That time of the year, again

BY: MARK KONING

This time of year, I often find myself singing along to that old Christmas carol, ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year.’ Having said that, I also often find myself asking if that’s really the case.

We are in a season that can be full of cheer and magical moments, but as a brain injury survivor, the season can also be stressful and tiring. I feel more isolated during the Holiday Season than at any other time of year. It is a tug of war as I go back and forth, I enjoy the festive times, but they take their toll.

I feel more isolated during the Holiday Season than at any other time of year.

I look forward to the memories and experiences the holidays bring; an ‘Ugly Christmas Sweater’ party, watching Die Hard (what I consider the staple Christmas movie), the Santa parade (which, in my home town is done at night where you can get an awesome effect from the lights regardless of how much snow is on the ground), a Christmas Open House and hanging beautiful lights outside my house. I cherish these things, but I also need to pace myself. If I am not careful, it all can become too overwhelming, depressing even.

Where is the snow I remember as a youngster and into my teens? The kind I could build forts from, have snowball fights with, and make snow angels in. It seems to be few and far between.

Maybe I just don’t have the energy I used to. I get a little impatient with an overabundance of too many Christmas tunes, but at the same time they can get me rockin’ and into the festive mood.

There are two types of people in the world: those who think die hard is a Christmas movie and those who are wrong

I love this time of year, and I also dread it. What is up with that? Is it the familiar territory of my brain injury not knowing what direction to go in? I can tell you I’d rather believe in Santa and his reindeer than deal with this ongoing fatigue and confusion.

I love seeing the smiles from my niece and nephew after they unwrap their gifts, but navigating large crowds at the mall can be frustrating and painful. My head can only handle so much, so I try my best to avoid the consumerism of the season. The fact that there seems to be so much build up only to have it all go by so quickly can also be disparaging.

Is it simply the time of year? The lack of sun, the cold and the damp, these elements do not help my fragile mind. Christmas in July then? Perhaps. But maybe I just need to carry this spirit of the holidays with me all year round. Maybe I should put that in a note to leave with the cookies and milk I put out by the fireplace on the 24th.  Hmm.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!


Mark’s passion to lend a helping hand, offer advice and give back, has developed into a moral and social responsibility with the goal of sharing, inspiring and growing, for others as well as himself. His experience as a Survivor, Caregiver, Mentor and Writer, has led to his credibility as an ABI Advocate and author of his life’s story, Challenging Barriers & Walking the Path. Follow him on Twitter @Mark_Koning or go to www.markkoning.com.

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From Chef Janet Craig: holiday entertainment hacks

BY: JANET CRAIG

Are you up to holiday entertaining? It is possible to entertain and not feel overwhelmed, with some helpful tips from our favourite Chef Janet Craig!

Buy the Easy Essentials: 

Keep a couple of cheeses and interesting pickles such as mushrooms and olives in the fridge so you can quickly make up an antipasti plate. Have hard boiled eggs on hand to make devilled eggs, which are easy to prepare and a favourite for many! Hit your local Bulk Food Store for nuts, chocolates and other treats to put in small bowls without spending too much on goodies.

Holiday entertaining hacks

Write a Menu: 

Write a menu of what you would like to serve. It helps with the shopping and is a constant reminder of what you are serving (including that salad stuck at the back of the fridge that’s so easy to forget about!) Save even more energy by hosting a potluck and invite people to bring their signature dish, such as a favourite family holiday recipe.

Small Place? No Problem!

If your place is smaller, consider draping a tablecloth over an ironing board to use as a buffet serving board. If your entrance is small, hand out a plastic bag to put wet boots in then the neck of the bag goes over the hanger of their coat.

Go Fancy-Schmancy 

Cider, Thyme + Tonic Mocktail
Cider, Thyme + Tonic Mocktail via townandcountrymag.com

Think about a signature drink, such as these tasty non-alcoholic mocktails. It’s so nice to greet your guests with a beverage in hand rather than running around trying to mix something. Keep a cooler with ice and bottles under that buffet table, just in case. Above all relax and enjoy yourselves.

I always say people come for your company, it’s just a bonus if they get great food.


After suffering a stroke at the age of 40, Janet left the corporate world to open a personal chef business, Satisfied Soul Inc. Now retired, she continues to enjoy her passions of cooking, creating and teaching people how to eat properly.  Find our more about her & her amazing recipes, HERE.

Gift shopping with a brain injury

BY: ALYSON ROGERS

All I want for Christmas is a brand new brain – just kidding – but shopping for the holidays with a brain injury can be a struggle.

This time last year, I could only manage going between home and work. Doing anything extra became extremely difficult due my physical brain injury symptoms. I tried to go into the mall, and had to leave almost immediately. This lead to me doing all of my gift shopping online. Now a year later, my health has significantly improved, but I still plan to do my shopping online.

Woman drinking a hot drink on a grey couch wearing red christmas socks with snow flakes and reindeer

I realized that as much as I love shopping, the mall at this time of the year is not my friend. I find the crowds overwhelming and I’m already uncoordinated; trying to walk through a hoard of last minute shoppers is the equivalent of being a professional athlete for someone with a brain injury. The bright lights bother my light-sensitive eyes, and while the Eaton Centre tree is beautiful, I can’t look at it for too long. It’s hard for damaged brains to process so much sensory information, such as what I have described above, and I haven’t even gotten to picking out gifts yet.

Due to the part of my brain that has sustained damage, I struggle with making decisions.  I have a hard time deciding what to buy someone in a quiet room, let alone while trying to process all the sights and sounds going on around me. My holiday trips to the mall often end up with me being very fatigued and coming out with little, no or the wrong gifts. This defeats the entire purpose of going to the mall in the first place.

Giant Reindeer infront of the giant Christmas tree at the Eaton Centre
PHOTO VIA CF EATON CENTRE FACEBOOK 

This year, I don’t plan to enter any mall for gift shopping, I will order everything online.  Having a brain injury is exhausting enough and if I can do something to negate or avoid symptoms, I will. People often ask me if I am worried about my gifts coming late. I am not worried about this, because my loved ones will understand that it’s easier for me to shop online and sometimes gifts arrive late. If they don’t, they’ll be on the Naughty list next year.

Happy Holidays!


Alyson is 26-years-old and acquired her first brain injury ten years ago. She graduated from Ryerson University and is a youth worker at a homeless shelter. In her spare time, Alyson enjoys writing, rollerblading and reading. Follow her on Twitter @arnr33 or on The Mighty.

How to survive the holidays when you’re recently injured

BY: DAWNE McKAY

Christmas can be a challenging time for all of us but it can be extremely difficult for many collision survivors, or others, who are recovering from a brain injury. Everything is supposed to be happy with plenty of family and togetherness, but what if you are a survivor of a car crash or another recent brain injury? As survivors, we need to acknowledge that the holidays will be different this year.

Here are some helpful tips to support you during this festive period:

1. Say yes to help!

There will people who will want to help and may offer their support. Take them up on their offers. If family members or friends aren’t offering, ask. If you have always been independent like me, I found this very hard to do, but it is so important. Asking others to help with cooking, shopping or decorating can be a big relief and can help take away some of your stress.

Say yes to help

2. Decide where you want to spend the holidays.

You may want to change the location especially if you travel out of town every year to celebrate with family. Ask your family members to come see you or suggest a Skype or Facetime chat if you are unable to celebrate with them this year.

3. Remember that not everyone will be feeling the same way as you.

Be honest. Tell people what you want or what you do not want to do for the holidays.  Let them know what will make you uncomfortable, such as a drive to visit a relative.  Make it clear that some things aren’t easy for you.

4. Don’t send holiday cards if you are not up to the task.

Finding addresses and writing cards can take a lot of energy and could cause unnecessary fatigue. Your family and friends will understand if they do not receive a card from you this year.

5. Make a Holiday list and check it twice.

Yes another list!  Surviving a collision and recovering from a brain injury makes it harder for us to concentrate and remember things. Once you complete a task on your list make sure to check it off as you go. Put your list in a safe spot. I always have my list on the front of my fridge so I can always find it and have easy access to it.

If you are stressed about getting to the mall or walking around with the crowds, cut back on gifts or shop online.

alone time is necessary especially if you are recovering

6. Skip (or minimize) the decorations if it is too much for you this year.

You don’t have to have the perfect tree, perfectly wrapped gifts, and perfect table. Accept that this year may not be perfect and that it is okay. Ask someone for help.  Remember that your family and friends are there to help and they will understand.

7. Remember that crying is okay.

The holidays can be overwhelming even for someone that is not recovering from a collision. If you have a house full of guests, excuse yourself if you feel a cry-fest coming on and take some time to yourself. Find a quiet spot to de-compose. Holidays can be hectic so “alone” time is necessary especially if you are recovering.

8. Watch the food

Food can make us feel better in the short term. Don’t deprive yourself, but be careful that you do not let food become your holiday comfort especially if you are sedentary. You already have enough going on with your recovery without having to deal with a bad stomach from overeating or a sudden weight gain.

9. Watch your intake of alcohol.

Alcohol can become a fast friend when we are feeling anxious, stressed or simply overwhelmed. You may already be taking prescription medication for your injuries and those two substances are not a good mix.

Accept that this year may not be perfect and that it is okay

10. Splurge on a gift for you if you can.

Make it small and simple. I always treat myself to a beautiful Christmas Bouquet at Christmas and place them in an area where I can always see them. When I find myself overwhelmed or frustrated, I gaze upon those lovely flowers and it helps lessen my anxiety even if its just for a few minutes.

11. Take a social media diet

Limit your use on social media during the holidays especially if you are feeling frustrated, sad or lonely. Your eyes need to rest!

12. Stick to a proper bedtime

Try your best to go to bed the same time every night. An hour before bed, start winding down your activities so you can set yourself up for a good night’s sleep. Think of this as your time to power down: focus on relaxing your body and mind.

13. If you’re still in hospital 

If you are in the hospital recovering from a crash this Christmas, it is only natural that you may be missing your family and friends not to mention all the wonderful food and festivities. Remind your family members and friends to visit you only if you feel up to it. If they cannot visit, ask them to call you at a certain time so you do not feel alone or left out. Ask a family member or friend to bring you something from home that is festive to bring some Christmas joy to your room.


Dawne McKay is a survivor of a horrific car crash and is the Founder of the online support group MVA Support & Recovery which allows survivors of collisions from all over the globe to come together to support each other as they navigate their road to recovery. Dawne is also the Founder of “Sharing Our Recovery” which is a quarterly newsletter filled with informative up-to-date articles from organizations, groups and businesses relating to Motor Vehicle Collisions. In 2018, her advocacy continued as she became a “Crash Survivor Blogger.  You can find her writing about her own personal experiences during recovery which includes advice and tips for survivor on our Crash Survivor Blog

 

How to save money during the holidays

BY: ALISON

No matter what you’re celebrating – be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza – or any other holiday – during the winter season traditions, celebrations and get togethers can be expensive, especially when gifts are involved. It’s extremely difficult for anyone to set a realistic budget and stick to it, so here are some tips to help you spend within your financial means during the holidays.

#1. Reduce the number of gifts you buy

Make an exhaustive list of all of the people you typically purchase gifts for. Review the list and see if you can shorten it. Ask yourself, is there anyone you don’t see as often, or anyone that you keep on your list simply because they have you on theirs? It might be time to cut them out.

person holding a gift in front of a christmas tree

It can be helpful to think about who are the people that you buy personalized gifts for, and who you buy generic gifts for. Consider not purchasing gifts for the people who fall in the latter category. This doesn’t have to be an awkward moment, a simple conversation or email to say you’re trying to save some money, de-clutter or that you have everything you need already, is usually all it takes for people to get the message. Ask what they think of no longer exchanging gifts, and odds are they will happily agree.

Suggest only getting gifts for the children in your lives. Adults can arrange a Secret Santa or Gift Swap, where each person brings one gift for one adult. Set a price range everyone can agree on, and remember a smaller amount can be even more fun, because then people have to be creative and thoughtful. I’ve also done this with gift themes, like practical gifts, handmade gifts, cooking tools, or re-gifted items only.

Here’s another option: my favourite type of party to host is an exchange party, because one person’s trash is truly another person’s treasure. People bring gently used clothing, shoes, accessories, or household items that they don’t want or need anymore. It all gets placed in the centre of a room and then people can look through and take home any items they like. Anything remaining at the end of the night gets donated to a charity that accepts such items.

christmas cookies

Once you’ve finalized the list of people that you will be giving gifts to, it’s important to set a realistic budget per person and stick to it. It will be very tempting to add little things or to get more expensive presents, but if you’re not strict about not going over budget, your finances could suffer for quite some time after the holiday season. It’s not worth it, and your friends and family don’t want that for you.

#2. Choose less expensive gifts

Some of the best gifts I’ve ever received barely cost anything, check out some of these ideas below.

Write it Out

Write a letter expressing how much someone means to you. Relive favourite memories, share what you admire about them and let them know the difference they’ve made in your life. The recipient will feel very touched and appreciated, and just the surprise of receiving something in the mail is a wonderful gift in and of itself.

Edible Options

The most thoughtful gifts are homemade. If you want to give people edible gifts, cookies, cake, or chocolate truffles made from scratch (or close to it) are great. If you want to give a bit more, wrap the food in in an additional gift, such as a tea towel, baking pan, or a pretty dish, bowl, or gift box. Alternatively, you can assemble meals in glass jars, such as this delicious split pea soup. You can also check out some of BIST’s favourite Chef Janet Craig’s easy recipes, such as these amazing coconut cranberry slices.

For the Crafty Folk

If you’re a knitter, handmade comfy socks, scarves or ornaments make a great gift.  Another idea: my cousin starts growing unique plants up to a year in advance and separates the baby plants into new pots. Then she gives the individual plants away as gifts for the holidays. All you need, other than time, sunlight, and water, is small, inexpensive pots and potting soil.

A bowl of chocolate Santas with oranges

Make an Advent Calendar 

I love receiving and making advent calendars. You can use kraft or wrapping paper to make gift bags, you can reuse small boxes, or sew your own mini stockings (DIY instructions HERE.

I’ve seen people wrap toilet paper rolls in pretty paper. Number the gifts from 1 to 24 and you’ll be able to surprise someone for almost the entire month of December. I like to collect little $1 items for advent calendars throughout the year, such as small toys, craft supplies, stickers or $1 lottery scratch tickets. You can also write down inspirational quotes or suggest a daily activity, such as building a snow man.

#3. Life Hacks on Saving Money while Shopping

If you decide to spend money on gifts, here are some tips for how you can still save money on your purchases:

Make a donation to a cause that your friends and family are passionate about. Make the donation in their name and send a card to let them know.

Buy discounted gift cards, look for deals where you pay less but get a higher valued gift card. Costco offers these on a regular basis, while Cineplex often offers deals closer to the holiday season. Just be sure to read the fine print, because sometimes an expiration date may apply.

Start early – really early 

The following tips work best if you know exactly what you want to give to each of the people on your list:

  • Start researching prices and shopping early in the year so you can track sales and figure out what the best prices are. It also allows you to spread the cost of the holidays across several months. Just don’t purchase edible items too early in advance!
  • Go to chat forums such as www.redflagdeals.com where people share and discuss all sorts of deals and sales.
  • Be sure to compare the prices of the items you’re looking for across different stores. Don’t forget to price compare online, if you’re able to.
  • Create an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the best prices and sales that you find throughout the year. Sales are often announced in flyers and on store websites. I love using the flipp app to pull up and compare all of the flyers in one easy place.
  • The best deals are when you can stack promotions. For example, if you have a general coupon that you can use on anything in a store, wait to see if your item gets heavily discounted, and then use your coupon to get a further discount. Check the conditions and keep an eye on the expiration date.
  • Find out which stores near you will price match and learn their conditions. Some companies will even offer you an additional discount when you price match in their store.
  • The most important things to consider when shopping online are exchange rates, shipping costs and times, refund/exchange policy, and applicable duty costs.
  • If you’re shopping for experiences, try deals websites such as groupon.com and wagjag.com but read the fine print as they tend to have short expiration dates and multiple conditions.
  • If you shop online often, consider signing up for an account with ebates.ca which will give you cash back if you shop on certain websites through the ebates link.
  • Some of the best discounts are not advertised. For big ticket items such as TVs, appliances and furniture, stores will sell discontinued models at a very good price. You can ask sales associates if they have any discontinued models or when they are expecting the manufacturers to release new lists.

A pile of boxed gifts

Here’s wishing you a happy, stress-free and cost-efficient holiday!


‘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). Check out Alison’s other BIST Blog articles Women and Brain Injury: What you need to know and How to be a Good Friend to a Survivor.

Understanding my post traumatic brain injury nightmares

BY: ALYSON ROGERS

I have two recurring nightmares. In the first one, I’m on a basketball court and I am 16-years-old again. I’m playing my old point guard position. I am scared and dribbling the ball cautiously because I am not supposed to be here but my coach put me in the game. I’ve never dreamed long enough to find out if I make it through.

My [nightmares] are the manifestations of the trauma in traumatic brain injury - Alyson Rogers

In my second dream, I’m on a rollercoaster at a theme park I visited often as a kid except I’m my 26-year-old self. I know it’s not safe for me to be there and I’m scared of how I will come out at the end of the ride. In this dream as well, I never dream long enough to find out.

It’s taken me years to realize my dreams are reoccurring. I understand now they are related to the part of brain injury I don’t like to talk about: how my brain injury impacts my mental and emotional health, how the act of being injured in itself is traumatic.

After a traumatic event, it’s common to have nightmares about the specific event or the circumstances surrounding the event. My dreams make sense, they are the manifestations of the trauma in traumatic brain injury.

My initial brain injury occurred during a basketball game. In the basketball dream, I’m the same age, playing the same position and in the same gym where I acquired my injury. I have the same coach who encouraged me to play despite having a brain injury.  I know I shouldn’t be on the court and I’m afraid someone is going to hit me with their body or the ball, but part of me is happy to be there.

Despite my brain injury, I sometimes test the waters with new and old activities such as riding a bike, zip-lining and jumping rock to rock while hiking. Sometimes I do things I know I shouldn’t, such as not wearing a helmet while biking or rollerblading. Despite my willingness to test the waters and tempt fate, I would never try to go on a rollercoaster again. This is a former love that would likely cause significant damage to my brain and potentially kill me. It makes sense I have nightmares about being on rollercoasters.

After living with brain injury for ten years, I am still learning new things. This week, I learned I have recurring nightmares from the traumatic event that was my TBI.


Alyson is 26-years-old and acquired her first brain injury ten years ago. She graduated from Ryerson University and is a youth worker at a homeless shelter. In her spare time, Alyson enjoys writing, rollerblading and reading. Follow her on Twitter @arnr33 or on The Mighty.

A new way to enjoy green beans

BY: CHEF JANET CRAIG

Are you looking for a new way to enjoy your greens?

french green beans, freshly blanched

This lovely recipe can be prepared in advance and served as a cold side salad in the vinaigrette or warm in same sauce!

Blanche Beans

Any green vegetable such as asparagus, broccoli, and rapini can be blanched, here’s how:

  • Bring a large pot of salty water to a boil. Prepare a large bowl of ice water with ice cubes.
  • Depending on the size of the vegetable place, in boiling water one to four minutes. Drain and place immediately in ice water.

French beans covered in sauce, with vinaiger and lemon on the side

Herb Vinaigrette

This lovely dressing can be used as a dunking sauce for fresh bread too. I often double or triple it and leave in the fridge for any salad.

  • 1 tbsp grainy dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 2 tsp each of any fresh herbs – I use basil, dill, tarragon, parsley, mint, chives and cilantro
  • Zest and juice of one large lemon
  • 1 tbsp sherry or tarragon vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3-cup good olive oil

Whisk together shallot, grainy mustard, lemon juice, sherry vinegar, thyme, tarragon, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Gradually whisk in oil, I use a hand blender or small food processor to get it creamy.

Pour on top of vegetables and enjoy!


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

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