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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Year’s Eve: midnight is past my bedtime

BY: ALYSON ROGERS

Statistically, the likelihood of me being up to ring in the New Year on January 1st is slim. I can count on one hand the amount of nights I’ve been awake at midnight this year. I’d say for 360 out of 365 days in 2018, I was in bed and asleep before 12 a.m. hit.

Fatigue from a brain injury and the medication that can go with it aren’t exactly what I’m used to mixing on December 31st, which is vanilla vodka and coca cola. Life changes, concussions happen and I’m no longer the life of the party that plays flip cup.

Last year, I spent my first New Year’s Eve at home and alone, a first for me. I’d always gone to parties, bars or a friend’s house to ring in the New Year – but last year was different – I’d had so many concussions with new symptoms that just the thought of staying up until midnight, let alone going out and being social, was exhausting. So I stayed home.

Statistically, the likelihood of me being up to ring in the New Year on January 1st is slim. -Alyson Rogers

At first, I had a lot of negative thoughts towards myself. What 25-year-old stays home on New Years Eve? I logged onto Facebook and Instagram and saw everyone in their nice outfits at parties, and I felt jealous and embarrassed. Jealous, that I couldn’t participate in this holiday and embarrassed that I had no New Years Eve plans. I was prepared for a night of feeling down and mentally pictured answering the dreadful ‘What did you do for New Years?’ questions the next day, but that’s not what happened.

Instead of lining up at the LCBO and going through my closet to find an outfit, I started cleaning my apartment. I had gotten some home décor items for Christmas and wanted to set them up. After that, I ordered a pizza and watched a movie. Then, I lit some candles and put on my diffuser. By just being at home, I was able to think about 2017 and reflect on everything that had happened to me. I looked around at my freshly cleaned and decorated apartment and I felt content; I started to reflect on 2017 and all it had brought me and taken away as the result of concussions.

Around January 1st, the phrase ‘new year, new me’ is very popular. It was a new year but I was still going to be the same me, with the same mystery brain injury symptoms.

By reflecting on 2017, I was hopeful that 2018 would be different, I would find out what was happening to my body and return to my former life.  It led me to write a post for The Mighty about the challenges I had experienced and despite such drastic changes, I still loved my brain. I compiled a list of all of the things I loved about my brain injury.  This was a hopeful turn in what would have been a very dark night.

New Years is drawing close again and it’s amazing what has changed this year. My brain continues to heal and I began medication to control my new and unwelcome physical symptoms. I also shifted my perspective in how I see my brain injury, I never returned to my former life but created a new one that I find joy in. This allowed me to go to New York and Myrtle Beach by myself. I ziplined, rode a bike and held a conversation without my eyes glazing over and so many other things that 2017 couldn’t give me.

My life has changed a lot in the past year but one thing won’t. I’ll be spending New Year’s Eve at home and by myself, but this time I’m happy about it.


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.

Gift shopping with a brain injury

BY: ALYSON ROGERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Holidays!


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

Understanding my post traumatic brain injury nightmares

BY: ALYSON ROGERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Why I spend (most of) my weekends at home after brain injury

BY: ALYSON ROGERS

A brain injury can come with a variety of symptoms, from visual disturbances to changes in personality.

I have a diffuse axonal injury – a fancy term for damage to tissue in multiple regions of the brain – and the most significant symptom that comes with such a fancy term is fatigue.

When fatigue is present at all hours of the day, down time is precious. I work full-time, and anything beyond that requires a lot of thought, caffeine and an understanding that I need to be in bed by 9 p.m.

Unlike other symptoms of brain injury, fatigue is predictable: if I’m not at work, I’m probably at home. I may leave the house for a few hours on a weekend, or not at all.

My friends often ask what I do when I stay home, how can I stay occupied for all of those hours?

picture of Alyson's home: a picture on the wall of a door with a pillow on a white table that reads 'live, laugh, love' a coffee pot, mug and flowers on a wooden table. Coffee cup reads 'go away I'm reading'
PHOTO: ALYSON ROGERS

My days at home start with the relaxation essentials: my diffuser and candles. Trust me, whether you want to feel relaxed, energized, renewed, happy or sleepy, there is an essential oil and candle for that. I take an opportunity to stay at home as one to take care of my body and feel good. This means alternating between sipping tea and water while I light up the diffuser and candles.

The reason I stay home is two-fold; I’m staying home because I’m exhausted and I’m staying home because I need to rest up for the week ahead. The more brain injury symptoms I’m having, the more likely I am to be on my couch.

Essential oils
PHOTO VIA PEXELS

While I spend some time watching movies and television, I can’t sit for hours doing this. My favourite activity when Netflix is off is reading. I usually have a lot of books on the go depending on my mood, including crime books, academic reads and something light, like Mindy Khaling. My other favourite activity is Sudoku, the extreme sport of the brain-injured. (On a side note: if you have any unused Sudoku’s from your newspaper, let me know!)

This down time has also given me more time to write. Beyond the BIST Blog, I also write for The Mighty and have contributed a personal essay to a feminist comedy book coming out in the summer.

Since I moved into a one-bedroom apartment and got an adult job, I have become obsessed with decorating (and redecorating) my apartment. I have decided that if I’m going to be spending so much time at home due to my disability, I’m going to make my home beautiful. I’m a big fan of fake plants as they are self-sustaining and do not care that I am a bad plant mom.

This may sound boring to the able-bodied as there are plenty more interesting things that one could be doing with their weekend. As a person with a disability, this works for me and ensures I’m able to show up for who and where I’m most needed.


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.

 

 

 

 

Without action, awareness does little

BY: ALYSON ROGERS

Nine years ago, I walked into an emergency room with very obvious signs of a concussion. Despite glaring symptoms, no one would even utter the word ‘concussion’. Doctors told me I had whiplash, which didn’t even come close to describing the traumatic brain injury diagnosis I was given six months later.

Hospital emergency room entrance

This year, I walked into the same emergency room, with very obvious signs of a concussion. Despite nine years of brain injury awareness in the media, in hospitals, in schools and in sports, my experience was no different.

What good is brain injury awareness if we don’t put it into practice?

April 2017 marked nine years since I acquired my brain injury. I experience symptoms every day and it looks like they are here to stay.  Like many others, I navigated the health care and education systems before brain injury awareness hit the mainstream. My family and I had to research and advocate for every bit of care I received. Even with a CT scan in hand, it was difficult to get doctors to believe, let alone treat my symptoms. This was before Sidney Crosby, NFL lawsuits and head injury protocols; the dark ages of brain injury.

This year, I learned that we are still living in the dark ages. Last month, I was hit in the head with a locker by accident at work. When my symptoms continued to get worse instead of better, I went to the same emergency room I went to nine years ago. It didn’t even cross my mind that I would be treated exactly the same as I was back then, this was the new era of brain injury awareness, right? Wrong.

locker room

There were three of us in the emergency room with concussion symptoms; the doctor barely looked at any of us and sent us on our way.  I returned to my family doctor, who has seen me do this concussion dance with the health care system before, and was sent to another emergency room. The second ER doctor told me what I was experiencing was impossible and seemed shocked when I dared to ask for WSIB forms to be filled out. Despite the blurred vision, noise sensitivity, nausea and fatigue he put a question mark beside the concussion diagnosis on my papers.

June is Brain Injury Awareness month in Canada and it’s a month I’m excited for and take pride in every year. Considering how prevalent concussions / brain injuries are, I think awareness is important for everyone,  but awareness isn’t enough.

Being aware is the first step but it is by no means the only step in preventing and responding to brain injuries. The next step is to put that awareness into action; this action is going to require effort and change by professionals and individuals.

It’s easy to say we are aware and be done for the day but if we don’t put in this effort for people with brain injuries, awareness falls flat and nothing changes. The very people brain injury awareness is supposed to be helping are failed all over again- stuck in the dark ages of brain injury.

The other piece of brain injury awareness that requires action to be effective is prevention. Awareness that leads to policies such as concussion protocols are great (if they are put into action and enforced) but this doesn’t lead to a decrease in people sustaining brain injuries. Brain injury prevention is going to have to come from individual change; with the increase in brain injury awareness, we know that a hit to the head can have lifelong impacts. With that being said, there is no excuse for deliberately hitting someone in the head.

Many brain injuries, especially sports-related brain injuries, are entirely preventable and occur due to individuals decisions. My brain injury stems from a youth athlete’s decision to use physical force instead of skill to win a basketball game. This is similar to Sidney Crosby, during the NHL playoffs he sustained another concussion at the hands of a player on the opposing team. It is very well known that Crosby has a history of concussions and another hit to the head could, at the very least, end his career. With the increase in brain injury awareness, we should be seeing a decrease in these types of injuries simply by individuals changing their behaviour.

Woman playing basketball

My hope for this Brain Injury Awareness Month is to move beyond awareness and towards action.  This includes a decrease in the number of brain injuries and better outcomes for survivors.


Alyson is 25-years-old and acquired her brain injury nine 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

 

 

 

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