some reason I was never hungover after a glass of wine with dinner. If I have a glass of 12 per cent wine in North America, I’m hungover for a few days. In Europe, I woke up feeling fine. But everyone is different, so if you choose to drink, pace yourself and know your limits!

7. Coffee:

The coffee is Europe is also a lot stronger than North America. Instead of a mug of coffee, they’ll give you an espresso shot by default, which packs a massive punch. My first cup had me shaking for half a day. Start slow with it if you’re not used to espresso.

8. Walking:

Having never been to Europe, the last thing I was thinking about was the cobble stone sidewalks. I didn’t realized how slippery they would be, and as a result, I was constantly looking down and focusing on not slipping. What helped was a good pair of running shoes and not rushing around. You can’t change the way the sidewalks are built, so just take your time.

9. Communicate with your travel companion:

Make sure to travel with someone you trust and who knows your situation. You need to communicate with them when you need a rest.

10. Water, water & lots of water!

Seriously, I can’t stress this enough: drink lots of water.

Traveling with a brain injury doesn’t need to be a scary thing. If you plan for it, take your time and rest you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the full experience. I never thought I’d be able to travel and now I’m already planning my next vacation!


The Blue Helmet Girl is a woman in her mid-twenties who acquired a TBI three years ago, and after three open head surgeries, has recovered remarkably. With a high level of organization skills and self-awareness, she hopes to help others by sharing her unique story and strategies. In her spare time, you can find her hanging out with her dog, taking pictures or writing in her journal.
Follow her on Twitter @theBHjourney, on Instagram @bluehelmetjourney or www.thebluehelmetjourney.com

 

 

Super easy, no crust coconut pie

BY: JANET CRAIG

Looking for a slightly less indulgent treat without compromising on the flavour? Janet Craig offers this amazing no crust coconut pie – because all you read is pie.

20181118_113759

Preheat oven to 350F

Ingredients 

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk ( I use coconut milk)
  • ½ – ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 cup flaked unsweetened coconut
  • 1 tsp almond flavouring
  • ¼ cup melted margarine or butter
  • ¼ cup gluten free or coconut flour
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt

Directions

  1. With an electric mixer, beat eggs until fluffy.
  2. Add rest of ingredients and mix well.
  3. Pour into buttered and floured small pie plate
  4. Bake 40 minutes until golden brown

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

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If you’re of the many who don’t believe the hype when it comes to Valentine’s Day, this post may change your mind

BY: SHANNON SCHILLING

It is the time of the year where the days are shorter and your feet are colder. But upon a rainbow of snow is one good thing, Valentine’s Day!

The formal celebrations of this Christian holiday go back centuries. In fact, St. Valentine was a real person and is the Patron Saint of Epilepsy.

A metal sculpture of two hearts facing a lake in the winter with padlocks locked on the inside grid of both hearts
Photo by Simon Matzinger from Pexels

Nonetheless, Wikipedia has let me know that it was in the 14th century that the date of February 14th  gave rise to courtly, or chivalrous, love (think knights going on battles for their ladies’ honour) which has now flourished above any expectations.

Seven hundred years into it, Valentine’s Day is still here, in all its commercial manifestations. But at its root, the day is about love. It does not matter who you love, or what being brings an impression of collective guidance in world, but love is the answer. Even if only for a day.

There’s a growing trend to celebrate yourself on Valentine’s Day, so whether you’re focusing on romantic love with a partner, or are treating yourself to the self care and self love you so deserve, here are some tips to help you out on this most romantic day:

Add some scent to your life:

If scents are your thing, make it feel like a day of celebration and encase yourself in a lovely aroma. Scented candles such as the ones below can add a lot to your mood. According to scentsyblog.com:

  1. Cinnamon – adds spice to your day
  2. Jasmine – smoothes out tension with its rich and sultry aroma
  3. Orange blossom – calms the nerves and / or awakens the mind
  4. Rose –  allows romance to flourish through your thoughts
  5. Sugar – a sweet tease making for a sensitive touch
  6. Vanilla –  completely comforts the soul.

a candle burns

Chow Down: 

Now is a good time to accept the role of what we determine as essential for consumption. According to Herbazest.com these foods can give you a self love boost:

  1. Cacao – of course, chocolate on Valentine’s Day! This will be helpful to increase your energy level. If you want to stay away from eating chocolate, stores like Bathbodyworks.com (in my local mall, as well) sell the scent, body butter and bubble bath.
  2. Cherry: I love this one, I am very interested in picking up the Japanese Cherry Mist they have at Bathbodyworks.com. But, for consumption purposes, the cherry is chock full of Vitamins A + C, both of which will strengthen the immune system. While it’s not cherry season per-say, there’s always the more affordable frozen variety.
  3. Passion Fruit: I was quite delighted to see this! It has therapeutic properties believed to relieve anxiety and lower blood pressure! The smell is also great, it may psychologically boost my energy, but it could be that it removes my tension which frees up my mind!

After a brain injury it is so important to take care of the mind, as well as the body. Mindfulness can clear your thoughts of negativity and bring back the opportunity to calmly observe your surroundings.  The following information comes from www.psycom.net:

The simple, automatic luxury of breathing is the fundamental presence of your mood and deserves your utmost attention. Using a slow, controlled effort, close your eyes and take a breath in through your nostrils, feeling your stomach rise (not your chest) and out through your mouth (or nose). I’m taking a time warp back to my Pilates classes! This calming acquisition has potential to soften any tension in your muscles and lighten the weight of your brain.

2 Cherries in a heart shaped saucer

Listening is a great meditation tool, since when you’re in a peaceful state of mind, even disruptive noises can be calming. Even if you have conversation around you, or the television on, being in a peaceful state allows you to lightly contemplate meanings and suggestion, observing without anxiety or tension.

Finally, sense the world by using everything that is available to you. Not only are you able to look before you touch the heart-shaped chocolate, but listen to the crinkle as you open the foil, finally take a sniff before you taste that ultimate chomp!

If your brain injury allows it, two books I’d suggest are great for getting in the mood for love are: Jennifer E. Smith’s The Geography of You and Me, about people in a long distance relationship and (of course) Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, set in early 19th century England. You can find other suggestions here and here for your romantic reading pleasure.


Shannon lives with her fiance Christopher and baby girl Annabelle in Oakville, Ontario. Shannon and Christopher both have brain injuries and met each other after a BIST   monthly meeting in Toronto in 2016. Thanks for the help and support!

The Winter Months Warm-Me-Up

BY: JULIA RENAUD

It goes without saying, winter is here and so are the long nights that come with it.

As a post concussion syndrome (PCS) survivor, these long nights have special significance.

Back in the early months of my PCS, the sun setting earlier in the day was something I initially welcomed. I thought, ‘Great, now everyone else will enjoy very dim lighting as much as I do!’ But as the days dragged on, I realized this wasn’t necessarily the case.

Julia in her concussion glasses
The blog post author, Julia, rocks her concussion sun glasses.

People without brain injuries tend to turn on artificial lights sooner and brighter when the darkness comes, which is not great for anyone struggling with light sensitivity. In addition to extra artificial lighting, snow can be intensely bright during the daylight and the frozen ground only amplifies the already brain-shatteringly loud sounds of city life.

All of this left my head pounding, eyeballs bulging, morale crumbling and general hopes of feeling ‘normal’ again, fleeting.

Winter is beautiful, don’t get me wrong. I love embracing the quietness of the streets of Toronto during a powdery snowfall.

But my morale got pretty darn low that winter I was dealing with strong PCS symptoms. Through it all, I learned coping mechanisms which I hope may help others with their  brain injury winter woes.

Hopefully, this post will also put a smile on your face, and give you some extra courage to lace up your boots and settle in for Canada’s often-dreaded winter!

For this post, since I think these points should be read by everyone dealing with a brain injury, I’ve taken to point form for your quicker, less symptom-inducing reading pleasure!

Dog looking up while walking in the snow
Photo by Tadeusz Lakota on Unsplash

Laugh all you want, my concussion glasses helped me out a lot! People would tell me that I was making a fashion statement, and while they never mentioned whether it was a good or bad statement, the glasses helped my head so I decided to take it as a compliment. Win-Win!

Emotions 

If you were to take a general poll of what people want for their lives, the most common answer would most likely be, ‘happiness’. Happiness is something that can be easily taken for granted and, in its absence, can be extraordinarily missed. In addition to the physical symptoms that come with a brain injury, it’s important to remember there are also emotional symptoms that can accompany feeling as crummy as an over-baked batch of cookies. Here is a list of some tricky emotions I’ve experienced and ideas for how to combat them:

Loneliness and Isolation 

  1. The OBIA Peer Support Program connects a person living with brain injury (or a caregiver) with a trained peer support mentor. You then receive about an hour of peer support over the phone or email for a year. (Please expect about a two week response time when initially contacting the program.) Find your local contact for the program, HERE and if you’re in Toronto contact BIST at: 647-990-1484 or peersupport@bist.ca.

2. Monthly Brain Injury Support Groups at BIST:

3. Online Support Groups & Resources Outside Toronto

4. Other Options

  • Reach out to friends and family for support – whether it’s by telephone, email, video chat or visits – whatever you can handle.
  • Go for a walk, and have nice conversations with others who are out and about. Ask if you can pet a passerby’s dog.
  • Talk to animals – squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, cats, whatever tickles your fancy, it’s generally not seen as strange unless the animals talk back! (I love to compliment very robust squirrels on how amazingly prepared they look for winter.)
  • Make your home cozy and retreat-like (I have a string of warm yellow LED holiday lights that I lovingly refer to as my ‘snow lights’. They light up the corners of my apartment without providing too much light. Usually these are the only lights I have on in the evening and, who are we kidding, late afternoons too!)
Powder day! This snowboarder walks from the slopes to the bus stop
Photo by Jonny McNee on Unsplash

Ruminating?

  • Meditate (It can be tough at first but give it a go!)
  • Try out some yoga, chair yoga is always an option and BIST’s February Social Learning is about Chair Yoga!
  • Listen to a podcast or stand-up comedy.
  • Read or listen to a good book. The one that really got me through my toughest winter was, ‘Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home’ by Jessica Fechtor.
  • Want to read about someone else’s experience? Here are two brain injury book lists with plenty of reading options:
  • Author Shireen Jeejeebhoy has written ‘Concussion Is Brain Injury’ and also has a blog.
  • Prefer a book with pictures? ‘A Caged Mind’ by May Mutter is a coffee table book that beautifully combines photography, body painting, and writing to tell the stories of the PCS survivors within its pages.
  • Make crafts or artwork (watercolours, drawing, colouring, DIY projects, card making, etc.)
  • Make an indoor garden or add some potted plants to your space.
  • Start a gratitude journal, this is an amazing way to focus on the best parts of your day, even if your gratitude is as simple as having eaten a tasty bowl of cereal, embrace the good wherever you can!
  • Take a bath and do your best to relax.
  • Listen to music (something that makes you happy.)
Julia's drawing of a house plant
In my search for less adrenaline-producing hobbies, I took up drawing this year and I’m proud to say I’m improving! This is one of my house plants.

Bored?

  • Try cooking or baking something new (There are also tons of no-bake recipes out there and BIST’s Mind Yourself With Alison has some ideas of her own, HERE.)
  • Do a puzzle.
  • Learn something new – Guitar? Chess? Knitting? Sewing? Creative writing?
  • Play a board or video game (or part of one if necessary.)
  • Go outside and make snow angels.
  • Listen to Ted Talks.
  • Venture to your local library – the Toronto Public Library has tons of free programs which may peak your interest.
  • BIST’s Mind Yourself with Alison has more ideas how to relieve post-ABI boredom, HERE.

Afraid of slipping and falling outside?

  • Get some boots with a deep-treaded sole or use grip attachments to the soles of your existing shoes / boots. Shopping for something new or curious how well your current boots hold up? The University Health Network rates boots by slip resistance, HERE.
  • Use walking poles.
  • Check the weather and plan your outings accordingly.
  • Layer with hats, hood or a helmet. You can also try out a helmet hat – a special helmet that looks like a hat. You can find them by searching online for ‘helmet hat for brain injury’.
  • Walk with a buddy to help keep you on your feet (preferably someone without a brain injury.)

Worried about saying what you mean, and meaning what you say?

  • Try pausing to check in with how you feel before engaging in a new conversation.
  • If you’re feeling exhausted, it may unintentionally come across as anger or frustration in your voice. Take a deep breath, acknowledge how you’re feeling, and get yourself in a good frame of mind before answering someone.
  • Already said something you didn’t mean? It’s okay. Apologize and try again to say what you wanted, even if it takes a few attempts.
  • Can’t find the word you’re looking for? Try using a synonym or describe the word and ask if the person can help you pinpoint the word you’re looking for. If you can’t think of it, move on and try to carry on with the conversation anyway, odds are the word will pop into your head once you’re no longer putting pressure on yourself to find it.
The author Julia holding her chocolate mousse cake
Excited to taste my Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake! Since it’s made in three steps, you can do one step each day and make it in three days. Also, notice my snow lights in the background.  

Physical

Having a brain injury can be exhausting! Before my injury, I never truly appreciated the amount of energy the brain uses to process information and consequently react. During conversations, watching people gesture, processing their words, and attempting to come up with an appropriate and timely response (ha, yeah right!), seemed to drain all of my energy. Active listening became inactive listening even though I was trying my very best! Talking on the phone was a slight improvement but still very difficult. I felt isolated and alone.

When I could, I would get my partner to take me to the countryside where there was less city commotion going on and I could get some fresh air. Being a passenger in the car while the sun was low in the sky and the sunlight flickered through the trees was awful and triggered some seriously cruel headaches, dizziness and, worse, nausea. Even upon arrival to the middle of nowhere, the snow was mind numbingly bright, and I was afraid of slipping and falling (but at least this was less likely in the snow than on the water-covered ice that coats the city). The energy that it took to lift my feet just a few inches higher were monumentally exhausting. I was losing hope of ever feeling ‘normal’ again.

Accept that you might not be perfect and that’s ok

Because all of these tasks required extra processing and therefore a whole heck of a lot more energy, my personal hygiene suffered. The amount of energy it took to take a ‘simple’ shower required an hour long recovery. Shaving? I had poor balance and shaky hands, so forget that. Scrubbing my body? Not possible, no energy for that either. Closing my eyes? Sure, if I wanted to risk a tumble out of the shower (I can’t tell you how many times the shower curtain saved me from crashing onto the floor). Washing my hair into a lather? Only possible if all of the stars aligned.  Did I feel gross? Yes, but I felt gross all of the time from my symptoms so it didn’t make much of a difference to me.

Blinding snow?

  • Get a pair of sunglasses that make you feel wonderful. Quick tip: when buying sunglasses, try out different colours of lenses and styles of glasses, your brain may be more pleased with some than others. If you’re still having trouble finding a pair that both you and your brain like, see an optometrist, ideally one well versed with head injury.
  • Time when you go outside.
  • Utilize the natural light/darkness while you can.

Flying snow yet another thing to process?

  • Time your outings according to the weather.
  • Wear an eye mask or anything cover your eyes while being a passenger in the car.
  • Slow down so you can take time to process what you need to.

Taking more energy to walk around?

  • Take lots of breaks! (Ever wonder what the view is like from every bench on the block? Wonder no more! Sit down, relax, and enjoy the moment.)
  • Take public transit.
  • In Toronto, the underground PATH can be great for avoiding slippery winter conditions but comes with its own challenges such as fluorescent lighting, lots of people and the possibility of getting lost. For your information, here’s a map.
Picture of a small knitted snowperson

At least winter also brings some cheer and cuteness! If you’re feeling crafty, you could try making something like Frosty!

Notice how it’s louder outside once the ground is frozen?

  • Layer your ears like an onion (hair, hat, hood, another hood, and another hood – whatever helps.)
  • Wear earphones or earbuds with a visible cord. I wore ear buds with no sound coming through to block out some of the noise of the city. I did this instead of ear plugs so others could tell that I wasn’t purposely ignoring them.

Is shovelling snow stealing all of your energy?

  • The City of Toronto has a snow clearing service for people with disabilities and / or people who are older than 65. Find out more about the program, HERE. If you need help with the application, contact BIST at: 416-830-1485 or info@bist.ca.
  • Ask for help from friends, families or neighbours.
  • Hire a laneway clearing service.
  • Shovel a little bit at a time.

Weather patterns getting you down?

When I was in the thick of my head injury, the weather often dictated how my head felt. Any big pressure swings and it would be a tough week with migraines and fatigue. I know I’m not the only one out there who has felt this, so if you do too, here are my simple tips but sorry, unfortunately I can’t control the weather.

  • Check the weather days in advance.
  • Plan your schedule according to the weather.
  • Pace yourself extra diligently to get back to your baseline.
  • Be kind to yourself!

Thanks for Reading

I hope that you smiled at least once while reading this, even if it was just to laugh at how silly my concussion glasses look on me! I rocked that fashion statement for about a year and a half, so trust me when I say that it doesn’t bother me.

I look back at that picture now, a few years later and, I like to think a few years wiser, while I’m still learning from my PCS , I’m proud of myself and grateful for how far I’ve come and for how much I’ve learned along the way. I hope some of my experiences resonate with you and that some suggestions may help, even just the slightest bit.

Winter is just a season that comes every year. Sure it can be cold, darker and brighter, magical and miserable, but it’s really not so bad. It always helps me to remember, that it’s not what happens to you, but how you handle, learn, and grow from it that really counts.


Julia Renaud is a very talkative ABI survivor with a passion for learning new things, trying new activities, and meeting new people – all of which have led her to writing this column. When not chatting someone’s ear off, Julia can be found outside walking her dog while occasionally talking to him, of course!