Cook Up Some Happiness

BY: ALISON

Working with our hands to makes things reduces stress, anxiety, and depression, symptoms common to people living with brain injury.

Examples of rewarding and therapeutic activities include, but are not limited to: gardening, crafting, and my favourite, cooking. The entire process of preparing a meal – from the planning and anticipation to the execution, eating and sharing – promotes mindfulness, creativity, and happiness.

Cook up some happinrdd

I love that cooking can be as simple or as complex as you’d like and that there is always something new to learn.  There are many benefits to making your own meals, such as:

  • saving money and time
  • improving mental and physical health
  • avoiding unhealthy ingredients found in processed foods
  • challenging yourself to try new things, acquiring new skills and knowledge
  • raising confidence and sense of independence
  • spending quality time with family and friends when you cook and eat together

Food is a conversational topic that many people are passionate about. You might even consider starting your own blog to journal your culinary experiences, post favourite recipes, and share helpful tips and tricks.

Look for some inspiration!

CookingwithAlison.com is a food blog, written by an ABI survivor, that shares recipes from different cultures that vary in difficulty. You will also find information about different ways to save money on groceries.

Don’t forget this blog’s own recipe column by Chef Janet Craig, Blow Your Mind Recipes, which features easy and nutritious recipes for the ABI Community, featuring delicious recipes such as:

Gluten-free Almond Rice Bars

Egg Foo Yung

Fruit Breakfast Bars

Homemade Ketchup

Cream of Roasted Garlic & Onion Soup

Baked Cocoa Wings

Not convinced?

Psychologists explain that baking feels really good, especially when you share your baked goods with other people, because it is an outlet for creativity, self-expression and communication.

There is evidence that connects creative expression with overall well-being. Whether that expression is through painting, creating music or baking, it can be very effective at helping you cope with stress, because it requires all of your attention, involves all of your senses, and results in being present and mindful.

Psychologists liken the act of baking to art therapy in that it can be used on a type of therapy called behavioural activation. And simply put, we feel good about ourselves when we share our baked goods with others. 

Personally, I love the feeling when I find a new favourite recipe or when I’ve finally perfected a technique. It takes a few batches to get there. Happy cooking and baking!


‘Mind Yourself with Alison’ is a collection of self-help tips, research, and personal experiences dedicated to helping people thrive after brain injury (or other trauma). Check out Alison’s other BIST Blog articles Women and Brain Injury: What you need to know and How to be a Good Friend to a Survivor.

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The passage of time after brain injury

BY: MARK KONING

Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind. ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

Being a brain injury survivor sometimes feels as though I have both lost and gained time. My injury occurred when I was six-years-old, and it is as if those first six years of my life have been erased. (It is hard to say for certain, because, well, I was six.)

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PHOTO: MARK KONING

I have some ideas of what things were like in my early years, mostly because my Oma (Grandma) shot many home movies and my mom took tons of pictures, plus all the stories I’ve heard along the way. It’s hard to tell what is my own memory, and what has been planted there by someone else.

It wasn’t until many, many years later, that I was diagnosed with an acquired brain injury. (You can learn more about that in my memoir ‘Challenging Barriers & Walking the Path’)

Growing up without the knowledge that I had an ABI, but at the same time sensing something was wrong, I often wonder if I spent too much time questioning things or if I was spared certain other anxieties. Ignorance is bliss, right?

Regardless of my past, I can say this about my present: while I might seem to have enough time to get things done, I do not. I do pretty well, but there are things on my list that don’t get checked off. No matter how much I have trained my brain, and knowing my need to slow down, it can still be frustrating to not get stuff done!

My accommodation for work, and life in general, is needing extra time.

In some ways, taking things slow and affording yourself more time is good, but I still only have 24 hours in a day like everyone else. You see? Frustrating!! I do what I do with the time I have, just like we all do.

I feel pretty lucky, regardless of time; and I still cherish it all. As much as I may need things to slow down, taking things at a calm pace allows me to appreciate those little things I think sometimes tend to get forgotten or taken for granted.

For those of us who have come to appreciate a cautious approach to life offer a unique ability for the serene. ~ Mark Koning #challengingbarriers

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

Practising Holiday Mindfulness

BY: LAUREN UHDE

Let’s make this holiday season unforgettable, heart wrenchingly beautiful, and full of connection.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

17 activities you can do when you’re recovering from a concussion

BY: ALISON

When I was in the acute phase of my concussion, I couldn’t do anything. I thought the boredom would kill me if my symptoms didn’t (new research suggests I was somewhat right).

I felt even more frustrated when my partner’s online search for fun activities for concussed people turned up countless suggestions that weren’t possible for me. All forms of stimuli were excruciatingly painful. I couldn’t do anything that involved electronic devices, lights, eye strain, sound, or physical activity.

Here is a list of activities that I gradually worked my way up to doing.

Please feel free to write a comment below and share what you did while recovering from your brain injury.

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The marvel of sight that remains

BY: COIRE LANGHAM

Since I woke up mostly blind in the hospital, my idea of vision has been changing.

close up of an eye
PHOTO: BUTILIKETHAT.COM

Once all the swelling went down, slowly over the course of a few weeks, I was left with a left field deficit, double vision and neurological sight issues.

The doctors told me, “Your eyes are fine. Something is wrong with the optic pathways in the brain.”

What I’ve been learning since, is there is a lot more to seeing than just left, center or right field. It’s hard to describe ‘not seeing’ to those with ‘full sight’, and I’ve struggled to find the words to express what I could see and not see to family, friends and therapists.

The doctors told me that my vision would never improve, yet I am learning about sight in ways I have never thought about before. Almost a year after my tumour was removed, the brain continues to surprise me.

GRAPHIC: MERCK MANUALS
GRAPHIC: MERCK MANUALS

My right optic nerve was severed, and I lost over 50 per cent of vision in each eye. But nothing could prepare me for the mess my vision became. I had double vision, nausea, flashes and hallucinations.

The faces of people have been eclipsed by an unknown blankness which consumes everything. It’s a blankness that is so subtle, I could never see it. Like a parasite, it constantly steals from my sight – it takes part of every room, and half of any clock. It removes door handles, steals the fork I just set down, and takes away the first part of words, numbers and oncoming cars.

When I look in the mirror, I see a strange brown-eyed amalgamation of features whose sum I once recognized as me, but no longer. The integers have changed slightly but the sum is way off.

I can no longer see the love written on my wife’s face.

The triumphant, mischievous, unbounded, joyful face of my three-year-old as she sneaks out of bed is eclipsed and jumbled beyond meaning. Like the vestiges of an intense fire, structures are displaced, sunken, and twisted to the very edge of recognition.

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PHOTO: SCIENCE.COM

Through all of this my perception of sight is changing. I see like music is heard, all at the same time. Shadows are hard to separate from their substantial counterparts, the minutia of details are a sea of information that is unable to unify into one fixed image.

Yet light is coming back into my visual world and it is so bright I am unaccustomed to it. The starkness of bright light and shadow is a sea of information that is overwhelming, but enjoyable at the same time.

There is a plum-tree in flower on the way to the hospital, and it takes my breath away each time I ‘see’ it. It literally feels good to look at, a riot of white and pink blossoms burning in the sky.

what it looks like to have double vision
PHOTO: SALAM GHASHGHAEI

It’s like stumbling upon a bonfire while walking in the woods. The darkness is banished so completely it is hard to look at the flames and embers raising skyward.

It’s a phenomenon and a joy. I stand and smell the flowers, and they smell good. Visually, they are chaos in pink and white, blurred and doubled and shadowed and screaming, like a throng of rabid young children.

I am left nauseaus and dizzy, but I like it. I had much less of an understanding of the immense joy of sight, and though I’ve lost a bit, I am discovering a new understanding of the myriad of ways to enjoy it. Some plants are an absolute visual starburst of three-dimensional joy. A cacophony of visual stimulus.

That is what is changing, I think. When I’m tired and the borders of what I see all run into each other, like a bad impressionist painting, depth is helping me separate the world. I am perceiving depth more, just like when you loose a tooth and your tongue becomes preoccupied with exploring the new hole in your gums.

I see the space between objects, that strange new empty space that suddenly makes sense and conveys so much meaning. I missed depth terribly and never knew it was gone. We live in a highly visual world, more than I ever knew. Perhaps I am becoming more aware of the hole in my vision and cognitive of how some magic of existence has leaked out through it, and is gone.


Coire Langham suffered a brain surgery and TBI over a year ago and lives in Toronto with his family – who are indispensable as he navigates a changed world. He enjoys the prospects of new community inside BIST, and drinking tea.