From a BIST Member: Stress Intensifies the Situation

 BY: SHANNON SCHILLING
Everyone has felt stress. There is good stress, like being excited about an event, preparing for it, blocking off the time, asking questions.
Then there is negativity in worry. Your heart is still palpitating, mind racing, yet your conscious is predicting an unfortunate end result.
Closely connected, positive and negative stressors often exhibit some of the same bodily responses. The difference is, good stress usually is welcomed. But, anxiety can be harmful to living your life.
photo of woman using mobile phone
Photo by mikoto.raw from Pexels
It is likely by now you have heard someone say ‘these are unprecedented times,’ never before has the entire world had to guard against a virus.
The thing you have to do, is reach for the positive stress in this negative draw on life. I do not mean ignore it, still wash your hands and keep physical distancing, but see the good feelings that exist in society and how it encourages relief.
As you have likely heard, many of BIST’s programs have moved online. BIST is also available for Phone Support, Monday – Friday 12 – 4 pm at: 416-830-1485.

I attended the last session of the ABI Info Series, Compensatory Strategies during COVID-19,  a webinar hosted by BIST executive director Melissa Vigar, with programs coordinator Ryan Natale, speech language pathologist Simone Friedman, occupational therapist Natalie Kalymon and David MacDonald, a partner at BIST’s Corporate Platinum Sponsor PIA Law, who spoke on the importance of communication.

You can watch the webinar below, and all of BIST’s webinars are available online at: https://bist.ca/webinars/

It is a matter of fact, now more than ever, people are starving for communication. People all over the world are reaching out in song, with signs, shouting from balconies in order to have any kind of bond with their neighbour. Always keeping an acceptable distance apart.

Humans are social beings. I can see in my two-year-old’s mimicking actions that are often reflections, or in part reactions, of how she sees others behave. Right now, my daughter is staying with my parents who can take care of her better, and I am isolating alone in my condo.

But, I don’t feel alone.

I am happy with my Philosophy books, my channels (CBC is free to watch, at this time) on a TV App, and the communication I receive through telephone and Internet service. I walk to the store around my neighbourhood in Oakville, to get my exercise in; everyone is respecting the distancing. #WeAreInThisTogether

Not to say, there isn’t work to do! Lots of suggestions were prepared during the webinar, including both physical and cognitive activities to do on your own time. It might be effective to search out Apps that are available to help establish a good routine such as the Fabulous App, which you can read a review about HERE.

Personally, I am a news junkie, but I understand why it might be beneficial to limit yourself to only morning or afternoon. Suffice it to say, attending the webinar, was a nice reprieve. That’s my own little joke. Life is an opportunity to search inside and explore your feelings, everyone has an experience to portray.

It is nonetheless unprecedented, that the entire world, is imagining the same reality. Be flexible and always remain positive. #FindASolution


Shannon Schilling lives in Oakville and has a beautiful girl named Annabelle Lorraine, who does not stop smiling! Shannon is a life-long learner, who will be attending UTM again, because that’s where she feels the most connected. #StaySafe

Yoga your way through the holidays

BY: ALYSON ROGERS

The Holiday Season can be a challenging time for brain injury survivors for a number of reasons; managing gift shopping, busy public spaces and big family gatherings can increase brain injury symptoms and shine a light on what has changed post-injury.  We may not be able to change our brain injuries and all that comes with the holidays but we can mentally and emotionally prepare with a toolbox of self care.

Here is one idea for your Holiday Toolbox- a yoga practice for brain injury survivors!  These poses reduce stress and anxiety, provide a sense of peace, bring joy and can help with managing symptoms.

Some yoga poses aren’t for everyone and can increase symptoms and other health issues.  Please refer to www.yogajournal.com for more information and always listen to your body; if it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it.

Child’s Pose
This pose calms the mind and reduces stress and anxiety.

Child Pose

  • Come onto your knees
  • Point knees to the edges of your mat
  • Bring big toes together
  • Allow upper thighs to sit on heels
  • Lean forward and walk your hands out in front of you (arms can be up or on the mat)
  • Modification: put a block or item under your forehead

Cat/Cow:
This pose helps with focus, coordination, lower back pain, and emotional and physical balance.

  • Come onto hands and knees (knees underneath hips; wrists, elbows and shoulders in a line) with a neutral spine
  • Cow: As you inhale, look up and let your stomach drop
  • Cat: As you exhale, curl your spine and bring your chin to your chest
  • Flow through these poses to the pace of your inhale-exhale

Cobra:

This pose helps with mood elevation, fatigue and relieves stress.

Yoga your way through the holidays

  • Lay on your stomach
  • Bend elbows, bringing hands flat on mat with thumb aligned with top of ribs
  • As you inhale, push up while keeping the tops of your feet pressed into the mat
  • Modification: Baby Cobra- stop when your belly button lifts off the mat

Warrior II:

This pose helps with concentration, stamina and feeling strong.

warrior pose

  • Stand with your legs four to five feet apart
  • Turn right foot 90 degrees to face the front of the mat
  • Align your heels so if you drew a line between them on the mat, it would be straight
  • Bend your right knee to a 90 degree angle (ankle and knee in a straight line)
  • Allow your left leg to straighten
  • Stretch arms out, keeping them parallel to the floor
  • Repeat on left side

Triangle:

This pose is for energy and neck/back pain.

Trinaglepose_Alison

  • From Warrior II, bump your hips towards the back of your mat to create a straight line in your front leg
  • Bring legs closer together if needed to feel stable and balanced
  • As you exhale, bring your right arm down to your ankle, shin, a prop or the floor
  • Lift your left arm up, trying to stack the shoulders on top of each other- keeping a straight line from one hand to the other
  • For an extra challenge, look up to top hand
  • Repeat on left side

Wide-Legged Forward Fold:

This pose helps with headache, fatigue and stress reduction. Use a prop underneath forehead to relieve pressure in your head.

Wide legged forward bend

  • Wide stance as far as feels comfortable
  • Bring your hands to your hips; take a deep inhale
  • As you exhale, fold forward; keep back straight
  • Allow your hands to find the floor, legs, ankles, feet, shins, or prop

Goddess:

This pose is for energy, warmth, concentration and a sense of well-being.

Goddess Pose

  • Widen stance as far as feels comfortable
  • Pivot on heels so toes are pointing to the ends of your mat
  • Inhale; sweep your arms above of head
  • Exhale; bend your knees and bend your elbows, drawing your shoulder blades together
  • Chest should feel open in this pose

Camel:

This pose helps with anxiety relief, problem solving, processing emotions and self love.

  • Come onto your knees
  • Bring hands to the small of your back
  • Inhale; bring chest forward, arching your back and looking up
  • If this feels good, stay here
  • Full Camel: Take hands behind you and guide them towards your heels
  • Do a few rounds of cat/cow following this pose

Legs Up the Wall:
This pose helps for headaches, relaxation, insomnia and slowing down.

  • Lay on your back with your arms on the mat
  • Lift legs in the air as if you are walking on the ceiling
  • Use the wall as a support

Happy Baby:

This pose is for happiness, letting go of emotions, releasing tension and nervous energy.

happybaby1

  • Lay on back
  • Bend knees and bring them into your chest
  • Grab onto your toes, foot arches or chins
  • Explore your inner child; be still, rock a bit, move your legs, listen to your body!

Reclined Bound Angle/Butterfly Pose:

This pose helps to calm the nervous system and is restoring.

butterfly pose

  • Lay on back with upper body relaxed
  • Bring the soles of feet together, finding a bend in your knees and opening in your hips
  • To increase stretch in hips, bring feet closer to your body
  • Modification: This pose can be done sitting up

Alyson is a brain injury survivor that is passionate about raising the awareness of brain injuries by sharing her own experiences.  She teaches studio yoga classes and private classes in peoples’ homes. Alyson has a Bachelor of Social Work from Ryerson University and works in social services in the Niagara Region.  You can find Alyson on Instragram at @_yogabrain and on Facebook as Yoga Brain.

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.

 

Need some music in your life? Recollectiv Music Group is coming to Toronto

BY: ROBIN LY

Toronto’s Recollectiv is not your typical musical troop.

It is a group where people living with conditions such as dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acquired brain injury (ABI), Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease can come together to create and experience music.

But it’s also about improving group members’ quality of life, what Recollectiv’s founder, Ilana Waldston, says is about, “Rediscovering joy by making music.”

Waldston’s mother lives with dementia – and like others living with chronic conditions – her mother spends a lot of her time with doctors, social workers, and other professionals.

“[My mother] was a very vibrant, active woman,” Waldston said. “As her disease progressed, she lost so many of the activities she loved … singing [is] one of the few things left we can share that makes us both happy.”

Waldston sees Recollectiv as a way for individuals to focus on what they can do, as opposed to what they have lost.

“The main takeaway of Recollectiv [is to] touch others’ lives through group music making, something so fundamental and universal that elevates everyone’s quality of life,” Waldston said.

Recollectiv is inspired by the California band The 5th Dementia, created by couple Carol and Irwin Rosenstein.

Irwin Rosenstein, who practised real estate law, lives with Parkinson’s and early dementia. After his diagnosis, the couple realized Irwin Rosenstein’s memory, energy, and well-being improved when he played and taught music to others. This is backed by research, music therapy alters the chemistry in the brain by stimulating the release of dopamine, which effectively increases energy and improves mood.

In addition to The 5th Dementia, the couple created the non-profit MusicMendsMinds (MMM) whose mission is to support the mind and spirit of those affected by neurological disease, cognitive decline, and PTSD through musical groups. There are currently nine MMM affiliated bands in the U.S., mostly based in California, with other bands forming in the Philippines, other U.S. states, and the organization has been a supportive partner with Recollectiv.

The organization has also inspired a documentary, to be released this summer:

Back in Toronto, Waldston says finding activities for her mother has been difficult.

A trip to the symphony, an outing both Waldston and her mom previously loved, became challenging when her mother began to sing or talk along with the music, something generally not appreciated by fellow audience members.

It’s that stigma and feeling of non-belonging surrounding neurodiversity that Recollectiv  hopes to neutralize in the future.

“I want [the public] to realize that people with cognitive challenges are just like them; they deserve to feel good about themselves, have friends around them who care and, above all, have some fun,” Waldston said.

Waldston hopes Recollectiv, which is a project of Smile Theatre Company, can lead to the creation of new groups and communities where people can access support and share a joyous activity together.

“I have lived long enough to know that life is short and unpredictable,” Waldston said.  “You can’t fix a lot of things that cause people pain but if you can bring happy moments back into their lives, that’s a huge achievement.”

Recollectiv will meet in Central Toronto on Saturday afternoons in an accessible and barrier-free location. There is no cost for participation, and anyone who wants to sing and or play an instrument, regardless of any physical or neurological diversity, are welcome to join.

For further information about Recollectiv and to register go to: http://recollectiv.ca/home.

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Robin Ly is a Bachelor of Social Work student at Ryerson University graduating in spring 2018. She has been completing her fourth year placement with BIST and loves that she’s able to get back into writing to talk about advocacy, awareness, and transformative change.

Songs to celebrate ABI strength + thriving

BY: RICHARD HASKELL

“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”

– Confucius

Human beings are emotional and irrational creatures. We’re guided by the heart, and we respond emotionally to the sounds that music creates.

According to a paper presented at the University of London, music can even affect our perception of visual images.

The role of music in brain rehabilitation therapy has undergone some significant changes as a result of new information gathered from research into music and brain function. Because music is a highly-structured auditory language, one that requires perception and cognitive motor control, researchers have now found it can be a vital way of retraining and re-educating an injured brain.

For example, people who have suffered an ABI often have difficulties regaining speech, particularly if the trauma happened on the left side of the brain, the side that controls speech and comprehension. Music areas are located on both sides of the brain, and music can be used to bypass the language channels that have been damaged. This “backdoor” approach has been used to teach those suffering an ABI or a stroke to regain their control of speech, often by means of singing familiar songs.

Therapists and physicians now use music in rehabilitation in ways that are not only backed up by clinical research findings but also supported by an understanding of some of the mechanisms of music and brain function.

In 2011, American congresswoman Gabby Giffords suffered an TBI after an assassination attempt on her life. Five weeks later, she was experiencing a challenging time relearning how to talk as she attempted to recall words for certain objects. A therapist implemented a program of music therapy and from then on, her progress skyrocketed. Nineteen months later, in September 2012, Gabby was able to walk on stage at the Democratic National Convention to address the delegates. And just two months after that, she met her assailant face –to- face in the courtroom where he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The power of music in brain injury rehabilitation is two-fold –

  • It provides unconditional emotional support and enjoyment for an ABI survivor
  • From a medical perspective, it’s proving to play a significant role in the healing process of brain injuries.

Songs that instill a sense of strength and survival take on a special meaning for those with the affects of brain injury.

Here’s a list of 15 – in no particular order – with just this theme – compiled especially for Brain Injury Awareness Month – ENJOY! 

Heal the World – Michael Jackson

From Michael Jackson’s 1991 album Dangerous, the uplifting Heal the World was the song he was most proud to have written.

Carry On – Olivia Holt

This song released in 2014 by actor and singer Olivia Holt explains that life is full of challenges and that we must make the best of them by simply carrying on.

It’s Gonna be Alright – Sara Groves

This song by American contemporary Christian singer Sara Groves was included on her 2005 CD Add to the Beauty, its lyrics offer words of reassurance to those facing hard times.

The Climb – Miley Cyrus

Written for the 2009 film Hanna Montana, The Climb focuses not only on overcoming adversity but recognizing the merit in dealing with struggle. Try not to get too distracted by Cyrus’ back-in-the-day G-Rated appearance.

 Hall of Fame –The Script ft. will.i.am

The lead single from The Script’s third studio album #3, Hall of Fame also features hip-hop artist will.i.am and focuses on following dreams and achieving greatness in yourself. 

Don’t Give Up – Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush


Inspired by the depression-era photographs of Dorothea Lange, Peter Gabriel wrote this song in 1986 and recorded it with Kate Bush for his CD So.

Ain’t no Mountain High enough- Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell


This classic from 1967 with Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell relates the timeless message that having a special person we can depend on is paramount. 

Brave – Sara Bareilles

Written by the American singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, Brave appeared in her fourth studio album The Blessed Unrest and deals with having enough courage to say what you think and the importance of being yourself.

Hey World (Don’t Give Up) – Michael Franti & Spearhead


Musician, filmmaker and humanitarian Michael Franti wrote this song about holding on in hard times and remembering that all things are possible.

 So Small – Carrie Underwood

So Small was the first single from Carrie Underwood’s second studio album, Carnival Ride, released during the summer of 2007. In her own words, “it’s a feeling song on how people invest so much of their time and energy into things that aren’t really important, and how they don’t really realize it until it’s too late.”

Go the Distance – Michael Bolton

Written for Disney’s 1997 animated feature film, Hercules, Go the Distance focuses on reaching a goal while facing obstacles and the power of persistence.

Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey

Journey’s classic anthem from 1981 relates that no matter how difficult the circumstances we may find ourselves in, the solution is simple – never give up!

Not Afraid – Eminem

This 2010 release by American rapper Eminem contains a defiant message urging us to take a stand no matter how difficult the odds. 

You Gotta Be – Des’Ree

Written by the singer with the track’s producer, Ashley Ingram, You Gotta Be was the first song on Des’ree’s 1994 album I Ain’t Movin’. New York critic Stuart Elliott described it as “an infectiously sunny tune about the affirmative powers of self-confidence.”

When You Believe – Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston

Written by Stephen Schwartz for the 1998 animated feature The Prince of Egypt, When You Believe was recorded by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston for the end credits. Its powerful message is simple – miracles can occur if you simply believe in them.

#areyouaware

June is Brain Injury Awareness Month

Thriving after TBI: injured Corporal gives back to fellow soldiers

BY: MERI PERRA

It’s possible the expression, keep soldiering on was created for people just like Corporal David Macdonald. In recent years, Macdonald has climbed the Himalayas, run two half-marathons and he just completed his first full marathon. He continues to serve in the Canadian Forces as a reservist, while working as the national partnerships director at Wounded Warriors Canada.

It’s not a bad list of accomplishments, considering that just six years ago, Macdonald spent three weeks in a coma at the U.S. military hospital in Germany, with no fewer than 47 broken bones in his body.

DAVID MACDONALD
CORPORAL MACDONALD WHILE ON LEAVE FROM THE ARMY THIS SUMMER

“I was involved in a vehicle roll-over on a combat patrol near the end of my tour. I broke my pelvis, I dislocated my left leg, and that had to be surgically put back in,” Macdonald said. “And I had a traumatic brain injury.”

Beyond his injuries, Macdonald says that waking up in Germany, alone, having left his platoon behind, was worse than any injury he suffered.

“[You spend] two years, training, living together, we bonded,” Macdonald said. “To find out that they were still in Afghanistan and I was halfway around the world was just devastating to hear. I wanted to be back with my platoon mates.”

information: brain injuries which are the result of blast are different than other brain injuries

Today, Macdonald, like many injured members of the Canadian Forces, is living with effects of PTSD as well as his traumatic brain injury. He has no memory of the incident which changed his life forever. And while he is learning to accept the reality that some memories have disappeared (he says there are moments from his high school days which are gone forever), the fact that he can not remember this specific, significant moment in his life has been particularly hard to accept.

“My last memory in Afghanistan was orders the morning before the patrol,” Macdonald said.

We hear stories about the challenges members of the Canadian Forces who are living with PTSD and brain injury face. There are the facts: roughly six per cent of the Canadian military personnel deployed in Afghanistan have acquired brain injuries as a result of their service. In the U.S., this number skyrockets to 22 per cent of all military injuries. If you’re in the military, having a brain injury increases your chances of also having PTSD.

Most brain injuries acquired during military service are the result of blasts from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Motor vehicle crashes, such as Macdonald’s, and gun shot wounds, are the other leading causes of brain injury. Brain injuries, which are the result of blasts, have different symptoms than other types of traumatic brain injuries. Typically, post-concussion symptoms for military personnel last longer than civilian concussion symptoms, and members of the military are more likely to have concurrent symptoms such as PTSD and / or addiction issues, along with their TBI.

Macdonald knows the facts. Many of the initiatives and partnerships Wounded Warriors Canada supports are about helping members of the Canadian Forces, and their families, deal with PTSD. In his current position, Macdonald handles third party partnerships, events and fundraising for partner charities.

“Last year, we gave out $1.36 million in funding to these programs and it’s just growing from there,” Macdonald said.

Programs Wounded Warriors supports include a nine day equine assisted learning program for soldiers and their spouses living with PTSD, a fly fishing program and the donation of funds to support service dogs for military members.

“Your odds of developing a form of PTSD almost double for veterans, ” Macdonald said. “There is a certain stigma, because [some] people don’t understand you can recover from it, you can go on and live a normal healthy life. It’s not incapacitation by any means.”

David Macdonald
CORPORAL MACDONALD IN THE HIMALAYAS

Over time, Macdonald has come to accept his new reality. But immediately after he recovered from his injuries, he said he needed to prove to others, and to himself, that he could still be in the military. And while he was physically fit for duty, Macdonald said he continued to suffer physical and mental pain, “stereotypical” things, he says, people dealing with trauma experience. His marriage fell apart and he pulled away from his family and friends. He contemplated, and attempted, suicide.

“I was going through things like depression and I had a lot of anxiety issues, [but] I wasn’t recognizing them.”

Then a communication came through his unit. A documentary project, March to the Top, was looking for recovering soldiers to go on a climb through the Himalayas. Macdonald, who at the time was the only soldier in his unit who was wounded, was initially a bit sceptical of the project, which was described to him as a ‘good go’.

“Half the time a ‘good go’ means that … you get to do an amazing cause and you get to meet people,” Macdonald said. “Or it can mean that you’re shovelling dirt in Northern Alberta for six months.”

It turns out, March to the Top was a legit ‘good go’ and the experience changed, and possibly even saved, Macdonald’s life. Accomplishing the feat of trekking in the Himalayas made Macdonald realize that he needed help. He learned that what he was feeling was normal, and diagnosable. It was PTSD.

CORPORAL MACDONALD WITH AN AFGHAN NATIONAL
CORPORAL MACDONALD WITH AN AFGHAN NATIONAL

“It allowed me to open up and come forward in the military and say, ‘hey I have issues, I need help.’ And that’s what started the process for me getting the help I needed,” Macdonald said.

Macdonald’s attitude is one that accepts the realities of his injuries while allowing himself to thrive. He talks about post-traumatic growth, and feeling stronger as a result of experiencing  injuries and trauma. It’s important to him that he is able to help his fellow veterans through his job, a duty he takes seriously. Until he accepted a paid position with Wounded Warriors this past February, Macdonald juggled volunteering as the provincial coordinator for Ontario while working full-time at a bank, and doing his reserve duties. The man keeps busy.

March to the Top team
THE MARCH TO THE TOP TEAM; PHOTO: CBC

“I  don’t necessarily see my PTSD as a weakness anymore,” Macdonald said. “I used to see it more as part of my life, now I can be stronger because of it.”

Macdonald says he doesn’t know the “future” of his brain injury.  He says it can rear its ugly head at any time, and some days are harder than others.

“Something they ingrain you with in the military is never give up,” Macdonald said. “This is not a limitation, this is something that is now a part of you, but you can still excel, and you can still do amazing things.”


Meri Perra is the communications and support coordinator at BIST.

 

 

 

 

September community meeting: positive psychology

At our September community meeting, Amanda Muise and Roby Miller from Community Head Injury Resource Services (CHIRS) gave a presentation about positive psychology.

We also had the opportunity to hear our long-time member Frank Bruno talk about running the Pan Am Relay this past June, and many of us posed with his relay torch (see below.)

BIST Members
Community meeting attendees pose with Frank Bruno’s Pan Am Relay torch (Amanda Muise and Roby Miller from CHIRS are with Frank in the large photo.)

Positive psychology is a relatively new field of psychology, developed by Martin Seligman , the former president of the American Psychological Association. Seligman was motivated by wanting to know what makes people happier on a daily basis.

Seligman found that the roots of happiness are:

  • having positive emotions
  • being engaged in an activity or profession you love and can ‘get lost’ in
  • being in positive relationships
  • having meaning in your life (giving of yourself to others)
  • having a sense of achievement in your activities

And while it is kind of obvious, but also worthwhile mentioning, happiness is important because it’s good for you. People who are happy have fewer heart attacks, strokes and tend to live longer.

The three benefits of happiness

Other keys to finding happiness include:

  • the ability to savour – not chugging your coffee, but enjoying it
  • gratitude – being grateful for everything you have
  • having a positive attitude
  • mindfulness

Amanda and Roby gave us some exercises to help increase happiness.

Write a letter:

Take a moment to think of someone who made a big impact on your life. This person could be a teacher who helped you pass a difficult class, or an important friend in your life. Write a short letter to that person and explain the impact they had on you. You don’t have to share the letter, or even tell the person about it, though research shows that sharing this with the person increases your happiness.

‘Trick’ your brain into being happy

Body language can have a big impact on your brain. As social psychologist Amy Cuddy discusses in her Ted Talk, standing like Super Man in front of the mirror actually boosts your self-confidence. Chewing on a clean pencil uses the same muscles as smiling, and can actually make you feel happier, because your brain thinks you’re actually smiling.

Practise mindfulness

It’s easier said than done, but learning how to pay attention to the present moment or purposely slowing things down can increase your happiness. Even taking just one minute to meditate can be very helpful.

Take a moment to think about your day

This daily practise can help with gratitude and mindfulness:

Take a moment to think about  your day.

Record something that went well: what was the event? What had to happen for it go well? Why did it go well? What role did you play? Why is it important?

Find your 24 strengths

Learning about your strengths and how to use them is crucial to leading a happy life. You can take about 10 minutes and learn about your 24 top strengths at the VIA Institute on Character, a non-profit psychology organization. You’ll need to sign into the site, but it’s free. Another great resource is authentichappiness.org

infographic about strengths
PHOTO: VIA INSTITUTE ON CHARACTER

You can find out more about positive psychology by reading Sophia Voumvakis’ post on Finding Happiness after ABI, here. And we wrote about Frank’s Pan Am Relay experience this summer, right here.

There are a lot of meditation apps you can use, including some which are specific for brain injury. We’ve also discussed mindfulness at other community meetings, which you can read about here.

NEXT COMMUNITY MEETING:  MONDAY, OCTOBER 26th

TOPIC: TECHNOLOGY AND ABI