My husband, Norm, has lived in a long term care home since acquiring his brain injury six years ago. Each holiday, be it Easter, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween or Christmas, the facility decorates the common areas, in attempt to give residents and their families a more festive experience.
To be honest, since Norm’s accident, I really haven’t felt like celebrating the holidays. Norm and I don’t have kids so why bother? It seems as though I am just going through the motions.
Thankfully, Norm and I have good people around us. We get a crew together to decorate Norm’s room each year. His brother, sister-in-law and friends come to help. They help bring out the holiday spirit – which is hard, as Norm doesn’t show many emotions.
As much as possible, we try to keep things the same as before the accident. Christmas Eve we go to our parish church for mass. On Christmas Day we go to Norm’s brother’s to open presents and see the rest of the family. In the afternoon, Norm and I head over to our friends to wish them a Merry Christmas.
Despite this, our trips are more complicated now and planning is essential. When Norm and I go anywhere, I have to book the mobility van that is at his long term care facility. If the van is booked, I have to phone the taxi company. I have to strap Norm in with seat belts for safety. When we go out for Christmas dinner, to a restaurant or to friends, I have to make sure that Norm has a pureed meal to eat.
At the end of the day, I think having family and friends around is all Norms needs as when they are around, he just beams.
After her husband’s injury, Theresa went back to school to become a Personal Support Worker. She has taken courses in brain injury, and is now a full time caregiver. You can follow her on Instagram, HERE
Let’s make this holiday season unforgettable, heart wrenchingly beautiful, and full of connection.
Another holiday season is upon us it and in it’s in our power to make it the most memorable one yet. We have a choice to make. We can end the holidays exhausted, stretched to our limits from running around, and in need of a true break. Or, we can choose to be mindful and allow ourselves to truly spread holiday cheer, finding fulfillment in all we do.
So let’s choose fulfillment. Let’s choose love. To love ourselves, everyone we meet and to truly be grateful. We want connection. We want to rediscover the depths of important relationships and maybe even build some new ones. We want to feel renewed, energized, satisfied and happy. Let’s gift ourselves this holiday season by taking action and making these wants a reality.
A holiday season touched by greatness is one that’s executed with intention. Put intention behind your actions with these four mindfulness tips that will help you get the most out of your time. How can mindfulness help? Mindfulness helps us be more present and aware through our activities. It helps us slow down to make sure we don’t miss the beauty of what is right in front of us. It shines a light on how we are feeling, helps us to stop acting automatically and start taking deliberate action.
To help you get the most out of these mindfulness tips, first I’ll explain how to do the mindfulness activity and then I’ll tell you why it matters.
Having a solid ‘why’ is a key to making changes.
Tip #1: Mindful Breathing
How: Pause throughout your day to take three to five deep breaths. Really watch and feel your breath. Feel the air flow in your noise, noticing its cool touch. Feel it move through your body, down into your belly. Feel your abdomen rise with each in breath. Feel your belly lower as you exhale through your mouth, noticing how the air is warm as it leaves your body. Watch this cycle three to five times, paying attention to how the breath feels in your body.
Notice the changing sensations. This whole process takes no more than a minute.
Why: Watching our breath is an incredible way to feel the stress and tension melt away. It is extremely calming and brings our attention to the most basic need in our life – breathing. It helps us appreciate being alive. It slows the mind, even just for a minute. This practice can revolutionize our holidays. Whenever we feel the stress rising, we can gift ourselves this minute to help us regain control over our thoughts and emotions. This simple minute gives us the opportunity to remember the joy that’s rightfully ours over the holidays. We’ll be ready to spread the cheer with these mini minute meditations.
Tip #2: Mindful Listening
How: Give the person you are talking to your full attention. Instead of thinking what to say next, stop and really listen. Pay attention to their tone, emotions, and thoughts. Watch their gestures. Ask meaningful questions.
Why: Meaningful conversations build meaningful relationships. Holidays are a time for family and friends. While visiting with the people we care about we risk falling into the trap of having the same surface conversation over and over. We get ready to share our side of ‘what’s new’ or are running over a response while we half listen. Active, mindful listening gives us an opportunity to fully hear what others have to say. Our responses become deeper, our connection grows because everyone loves to truly feel heard. Whether a conversation is short or long, mindful listening makes each one more meaningful. The more we practice this technique the easier it becomes and the more we learn about our loved ones as questions we once never thought to ask start to flow. Dive deep, truly connect.
Tip #3: Mindful Eating
How: From the moment you grab your empty plate pay attention. How does the food smell in the room around you? Survey the choices that you have in front of you.
What do you actually want to eat and how much is the right amount for you? Mindfully portion out your food knowing you can always go back for more. Before you start eating take a second to look at your plate, feeling grateful, recognizing all of the work that went into getting that food to your plate (people who cooked the food, farmers, stores, nature). Eat and chew consciously. Enjoy and really taste every bite. Listen to your body and give it more food when it wants more, less when it wants less.
Why: During the holidays we have a tendency to overeat in ways that make us feel sluggish and sometimes even bad about ourselves. This holiday season let’s bring mindfulness to our eating habits. We can still enjoy all of our holiday food, indulging in ways we may not normally do but do so consciously. Paying attention to the food we are eating can bring us so much joy as tastes, smells, and textures of food are heightened. We can walk away from the table feeling good about what we’ve eaten, knowing that each bite was a memorable experience. Eating mindfully helps us build a healthy connection with food and supports us in nourishing our bodies for optimal health.
Tip #4: Mindful Appreciation
How: Set an intention at the start of your day that you will make a point to notice and truly appreciate the good, big and small, throughout your day. Be mindful as you go move through your day, giving a smile to all the things that often get taken for granted or go unnoticed. Before bed, set one minute aside to mindfully appreciate 5 or more things in your life (from the day or your life in general).
For example: I appreciate that the cashier at the grocery store gave me a big smile this afternoon.
Why: Paying attention throughout the day helps us really start to notice how much there is to be grateful for. The nighttime appreciation practice helps us go to bed on a strong note, priming us to wake up in a more appreciative state. This will supercharge our holiday cheer, making sure we don’t miss the beauty that is right in front of us. Mindful appreciation as a habit can change the way we see the world!
The Impact of Mindfulness over the Holidays:
When we put these practices together, the holiday season shines with meaningful moments. Mindful breathing helps us stay centered and take precious time for ourselves. Mindful listening helps us connect with everyone we meet on a deeper level. Mindful eating helps us feel nourished and helps us stay healthy. Mindful appreciation helps us feel blessed for all we have.
These mindfulness tips are great all year around.
Test them out during the holidays and watch love radiate and shine through your world!
Lauren’s passion in life is helping people discover the true joy of self-love. She is a Reiki Master, Holistic Nutritionist (CNP) and Life Coach. She is the Head Mindfulness Coach for Cocoon Health and Fitness, an organization with a mission to awaken the power of self-love through fitness, nutrition, and mindful living by creating awareness and connection to the whole self, body, mind and spirit. Learn more at cocoonhealth.ca. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook.
Over the past ten years I have struggled with enjoying my favourite holiday season, Christmas, so I know the struggle is real.
This year as I sat down to think about how best to get through this time of the year without feeling overwhelmed I had an ‘aha’ moment. What I realized is many of the stresses were also there before my ABI. You know, decorating just right, cooking the best turkey dinner, picking out the right gift, squeezing in all the holiday festivities, and let’s not forget scoring the right outfit and heels for each party.
What makes it feel more stressful is my energy reserves, or better said the lack of. So this year, I’m taking Christmas back to basics and I have to tell you, I’m feeling a lot merrier.
Here are my 5 Tips to Help you put Merry Back in Christmas:
Decorating – Keep it Simple:
If you enjoy having a Christmas tree, but become overwhelmed and exhausted just thinking about decorating it and the thought of having to take it down in just a few short weeks, try a small table top tree.
You can find real table top trees at most grocery stores, Christmas tree lots or pick up an artificial one that often is already decorated, which can be dusted off year after year. You get your Christmas tree and no there is no struggling with big strings of lights, that I swear spring to life in storage doing the Tango and become tangled beyond hope.
I also keep décor throughout the house pretty simple, adding a poinsettia here and there and I also love Christmas cactus which adds a touch of colour during the holidays. And at the end of the holiday season take down is even more simplified.
The Signature Gift
Over the years Christmas has become so commercialized that you feel extreme pressure to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list (and take out a small mortgage in the process). Take a step back and remember that the original “Christmas is a time for giving” was about being practical, giving to those less fortunate, it was about the thought and not the cost of an item. I’ve started to think that our grandmothers had the right idea – with socks, pjs, and things of the like – practical. I have a friend who every Christmas gifts me a bag of my fav coffee beans, some cookies, tea, chocolates and a small gift that made her think of me (one year it was a t-shirt), each time I enjoy part of the gift, I think of her and smile.
A signature gift is something that you become known for giving, such as a book, pjs, home baked goodies, bubble bath, sweater, etc. Once you decide on what your signature gift will be, you adjust it to each recipient’s interest. For example if it’s a book, you choose one on the recipient’s particular interest. One of my signature gifts to give to friends is a journal. Yes, you can have more than one signature gift, for one friend I always gift her something for the kitchen, she loves to cook with her family.
I have saved myself countless hours of stress and anxiety and physical and emotional energy since adopting a signature gift method of giving.
There can be a lot of pressure to gift EVERYONE you know, what I have come to realize is that you don’t have to buy a gift for everyone you know. A good ole fashion Christmas cards is a great way to wish someone a Merry Christmas or Happy Holiday Season.
Budget – Make a List and Check it Twice
Whether it comes to gifts, entertaining, celebrating on the town with friends or decorating your home, it is important to know what your budget comfort is. Once you have determined your budget, allocate a portion to each area and track your spending and most important stick to your budget.
Having a budget does not mean you have to miss out it just means you need to prioritize and be a little creative. If you have more people on your gift list than budget, consider reducing the amount per person. Are there people on your gift list that really are more like acquaintances and should be moved to the card list?
If things are tight but you really were looking forward to hosting Christmas dinner go pot luck, the people you would be sharing a meal with are coming to spend time together and will understand and be more than happy to bring a dish or wine, if asked. A lean budget doesn’t mean you have to miss out on going out with friends, instead of joining everyone for dinner, opt to join them later for dessert.
Christmas is about spending time with family and friends, so enlist the help of your guests by asking them to bring something for the meal. If budget allows, you can purchase a prepped or fully cooked meal from places such as your local market, hotels, or restaurant. I used a prepped meal that was all ready to go into oven from Whole Foods, one Thanksgiving, and it was really good.
If a pot luck Christmas meal still seems overwhelming but you still want to entertain, opt for alternatives, such as hosting a hot chocolate, cocktail, afternoon tea, brunch, or a board game Christmas gathering.
Remember the real meaning of Christmas
As the hustle and bustle of the season whirls around your head, remind yourself that being surrounded by people who truly care about you is what is important. And also remember friends are often extended family who we choose for ourselves. Don’t feel pressured to over spend both in money and your physical and emotional energy bank.
These are some ways I have put Merry back in my Christmas, I would love for you to share some of the ways you have found work for you.
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
The holidays are a tough time for everyone, and this is especially true for brain injury survivors who are often dealing with issues such as chronic fatigue, pain and cognitive fatigue.
Here are some tips I’ve come up since acquiring my brain injury a few years ago on how to get through two of the more challenging parts of the season: holiday dinner and shopping.
Surviving the Holiday Dinner
Please let your host, or a trusted family member know about any concerns you may have, such as if you require a break during the event. Do not let the idea of being a ‘burden’ take over, as family and friends should be more than happy to help out.
Find grounding techniques that help you deal with your anxiety or pain levels, such as drinking lots of water and deep breathing when necessary. These little activities can make a big difference and help you sort your thoughts when things get overwhelming.
Don’t forget to take your medications with you in case you need them.
Malls tend to get very overcrowded, and the increase in light displays and music does not help!
In order to deal with the crowd, you can take a friend with you and have a list of the stores you want to visit, along with where they are located in the mall. That way, you have both support and direction during this process. Having direction while shopping helps you navigate through the crowd and noise by putting it in the back of your mind.
You’re essentially making it secondary to your goal. You can also wear sunglasses or a brimmed hat to help with the light, and earphones or earplugs to reduce noise. If you would prefer to skip the mall altogether, you can shop for your gifts online, but time’s running out for that option quickly.
Again, have a list of the things you need and where you can buy them, and have a friend help you shop online. Happy shopping!
Saba Rizvi was in her second year of medical school when she sustained her Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). She has navigated her way through her TBI with the support of her family and friends, as well as from her knowledge of psychology and medicine. Saba has previously written blog posts for BIST and is currently a peer-mentor at the Brain Injury Association of Peel-Halton (BIAPH). She also promotes positive mental health via her artwork, and curated posts & articles. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
I spent most of my childhood and young adult years feeling out of place; I didn’t think of myself as a normal kid. I could not understand why I had such a difficult time with things that seemed to come so easy to the others.
I was six-years-old when the viral infection made its way into my brain, and it was many, many years later that I was diagnosed with a brain injury. Living within the unknown made things that much more challenging. Bottling up my emotions and refraining from telling anyone about these difficulties didn’t help much either.
There were many things I thought of that might give me some of that ‘normalcy’ in life, but I could never figure out just how to go about getting them.
Enter the mistletoe, a small leafy object that got its recognition during the Christmas holidays. I had witnessed its use in movies, on television, and even in person. I had read and heard stories about its magical aura. As per whychristimas.com:
The tradition of hanging it in the house goes back to the times of the ancient Druids. It is supposed to possess mystical powers which bring good luck to the household and wards off evil spirits. It was also used as a sign of love and friendship in Norse mythology and that’s where the custom of kissing under Mistletoe comes from.
So getting kissed under this cheery decoration, I thought, would signify my ‘normalcy’. Well, at least it was a step toward becoming one of the guys, right? I mean getting a kiss, a girlfriend, that’s what being one of the guys means, right?
The idea of some amazingly cute girl kissing me with her lovely lips was a beautiful thing. It was also scary – very scary in fact! So why did I become obsessed with making sure we had this small plant in our house every year? To this day, I’m not exactly sure I know the answer.
See, I would make sure this delicate Christmas object of affection was put up in just the right spot, and then, I would do everything I could to avoid that spot. I’ve said nothing about this to anyone until now, despite I repeating this ritual for several years.
It was somewhat counter-productive when I look back on it all. It was as if something in me was saying, ‘This is how you become normal,’ while another voice inside said ‘That’s a load of crap!’
These days I no longer bother with the mystical object meant to garner a kiss. I know a kiss won’t make me ‘normal.’ I don’t need anything to make me normal, because I am normal already.
A kiss is not going to turn me into a prince
A kiss is not going to make me a better person.
But, that doesn’t mean I would refuse a lovely lady.
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
Here we are, well into December and the holiday season is really here. It’s been around for a while, of course. As usual, the Halloween pumpkin decorations were hardly packed away when the giant Santas, the garlands and the holly came out, decorating the department stores and just about everywhere else. I heard Michael Bublé crooning It’s Beginning to Look a Lot likeChristmas on November 8th.
Music is a big part of the holiday season, and much of the commercial variety is upbeat and exuberant in spirit. We are urged to ‘deck the halls’ and go for sleigh rides as we spend time ‘walking in a winter wonderland.’
Ideally, the end of the year should be a time for spiritual renewal, a period set aside to pause and reflect, and with any luck, to reconnect with family and friends. Yet so much of what surrounds us doesn’t exactly inspire mirth or good will. Retailers ask us to buy,buy and buy some more, yet too many of us are on fixed incomes, underemployed or unemployed.
For those of us who are dealing with the challenges of brain injury – be it our own or of a family member – the holiday period is an immensely challenging time. The cold and dark month of December demands much from us, a great deal more than many of us are capable of – or willing – to do.
The poet William Congreve once wrote that “music has charms to soothe the savage breast” but for many people, the traditional music surrounding the period has little meaning.
As an alternative, here’s a list of songs that may help you get through until the brighter days of January begin.
Get Me Through December – written by Gordie Sampson and Fred Lavery, and preformed here by Alison Krause, the lyrics speak of the challenges we face during this cold month and a hope for better times ahead.
New York City Christmas – Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty fame penned this song about the ongoing need for peace and compassion in the big city.
Those Silent Nights –a song written especially for those who have recently lost loved ones by Jacob Colgan and Aileeah Colgan.
Find Your Voice – Sarah McLachlan’s advice at finding pleasure in simple things.
Angel – Because McLachlan is good enough to play twice.
Strength, Courage and Wisdom– From India Arie’s first album, Acoustic Soul, this song will make you feel like your strength, courage and wisdom have really been inside of you all along.
It’s Gonna be Alright – Sara Groves is a Christian singer known for writing powerful lyrics. In this song, which is non-denominational, Groves gives hope to folks who are going through hard times.
So Small – Carrie Underwood’s song from her 2007 Carnival Ride album is about seeing the big picture, and remembering what to be grateful for.
Little Wonders – Well before the Frozen theme song appropriated the phrase, Rob Thomas created this song about ‘letting go’, (ironically) for another Disney movie, Meet the Robisons..
True Colours – Cyndi Lauper’s gay rights and anti-hate crimes anthem, written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, and was originally a tribute to Steinberg’s mother. Proof that True Colours is all about unconditional love.
Takes a Little Time – Amy Grant’s song, written during a time when she was having difficulty in her marriage, is about having patience to get through hard periods in life.
Sound of hope project – You’ll want to find out more about these amazing artists who hail from American Samoa after listening to this beautiful colaboration. Written and produced by whitcombemedia, according to vidinfo.org, this song is dedicated to all the people of the Pacific Islands.
Imagine – TheJohn Lennon classic, and we’re still imagining a world free of hate.
Never give up – Whitney Houston’s motivational song, released after her 2012 death, is as inspirational and is it is a bittersweet, final message from this amazing singer.
Let it Be– Speaking words of wisdom, the Beatles can help you get through the holiday season every time.
My advice to those who find themselves a little overwhelmed by it all is to slow down, nothing can be so pressing that it has to be done immediately. Take time to stop and enjoy the decorations – they’ll be gone soon enough.
Stop and give some change to a homeless person, or buy a copy of Outreach. Practice kindness in public – open a door for someone, or offer a seat on the subway. Reconnect with friends and family – people are more important than things, and should be treasured. Take a moment to reflect on those no longer with us – if it means shedding a tear, so be it- they deserve it. If you don’t accomplish everything you set out to do, don’t beat yourself up – we’re only human.
May peace be with you – and here’s to better times ahead.
Today as I write this I want to scream, “Yes! You can have a merry Christmas after a family member’s brain injury!” I want to shout it out from the mountain tops and let everyone know.
But today, after all, is a good day for me.
Now ask me on one of my many not so good days, and it might only be a whisper of a yes, but it would still be a yes!
This will be our fourth Christmas after my son, Chris’, brain injury, and this year we are stepping away from our holiday traditions and going on vacation as a family.
I would like to say we all wanted to ‘skip’ Christmas and go away this year, but it was my idea. After all, I am the one who does all the preparation for it and I did not want to spend my limited time, energy and money on gifts and decorations.
I wanted more time to rest and enjoy my family. We will still participate in the real meaning of Christmas while we’re away, but we are saying goodbye to the materialistic, unnecessary work and clutter that comes with the holidays. So basically, this is just another idea I had to avoid caregiver burnout!
Christmas year two and three post brain injury were very different. For one, we stayed at home, and we were not ready to host a dinner like we normally do. Lucky, our families took us in.
One of the big ways my son’s brain injury has affected the holidays is that it takes attention away from our daughters. The focus is always on the person with the brain injury, holidays or not. My son is now over the age for getting gifts in my family, but he still gets them, and the siblings take note. I hope noticing this has developed empathy in them and and not jealousy, envy or, worse, anger.
Of course my son’s brain injury slows the family down. It takes longer to do anything, and sometimes once you get there, Chris wants to leave because the noise and chaos are too much.
The extreme fatigue from the brain injury no longer lets us swing by more than one event in a day. And preparation is mandatory, because with the brain injury, there is no room for flexibility.
My son hates change and gets frustrated with anything different from what he’s been told about in advance. We never surprise him with last minute changes and plan nothing else on a day of a big event. Easy and simple, right?
But writing this really reminds me of our first Christmas together post brain injury. Let me give you a little background of where we were. Our son had been catastrophically injured in a car accident on Aug 20, 2011. It was a miracle that he survived, and then was able to walk with a walker at seven weeks.
At about three and a half months, he was able to start eating on his own, and get off the feeding tube. At four months he was coming home. It was planned for Dec 21, 2011. According to my son Chris, that was his best Christmas present ever – to come home to his family.
Now I, on the other hand, was doing everything I could to keep him in over the holidays. Why might you ask?
Well first, it meant I was now responsible for him. I did not feel ready to take this on at all. Was I a nurse, a doctor or a feeding expert? No! I was none of the above, but I was in charge of him. Everything shuts down over the holidays, there’s minimal staff at support agencies and doctors’ offices are closed. I was terrified to become my son’s full time nurse, taxi driver, rehab worker, you-name-it worker.
Did I mention I was scared? I did not know how to care for a brain injury. What if something happened? I was not even thinking of Christmas, only of my fear and lack of ability.
What could we do but grin and bear it? We had to rush to get prescriptions ordered now that we were in charge and before the doctor’s office shut down for the holidays. We rushed to get a tree and decorate it, and find room for it, as the living room now housed his hospital bed and the dinning room table was his rehab/nursing station.
I can assure you there was not a turkey served in our house that year, and there were no parties or socials. Luckily, our extended family prepared a holiday dinner.
That Christmas was all about quiet visits from close friends at Chris’ bedside, and us. It was the best Christmas I could have imagined. After all, we had our son home.
Turns out Chris was right, and I was wrong. I got caught up in the all the work and fear. I forgot what the real message of Christmas means to me – God’s love sent through a small helpless baby named Jesus. Helpless and weak, that was our son too. And God showed us His compassion through Jesus for us.
Compassion and love for our son, that was all we had that year, especially. Wow, we had our son home for Christmas. There is no better gift. I thank and praise God everyday.
So yes, there is a Merry Christmas after a brain injury.
Barb Kustec is the mother of three – Christopher, age 23; Cassandra, age 15 and Samantha, age 12. She is married to her husband, Danny. This is her third article for Brain Injury Blog TORONTO.