Choosing to parent after brain injury

BY: MELISSA JIROVEC

Parenting is hard work. It challenges you in ways you never imagined you’d be challenged, forcing you to think outside the box and re-evaluate everything you thought you knew about pretty much everything.

Add a brain injury to the mix and the experience becomes even more complex and interesting.
Melissa & family Jason and I always knew we wanted children. We discussed and imagined what our future family would look like long before it was time for us to actually consider making it happen. When Jason regained his awareness after sustaining a traumatic brain injury, both of us agreed that a family of our own was an even bigger priority. At 24, we’d become aware of our own mortality and felt willing to attempt the uphill battle we faced, adding parenthood to recovery for him, and caregiving for me.

Fast forward four years and two children later, and we’ve learned a lot about parenting and brain injury. We’ve encountered many challenges, and reaped many rewards. The biggest challenge has no doubt been fatigue. Parenthood is exhausting in and of itself, but the fatigue my husband experiences makes it hard for him to fully participate as a parent.

There are many times throughout the day where Jason needs to escape downstairs for a nap, downtime on his Xbox, or do laundry to get away from the noise and stimulation. This is hard on me as the parent who must care for both children alone.

Our toddler is also incredibly observant. She picked up early on that her Daddy is not able to keep up with her, that he struggles physically to dress or change her, and that he often gives up if she gives him too much of a hard time because of his impulsivity and lack of patience. She uses this to her advantage at every opportunity. The baby is now starting to move around quite a bit and no longer sits still long enough for Daddy to change and dress him. However, of the two, Daddy definitely does better caring for our younger child.

 When things get rowdy around the house it takes a toll on both Jason and myself. Jason struggles to stay focused and calm, while I struggle to corral the kids on my own. Truthfully,  I sometimes feel resentment.

This is why I work hard to maintain my mental, emotional and physical wellness through journalling, affirmations, meditation, goal-setting, strength training, and getting fresh air often. Jason and I both find it crucial to maintain good nutrition for our mood and energy, in order to function well as a family unit. We are also continuously improving the way we communicate, trying our best to ensure that we are being open and honest with each other so as to problem solve as effectively as possible. We are committed to seeking improved personal growth and increased knowledge.

But as challenging as parenting in our situation can be, the benefits of becoming parents far outshine those difficult moments. For example, both of us have become more efficient with our planning and organization. We’ve learned to laugh at the little things. We thoroughly enjoy new experiences with our children and watching their little faces light up. We’ve both begun to challenge our belief systems and have started really questioning our lifestyle and what messages we are sending to our children.

How do we want to raise them? Are we showing them to be compassionate to others and the planet? We’ve realized that the only way to raise smart, kind, compassionate, grounded, aware and successful children is to do our best to model that ourselves. We are both working on that every day.

 In the end, parenting has been everything we hoped it would be and more, despite the added challenges we face. Those challenges have made us stronger and better parents.

I’ve begun to let go of the idea that parenting should be 50-50 between Jason and I, because despite knowing that it wouldn’t be going in, a small part of me still felt frustrated when he couldn’t step up and I knew that was up to me to fully accept.

The brain injury isn’t going away. But we are slowly learning tricks and strategies to help things run smoothly from day-to-day. Brain injury recovery is a lifelong journey, but having something to work hard for has pushed us into seeking the best way not just to survive, but thrive.


Melissa is a caregiver to her husband Jason who lives with a traumatic brain injury, and their two children Emma & Liam. She has authored two books, one an autobiography of her journey as a caregiver titled: ‘Getting Out of the Rut’,  as well as a children’s picture book that promotes awareness of brain injuries titled: ‘My Daddy’s Brain’. She is currently working on a third book, training for a fitness competition, and speaks to various groups about caregiving, brain injury, communication, self-care and resilience. You can follow her journey on instagram @fit.mindful.mom or visit her website at www.melissajirovec.ca.

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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!

A year with a different brain

A version of this article was originally published on March 18, 2017

BY: ERIN MOORE

On March 18, 2016 my husband Davin sustained a concussion.

I write this on the one year anniversary of my husband’s injury. It brings an incredible mix of emotions. It has been the hardest year of our lives; financially, mentally, physically and emotionally.

We have cried more together this year than we have in our almost 20 years of time with each other. We have been in dark places this last year, individually and side-by-side. We have battled this brain injury together, but alone.

Family walking in sunset

Concussions are invisible to most. The terms the ‘walking wounded’ or the ‘invisible injury’ have been given to concussions because the majority of people surrounding someone with a concussion aren’t aware of what that person is braving, or managing, or being held captive by. I’m not writing this post to educate you on what a concussion is, or to understand post-concussion symptoms, you can go google that.

I’m going to share with you my experience – as a wife, a partner and a best friend of someone who has been battling concussion symptoms for one year – with no win in sight, and still far away from the finish line.

It was three months into Davin’s concussion that I really started to feel the first feelings of being scared. Davin had concussions before, and I had seen at times some very bad symptoms from it. But they all cleared up relatively quickly and he became his regular self again. Last June his neurologist told us to expect at least a year for recovery, maybe longer. This news shook him, and me, and it set off a whole new dimension for us.

Up to this point, it was almost like I had watched Davin run into a brick wall over and over again, trying to make strides towards a little bit of improvement but getting stonewalled over and over again. After the neurologist’s prognosis, Davin stopped running into that brick wall and just starred at it instead. The light of perseverance, determination, optimism and strength started to dim. I could see him fall into a darker place, faced with the reality that it was going to be a long time until he got better, and no one could tell him how long it could be or what he needed to do to get himself healthy again. The frustration mounted, when all the therapies, practitioners, counsellors, specialists, supplements, food eliminations, (you name it, we tried it) failed to work.

Photo of a family standing at a beach during winter

Sure, some people may have seen some snippets of Davin’s behavioural responses to his concussion, but they didn’t get the full picture. Most people saw the same guy they always knew, only off work, and unable to do his usual athletic and social activities. That’s what makes it really hard for people to understand what happens to someone when they are living with a concussion. There is a side that is invisible and unseen by most, even close family members. It’s uncontrolled, reactive, irritable and mean.

I learned quickly that I could never take anything that my beloved dished out at me personally. Davin – the true Davin – did not want to react to situations the way he did but he lacked the filter or response to slow down, think and choose his words or behaviour before acting them out.  The remorse and shame that follows an episode is equally hard to watch, as seeing Davin in emotional pain scratches and slices my heart over and over again. As his partner, there are so many times I felt completely helpless, and at times,  still do, as though I’m stuck in the path of the concussion’s unpredictability.

The cycle of a concussion is vicious. It first brings physical and mental pain, then triggers emotional pain, which trigger symptoms, which trigger depression and so on.

Ah that word – depression.

I’m scared of that too. A common byproduct of a concussion is this whole other layer of depression and the inability to balance emotions. I again played spectator to Davin as his depression started to guide him, as his clarity on life was now being mismanaged by a giant bruise on his brain and a chemical imbalance. His brain wasn’t firing like it used to and tasks that those with uninjured brains take for granted – like going to grab some groceries – were daunting and debilitating, resulting in frustration and anger. This would then trigger intense fatigue, malaise and depressive states.

How would you cope? Eventually we learned the patterns and together started to identify the triggers. We figured out a management plan and I stood by my man and let him just be, as he needed to be in that moment. No judgement. No resentment. Just love.

By this point we were deep in the summer months in Whistler, B.C. We had decided moving to Toronto was the best choice for us. We were down to one income, with Davin’s Short Term Disability payments ending at the end of June, we had both kids in daycare and we were starting to see for the first time in our adult lives that if we continued like this we were going to be in some financial strife quickly.

Managing his medical and disability applications were also incredibly taxing on Davin, and in September I took over full management and advocacy for his medical paper trail. We were banking on Davin’s Long Term Disability claim to be accepted and which would drastically turn things around for us. But, after six months of waiting for a decision, they denied Davin’s claim. We appealed. They denied us again. We appealed again, and one year later we are still waiting.

So now what?

How do we keep going when the concussion and depression continue to hold my husband in captivity of who he once was. How do we raise our kids so they understand what has happened in the last year but remain resilient to times that have been trying for them, and us. How do we show them that we are strong and brave and that we will get through this? That concussion won’t beat us.

I can tell you what we did, and do everyday, to do our best to stay above the concussion and depression. We allow us the power to choose.

Whistler wasn’t working for us at that time, so we chose to leave and went on an adventure, that was healing.

We chose to move across the country to be closer to family for support and for filling our heart up when we needed it.

We choose to ‘move slow to move fast’, words spoken by a wise confidant that have made all the difference for us.

We choose to do only a little bit, and not all of it, and manage each moment for what it is.

I chose to not go back to a job that would take me away from my family 40+ hours a week.

We have battled this brain injury together, but alone

I chose to start a business to create a different path for our family where we can create and grow in line with the pace that Davin’s brain needs to heal.

I have days where I feel so alone, that no one truly understands what it is like.  I have days that are really hard. But despite the torture this last year has been, I have so many things I am grateful for that would not have come to be had this concussion not happened. I have learned, like to no level I’ve known before, what it means to be patient, to have compassion, to listen, to be brave, and to be present.

It’s taken me a long time to open up and allow myself to share the truth of my experience and allow myself to be vulnerable. I hope these words resonate with one of you readers.

Share my story.

Learn about concussions and talk about it, and keep talking about it. More awareness needs to be raised, more understanding about what those who suffer are going through. We need to show more compassion for those that live each day in a fog of their brain injury.  We need more support for ways to manage and cope for those with the injury and the people that are by their side.


Erin is mom to two amazing children, and wife to an incredible husband. She has a love for travel, yoga,and bringing people together on issues that matter. 

How to be a good friend to a brain injury survivor

BY: ALISON

During my recovery process, I distanced myself from friends, avoided social situations, and became quite isolated. Every time I heard an insensitive comment (albeit without any malicious intent) or felt pressure to meet an unrealistic expectation, I felt more and more unheard, invalidated, and misunderstood. This caused me to feel emotionally unsafe to share honest and detailed accounts of my struggles and experience. The impact of social isolation was especially hard on me, considering my previously extroverted and lively social life.

two girls hugging
photo credit: Best Friends via photopin (license)

I went from craving high energy interactions and profound conversations to avoiding eye contact and all forms of communication. However, I was lucky enough to have a few people in my life that knew how to be supportive, what not to say, and how to adjust to the changing dynamics. These people were not only incredibly helpful during my most difficult times, but they made it possible for me to reassimilate to my social life when I felt better.

The following guidelines for how you can be a good friend are based on what my friends did well, what I found effective, and how I’ve supported others through the loss of loved ones, major life changes, and other serious health problems. Keep in mind that everyone needs different types of support and that those needs change circumstantially. So when you’re with someone who’s struggling, don’t hesitate to ask them directly what they want you to say and do

#1. Set your own emotions aside

Empathy allows us to understand and feel other peoples’ physical and emotional pain. Hearing about someone else’s struggles can make us feel uncomfortable, because we become reminded of our own fears and worries. So our initial reaction is to reduce our discomfort by disengaging from what we find upsetting. In conversation, we do this by fidgeting, looking away, or changing the subject. Even statements such as, ‘I’m sure everything will work out’ when used too early in the conversation sends the message, ‘Please stop talking about this.’  That person is then much less likely to speak openly about what’s really going on, even when asked down the line.

After my injury, one particular long term friend asked me about my symptoms, but when I started describing the severe issues, his eyes glazed over, he avoided eye contact, and he froze up. I immediately changed the subject and never answered that question in detail outside of a health professional’s office again.

Disappointingly, even my brief and sugar-coated progress updates triggered similar avoidance reactions in most people. For years, I avoided talking about my injury, feared rejection, felt alone in my suffering, and lost faith in the relationships that I had, all of which had detrimental effects to my confidence. So the next time you’re listening to someone’s problems, brush your own emotions aside and remind yourself that in that moment, it’s not about you

2. Listen actively

Two women having a conversation
photo credit: DSC 0459 via photopin (license)

To show that you care and that you’re willing to listen to someone’s problems, hear what they have to say, be patient by giving them enough time to finish their thoughts, and acknowledge and respond to what they’ve said using verbal or non-verbal cues (e.g. nodding your head). Then, ask some clarifying or thoughtful questions. Considering how unhappy topics make most people uncomfortable, I could always tell whether someone was genuinely concerned about me and/or interested in learning about brain injury by the number and types of questions that they asked. Finally, end the interaction by making plans for the next call or get together, or by asking the person to update you on any major changes (positive and negative) to their situation. This implies that they can reach out to you if they need to talk to someone and that you want to celebrate their wins with them.

#3. Don’t not do anything

When someone we care about is going through a difficult time, we might feel like we don’t know what to say or do. Out of fear that we might do something wrong, we can end up doing nothing or avoiding interaction with that person altogether.

However, doing nothing makes the person feel like you don’t care, which is probably the furthest thing from the truth. So when you don’t know what to say or do, don’t be afraid to admit that. Say, ‘I am so sorry that this is happening to you. I don’t know what to say, please tell me how I can help.’ I always tell my friends and family to be honest with me if something I’m saying or doing is not helpful, so that I can change my approach and try something else.

Everyone has different needs that change depending on the situation. So be sure to ask, ‘What would be helpful right now?’ and ‘Is this helping? If not, I can try something else.’ Remember, it’s never too late to reach out. A simple, ‘I was thinking about you. How are you doing?’ can mean the world to someone who feels alone in their sadness. Just don’t take it the wrong way if they don’t respond.

#4. Don’t take it personally

'Not Now' heart shape candy
photo credit: End-of-conversation heart via photopin (license)

Throughout my recovery process, I wanted to be alone but I didn’t want to feel lonely. When I didn’t have the energy or confidence to talk to or see my friends, it made all the difference when they tried to get in touch with me. I loved hearing from people, but I felt too much anxiety and grief to reply. My most helpful friends were the ones that didn’t make me feel guilty for hiding and didn’t give up on me. These special people left voicemails or sent text messages and emails every few weeks to see how I was doing, to offer to visit, or to invite me to their homes for a quiet dinner or get together. Despite my infrequent responses and frequent declined invitations, they never gave up on me and, more importantly, they never took it personally. This reduced my fear of being misunderstood, made me feel genuinely cared for, and let me know that I had good friends to return to when I was ready. Coming out of isolation was one of the most difficult, fear and anxiety-laden aspects of my recovery, but thanks to those friends and their maintained connections, it was easier for me to bounce back and rejoin society as my symptoms subsided. So the next time you check up on someone, don’t wait to hear from them before you get in touch again. Your efforts are more appreciated than you know.

#5. Be considerate

Sign that says 'be considerate'
photo credit: No loud noises via photopin (license)

One of my barriers to socializing after a concussion had to do with limitations that healthy people would never think twice about. For example, brightly lit, crowded or noisy places wore me out and made it difficult for me to focus on conversations. Also, driving or traveling by public transit was exhausting, so I had few workable meet-up locations and times. My most understanding friends didn’t always know or understand my barriers, but they always asked. For example, they would suggest an outing and then they would follow it up with, “Would that be okay for you?” They were also willing to offer other suggestions. While hanging out, they would check in and ask me how I was feeling. At their homes, they would say, ‘Let me know if you want to take a nap.’ Those questions sound so simple, yet so few people that I know ever thought to ask them. In social situations, I was hesitant to speak up when I was approaching my limits, but thanks to my friends’ pro-active thoughtfulness and willingness to accommodate, I had fun and I wasn’t made to feel embarrassed while vocalizing my needs.

# 6. Provide long-term support

Whether it’s the death of a loved one, a serious illness such as cancer, or a brain injury, all traumas have long-term, and occasionally, life-long, effects. The more time that passes after a tragedy or accident, the less support that the survivors receive and the less likely they are to ask for help. Just because someone appears to be fully recovered doesn’t mean they are. So, even years after the incident, be sure to check in with them to open a line of communication so that they can get the support that they need.


Alison suffered a concussion in 2013 that completely changed her lifestyle. She is finding her way back to her old self and still loves traveling, dogs, cooking, and helping others. She hopes to help other brain injury survivors and their caregivers by sharing her experience and by spreading awareness.