I chose my health over the job I loved

BY: ALYSON ROGERS

For two and a half years, I worked at a social service agency for youth in Toronto.  I worked as part of a team to provide basic needs and case management to youth from diverse backgrounds.  Every day was different; on some, I ran workshops and danced to Drake in the girls’ dorms.  On others, I spent hours in an emergency room with survivors of human trafficking that had just escaped their exploiter.  Whether it was a day of fun or a day of crisis, I loved my job.

I loved my job so much that I was taking classes while working full time, with the goal of moving up within the agency.  My job combined my passion of working with young people, ability to respond to sexual violence, and knowledge of disabilities.  I loved my job so much that I worked through multiple concussions when I probably should have taken a leave of absence.  I loved my job, but two months ago, I abruptly quit.

Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

My departure was shocking to my coworkers, the young people I worked with, and even to myself.  When people leave a social service job, they usually have something else lined up. I had no other job waiting for me, and it was not the time of year to be applying to master’s degree programs.  Quitting my job came down to a choice; my job or my health.  I chose my health.

In the span of a year and a half, I had four concussions at work. With new symptoms and challenges, this was the worst my brain injury health had been since my diffuse axonal injury in 2008. Even though I was able to do my job, I was on medication for the first time and felt like I was struggling to stay afloat in such a fast-paced and demanding work environment.

On top of what I was feeling physically, some of my coworkers didn’t take too kindly to the minimal accommodation (working day shifts) I needed.  My own disability began to discredit the knowledge I had of various disabilities that dated back to before I even I had a brain injury.  My goal was to move up within the agency, so I kept how much I was struggling to myself while sharing just enough to keep the accommodation I needed. It was a fine balance.

In the New Year, I took a short contract in another department; the work was similar, but I had the freedom to work at a pace that accommodated my brain injury needs.  A few weeks in, I saw a huge improvement in my health; I had fewer symptoms, felt less fatigued and was able to participate more in my life outside of work.  My contract ended early and I was expected to return to my previous position.  This also meant returning to brain injury symptoms.  I’d had a taste of a life that didn’t only consist of work and brain injury symptoms, and I wasn’t going back.

I got a doctor’s note, spoke to the appropriate external agency for support, and came up with my own ideas, but no further accommodations were available to me.  I always knew that the decisions I made as a Youth Worker could lead to repercussions, but I never thought my disability would be used to carry them out.  The writing was on the wall – I was done here.  As much as I loved my job, I loved my health more.

On the last day of my short contract, I packed up all my things with the help of a few friends and slipped out the back door. I knew I wouldn’t be back. A few days later, I quit from home by e-mail. I had previously booked a vacation that overlapped with my two-weeks’ notice, and used my sick days to cover the rest.

Everyone was surprised by my abrupt resignation because I loved my job so much, but was it really that abrupt? For over a year, I worked in an environment that simply tolerated my disability. When I spoke about anything, let alone disability, I was met with eye rolls, and a flood of unrelated and unfounded complaints were brought to my supervisor. The youth group I facilitated couldn’t get any support, but blossomed after I left. When I had a medical emergency and needed to go to the hospital, I was left on my own until a supportive co-worker found me. Two of my head injuries were caused by the same environmental factor that remained unchanged at the time of my resignation. Looking back, I should have quit much sooner.

I loved my job.  I miss the youth I worked with and the coworkers that supported me, but I have no regrets about resigning.  I thought picking between the job I loved and my health would be a hard decision when I was finally faced with it, but it wasn’t.

I can (and did) find another job, but I can’t find another brain so I need to keep this one as healthy as possible.


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.

 

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Yoga Brain

BY: ALYSON ROGERS

Before my brain injury, I was convinced yoga wasn’t for me; I was a year-round athlete and long-distance running legs were not yoga legs in my mind.

After my brain injury, I was convinced yoga wasn’t for me; I went to a few classes and struggled to keep up and do the poses.  I usually left with a headache and feeling defeated.  Ten years and 6 concussions later, I practice yoga everyday – both on and off the mat.

In 2017, a bad concussion completely changed my lifestyle. In under a year, I went from an active person who went out for drinks with friends after work, to someone who stays home due to fatigue and symptoms; someone figuring out a new life on medication and alcohol-free.

I’d like to say there was some magical movie moment where I wandered into a yoga studio and found my place, but in reality, I dusted off the yoga mat I never got around to donating and rolled it out onto my living room floor because I had nothing else do to at home.  I remembered poses I had learned in classes and did simple stretches. I was pleasantly surprised at how good I felt afterwards and kept coming back to my mat. I’d found a practice that didn’t hurt my brain, but benefited it.

Fast forward to November 2018. I was searching Myrtle Beach for a yoga mat while I was on vacation because I couldn’t imagine going four days without one. Yoga had become a huge part of my life. I practiced at least 3 times a week, was seeing improvement in my flexibility, recognized how good yoga made my mind feel, developed an interest in spirituality, began exploring meditation, and was reading yoga books, including Yoga Girl by Rachel Brathen and Yoga Mind by Suzan Colón.

The physical and philosophical aspects of yoga did more than make me flexible and centre self-care in my life; it helped with my concussion symptoms and how I feel about having a disability.  After I started practicing yoga, I noticed improvements in my concentration, balance, spatial awareness and other physical symptoms. I also saw improvements in my mood and overall mental wellness. Learning about the philosophical tools of yoga allowed me to have a healthier and honest perspective of my current concussion issues, and having a brain injury in general. I’d found something that was both beneficial for me, and that I could do no matter what symptoms I was experiencing on a given day.

I’ve written about my brain injury for years and decided I would write about the benefits of yoga for brain injury in the hope of helping other survivors, but I didn’t. If I was going to do this, I would have to be honest about the emotional and mental symptoms of brain injury I had experienced; I was ready to write about it but not attach my name and face to it. Stigma lives on and it was staring me in the face; what if someone from my workplace saw it?  Would people think I’m “crazy”?  Would I be taken less seriously?

This is how Yoga Brain came to life on Instagram (@yogabrain).  I created an anonymous account to talk about yoga and brain injury. At first, I didn’t show my face in any photos; if someone I knew saw it, they would know it was me, so it stayed hidden for quite some time.  Slowly, I started to show me face, and 6 months after creating the account, I put my name on it.  The shame and embarrassment I felt about brain injury symptoms I had never talked about faded away, and I was ready to be a face for more than just physical brain injury symptoms.

Since creating Yoga Brain, I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of connecting with brain injury survivors, yogis, yoga teachers and organizations all over the world. I was invited to be a guest on the Concussion Talk podcast and have been featured by Can Recover, Beyond Concussion and Fierce Calm. Brain injury can feel like a lonely place, but by putting myself out there, I’ve learned from others and used my experience to support other survivors.  My posts document my yoga journey, brain injury journey, and my new life that includes travelling (something I never thought I’d do after my brain injury).

Yoga Brain and my love for yoga took me on a journey I never expected. I recently finished my 200-hours Yoga Teacher Training Certification…in California.  I’m not sure where this will take me next, but I can’t wait to find out.


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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is the ketogenic diet the future for TBI treatment?

BY: MELINDA EVANS

Ask any dietitian, and they’ll probably tell you that their clients are asking them about the ketogenic diet more than any other recent ‘fad’ diet. Popular headlines have proclaimed it the miracle diet to shed weight, boost energy, reverse diabetes and send cancer into remission.

But does this diet live up to its hype? What could it possibly have to do with recovery from traumatic brain injury (TBI)? And more importantly, is it safe?

The Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet started out as anything but a fad. It was developed almost 100 years ago to treat children with epilepsy that didn’t respond to anti-epileptic medications. By definition, it is a very low carbohydrate (less than five per cent of total energy per day), high fat (about 80 per cent of energy) and moderate protein (15 – 20 per cent) diet.

This is vastly different from Health Canada’s recommended macronutrient distribution, which is 45 – 65 per cent carbohydrate, 10 – 35 per cent protein and 20 – 35 per cent fat. Since glucose (a carbohydrate) is our body’s preferred source of fuel, this high fat / low carbohydrate diet essentially tricks the body into believing it is in a state of starvation. The liver begins to convert fat into ketones (hence the name), and the brain’s cells are forced to adapt. The result, for someone with intractable epilepsy, can be a 50 to 90 per cent decline in seizures.

Once medical practitioners observed the effectiveness of ketosis for the treatment of epileptic seizures, they started to wonder whether it might help other neurological injuries and neurodegenerative disorders, including hypoxia, ischemic stroke, ALS, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and of course, Traumatic Brain Injury.

Benefits of Ketosis for Traumatic Brain Injury

For a multitude of ethical and practical reasons, it is next to impossible to perform randomized clinical trials on humans with TBIs, so the research we have that looks at the role of the ketogenic diet has been done in animals. The findings are promising though, and suggest that following injury, when the brain’s need for energy is high but its ability to metabolize glucose is impaired, ketones might provide an alternative and efficient source of energy.

Following trauma, brain cells are at increased risk of oxidation, cell death and DNA damage, and the presence of ketones and absence of glucose may reduce oxygen available for oxidation and guard cells against free radicals and DNA damage, while increasing cerebral blood flow.

Knowledge Gaps

This is an exciting prospect, but we still need a lot of answers before we can incorporate it into practice. We don’t know which type or severity of brain injury might respond well to ketosis, or whether it is best achieved through fasting, the ketogenic diet or even intravenous provision of ketones. It is unclear whether ketosis is helpful only initially after injury, or if it will support brain recovery if used for a longer period of time. It’s possible that a modified and less restrictive form of the ketogenic diet would work just as well as the standard diet, and some studies suggest that it might be even more effective when supplemented with certain nutrients, including medium chain triglycerides and branched chain amino acids.

Challenges of the Ketogenic Diet

There are several challenges with the ketogenic diet, the first being compliance. Since it is extremely restrictive, it is difficult for most people to stick to the diet long-term. It excludes entire food groups (grains, fruits and many vegetables), increasing the risk of nutrient deficiencies including sodium, potassium, chloride, vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, selenium and zinc. Among other issues, these deficiencies can impair bone healing and increase the risk of osteopenia and bone fractures. For people with pre-existing kidney disease or renal failure associated with trauma, the high protein intake that usually accompanies a high fat diet may not be appropriate. And of course, with a high fat diet there is concern about elevated cholesterol levels. Studies evaluating the use of the ketogenic diet in children found elevated triglyceride, and total, HDL and LDL cholesterol levels at 6 months and 10 years, making this diet risky for people predisposed to coronary artery disease. Long-term use has also been associated with growth retardation in children, low-grade acidosis, constipation, dehydration,  vomiting and nausea.

A grilled cheese sandwich made with cauliflower
Photo of a Cauliflower Crusted Grill Cheese Sandwich via KirbieCravings.com

The Future of Ketosis in Brain Recovery

So, is the ketogenic diet the future for TBI treatment? Will it minimize brain injury and help to rehabilitate cognitive function, memory and recall? Maybe. We don’t have enough information yet to make it standard practice, and it certainly should never be implemented without careful monitoring from a physician and dietitian.

More research in humans is needed before we can give a final verdict, but what we know so far about ketosis and the brain is promising!


Melinda Edmonds is a Registered Dietitian with Aimee Hayes & Associates. She is a registered member in good standing with the College of Dietitians of Ontario and an active member of Dietitians of Canada. The focus of her practice is on the application of evidence-based nutrition therapies to optimize clients’ health, nutritional status and well-being in order to augment their quality of life and rehabilitation outcomes.

Aimee Hayes and Associates provides nutrition rehabilitation services to individuals with acquired and traumatic brain, spinal cord, and orthopedic injuries. Our diverse and dynamic team of Registered Dietitians works collaboratively with clients, families, caregivers and interdisciplinary rehabilitation teams to optimize nutrition in order to promote our clients’ wellness and recovery.

Fatigue and the heat wave

BY: MARK KONING

There is a saying, ‘no two brain injuries are alike.’

This is true, every acquired brain injury is indeed different. But these horrid ABIs share some commonalities, and one in particular is fatigue.

people walking on a busy sidewalk in the summer
photo credit: Holographic Circus Wume / Aural States via photopin (license)

Similar to brain injury, fatigue is invisible. I find it to be hiding in the corners of my brain, lurking in the shadows. It seems to be ready to jump into action at any given time of the day. A nap, or extra rest, does not cure it.

Fatigue:

extreme drowsiness, typically resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.

I’m not sure if people understand the effect fatigue has on someone living with a brain injury. I find it comes in waves and at various levels of low, mild and extreme.

It is a silent paralyzer, and never a pleasant experience. It is disorienting. One could almost wonder how much worse it possibly get?

Remember last summer? 2016 was the hottest year on record. This summer we have some relief, but the heat and humidity persist on most days, and they are a lethal instigator of fatigue.

Close up of an outdoor thermometer reading 100 degrees
photo credit: jo3design [DSP] May 18: Heat Wave via photopin (license)
While I’m not sure what is the best way to beat this devastating duo of fatigue and the heat wave, I know there must be a way to deal with it.

Perhaps it is inner strength, or knowing how to slow yourself down and breathe. Maybe the answer is to go for a nice cool swim or take a cold shower. Regardless of how staggering it can get, like with many things, I will get through it and survive.

I’m sure any of us who come up against these monsters can do the same. (And remember, fall is just around the corner.)

But sometimes I wonder, which is harder? Dealing with the fatigue or dealing with the fact that others don’t understand why I’m dealing with the fatigue. Maybe it is me not always telling people that I’m trying to deal with the fatigue.

Wow, that’s confusing, but that is also brain injury.

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

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

BY: CELIA M

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

daily-routine-quote-john-c-maxwell
PHOTO: RESILIENTISTA.COM

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.

small-changes-in-daily-routine-quote-sharif-nor
PHOTO:  QUOTE BY SHARIFAH NOR

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.

excellence-is-not-an-act-but-a-habit-quote-aristotle
PHOTO: RESILIENTISTA.COM

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 http://www.HighHeeledLife.com or http://www.Resilientista.com

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

Is there a link between energy drinks and brain injury in teens?

BY: RICHARD HASKELL

We’ve all seen the ads and heard the hype – such and such an energy drink will make you fly and perform other miracles. Why sleep when you can have boundless energy to do everything you enjoy without ever feeling tired?

picture of different energy drinks
PHOTO: ZONNEWS.COM

For unsuspecting – and frequently young – consumers, such claims are just too hard to resist. Energy drinks promise much, but those brightly-coloured tins contain a mix of chemicals that can potentially have dire consequences for the user. Furthermore, they can be an indirect cause of brain injury.

Beverages used to promote energy and well-being have been around for centuries. Inhabitants of pre-Columbian America drank a dark brew of toasted holly leaves and bark. According to researchers, the drink had a high caffeine content, so it would seem that even early North Americans needed that extra boost before heading off to a hunt or into battle.

Coca-Cola, first launched in 1886, could be considered the first modern-day energy drink as it contained both caffeine and another certain substance – cocaine. The drink’s name was derived from the coca plant from which cocaine is cultivated and the kola nut, the source of caffeine. John Styth Pemberton, a pharmacist and founder of the drink, initially used five ounces of coca leaf per gallon of syrup, but the amount was later greatly reduced. Cocaine was removed altogether in 1903, though in 1988 the New York Times reported Coca-Cola was still using non-cocaine containing extracts from coca leaves in its concoction.

Experiments with energy drinks were conducted as early as the 1920s, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that the beverages began to see a huge increase in popularity. From 2008 until 2012 the energy drink market grew 60 per cent, totalling $12.5 billion in U.S. sales by 2012.

Coca-Cola ad from 1910
COCA-COLA AD FROM 1910; PHOTO: FLICKR

Teenagers are among the most devoted consumers of energy drinks, a demographic that would be naturally drawn to a beverage, which promises increased energy. Nevertheless, despite all the hype, energy drinks are more than they appear to be. According to a recent study conducted at the University of Toronto, consumption of these highly caffeinated beverages may lead to more erratic physical behaviour that in turn may lead to a greater risk of physical trauma.

Professor Gabriela Ilie, co-author of the study, explained why youth are an increased risk of acquiring a brain injury.

“The teenage years are very vulnerable years. Our brains are still developing into our 20s and 30s,” Ilie told Yahoo Health. “And a serious knock to the noggin can have consequences that extend well beyond being benched for a few games:  poor academic performance, substance abuse, suicide, and violent behavior have all been linked to traumatic brain injury.”

Danger: energy drink harzard sign
PHOTO: MYTRAINERMIKE.WORDPRESS.ORG

The study involved 10,000 young people aged 11 to 20 who took part in a survey focusing on use of alcohol and energy drink consumption along with the frequency of brain injury. Results indicated that those who had consumed at least one of the energy-boosting drinks during the previous year were twice as likely to have suffered a brain injury compared to non-drinkers. Worse, those who were regular users – five or more drinks a week – were nearly seven times as likely to have experienced trauma to the brain. Not surprisingly, an even greater trend was observed among teens who reported mixing energy drinks with alcohol.

“With some energy drinks packing as much caffeine as two shots of espresso, along with other stimulants like taurine and guarana, feeling jittery is almost inevitable,” Ilie told Yahoo Health. “That can predispose you to more accidents, because now you’re so hyper, you can’t focus and pay attention to what you’re doing.”

According to Dr. Michael Cusimano, the other co-author of the study and a neurosurgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, the high level of caffeine found in energy drinks can alter the chemical state of the body, which can slow down the recovery process for ABI sufferers. This is particularly concerning for teens whose brains are still developing. Studies have shown that young people living with the effects of brain injury might be more inclined to consume energy drinks as a way of coping with the injury, not realizing the harm the ingredients may be doing.

man carrying energy drinks and alcohol
PHOTO: MEDICALDAILY.COM

Certain energy drinks also make the claim that consumption can also help with muscle strength and endurance, claims that bear very little scientific evidence. According to Ilie, these drinks have become like Gatorade to teens despite the plea from the American Medical Association to ban marketing of them to young people.

Even more alarming is the trend of mixing energy drinks with alcohol.

“You’re intoxicated but wide awake, so you might be more prone to doing crazy things that if you weren’t intoxicated you would never consider doing,” Ilie told Yahoo Health.

Ilie suggests that parents monitor their kids’ consumption more closely and try to determine the need for such beverages; is it to artificially increase athletic ability before a big game, or to stay awake after an all-night study or texting session? Teens also have a responsibility to investigate the health consequences energy drinks may lead to. They have to ask: “What am I putting into my body, and is it worth it? Just because the beverages are legal and easily attainable doesn’t make them beneficial in the long run.

Clearly, more investigation needs to be done. Up to now, researchers have found only an indirect association between energy drinks and brain injuries. As yet, there is no substantial proof that the consumption of energy drinks will automatically lead to brain trauma. It has more to do with the changes in a person’s physical state that the drinks produce. It may well be that those who consume energy drinks are more inclined to take risks and more disposed to physical injury. In the end, adequate sleep and a healthy diet are much healthier and safer ways of maintaining energy levels.

Finding happiness after brain injury

BY: SOPHIA VOUMVAKIS

How can we survive, and perhaps even find happiness after experiencing loss or trauma ?This is a question that has fascinated me ever since surviving my traumatic brain injury almost four years ago.

woman doing yoga
photo credit: via photopin (license)

I reviewed the writings of Martin Seligman, the leading authority in the fields of positive psychology, the scientific study of what makes life most worth living. [We also talked about positive psychology at our August community meeting.]  It is a call for psychological science and practice to be as concerned with strength as it is with weakness; as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst; and as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling as with healing pathology.

Seligman identifies three types of happiness: the pleasant life, the good life, and the meaningful life. The pleasant life is amassing as many pleasurable experiences as you can and learning to savour those moments by practicing mindfulness techniques. The way psychologists help people experience the pleasant life is to have them create their perfect day, and using the techniques of mindfulness, savour those activities.

What would your perfect day look like? Mine would include an early morning yoga session, followed by a breakfast of fresh fruit, yogurt, and granola, and a latte (prepared by someone else, of course!); an ocean, a beach, and a good book; a lunch of fresh fish and greens by the seaside; my requisite afternoon nap; followed by a hike; and, getting all dressed up for a dinner of pasta and a glass of red wine.

The good life is experienced when we experience flow, when we are fully engaged in some activity that so engrosses us that time stops. The way we can increase flow, or the good life, is to identify our signature strengths (you can take the test on at www.authentichappiness.org) and re-craft our life in the arenas of work, love, family, friends, and fun to make use of those signature strengths.

pasta and red wine
photo credit: Wine Spaghetti and Shrimps via photopin (license)

Prior to my TBI, I had managed to craft a professional life as a researcher where I made good use of one of my signature strengthes – the love of learning. Often, when I was in the midst of analyzing the data, time literally stood still for me, I would look up from my screen and the hours had flown by.

My second signature strength is a deep appreciation of beauty. When I look around at my home, in my closet, at my dinner table when I’m entertaining, that signature strength is in full display. When I reflect back on how I raised my two daughters I now see how I incorporated these two signature strengths in their upbringing, we were always discussing new ideas, new research, traveling, and visiting art galleries and museums. I derived great happiness from these activities and I think, in some small way, I cultivated those strengths in my children.

The meaningful life is achieved when we identify our signature strengths and use them for the betterment of others. When I’m reading books on psychology, neuroscience, and happiness, time literally stops for me – I’m so engaged in the activity. I have been extremely fortunate to have found a way to take this signature strength to increase the good life and hopefully to some small degree, the meaningful life post TBI. By sharing my learnings about TBI and how the advances in neuroscience may offer hope to survivors of TBI, I have found some meaning from my TBI, and this increases my happiness. For this I thank the Brain Injury Blog Toronto and its readers!

Other TBI survivors have used their signature strengths to become peer mentors, run workshops, organize social activities, volunteer on the Board of Directors, and so much more.

woman at sunset who is happy
PHOTO: HUFFINGTON POST

Do we achieve the same life satisfaction from all three happy lives? Martin Seligman and his team have conducted research in 15 replications involving thousands of people — to determine to what extent the pursuit of pleasure, the pursuit of positive emotion, the pleasant life, the pursuit of engagement, time stopping for you, and the pursuit of meaning contribute to life satisfaction.

It turns out the pursuit of pleasure on its own, has almost no contribution to life satisfaction. The pursuit of meaning has the strongest impact on life satisfaction, and the pursuit of engagement is also very strong. The pursuit of pleasure positively impacts life satisfaction when you have both engagement and you have meaning.

Which is to say, the full life is one in which we have all three. So, identify your signature strengths and then use them to enhance the engaged life and the meaningful life, and don’t forget a dose of pleasure! Wishing you much happiness!


 

Since her TBI in 2011, Sophia has educated herself about TBI. She is interested in making research into TBI accessible to other survivors.