How to rock climb with a disability

BY: ALISON 

Having a disability just means that you do things differently, but it doesn’t have to prevent you from engaging in physical activities. Thanks to Canadian Adaptive Climbing  Society, people with different abilities can now safely rock climb in Toronto, ON and Squamish, BC.

Canadian Adaptive Climbing Society offers a therapeutic indoor climbing program that is currently run by occupational therapists. Using adaptive equipment (e.g. various harnesses, counterweight system, etc.), people with different physical abilities due to circumstances such as spinal chord injuries, and brain injuries (including invisible disabilities) can safely and comfortably rock climb. The advantages of climbing go beyond the physical benefits of utilizing muscle groups and promoting neuroplasticity. It also has cognitive benefits like practicing planning and problem solving. Furthermore, climbing is a social activity, a form of mindfulness, and it’s empowering; it fosters courage, self-trust and self-esteem which transfer to other areas of life. I attended one of their free Try-It sessions in Toronto and here was my experience.

PHOTOS:  SUSAN CZYZO

My Experience Trying Adaptive Climbing

The session started off with brief introductions and an inspirational story from Jaisa, the lovely woman responsible for helping Canadian Adaptive Climbing Society to launch its Therapeutic Climbing program in Toronto. When she first discovered adaptive climbing, she was only able to climb using the medial part of her feet. Then, gradually, she was able to climb using the tips of her toes. Nine years after her injury, she’s still seeing improvements and is now also able to climb using the outer sides of her feet. Thanks to her and her team, many other people will be able to experience therapeutic adaptive climbing.

The occupational therapists and volunteers that I met were really nice, knowledgeable and passionate about climbing. Prior to our arrival, the team had already been informed of the participants’ health conditions and limitations, and were sensitive, mindful, and extremely helpful with appropriate recommendations. So, I felt very safe. There was at least one volunteer/therapist paired with each participant. Participants are encouraged to learn how to tie the ropes, which is great for brain training and independence. In order to climb, I needed the counterweight system, which is a rope and pulley system that connects the climber to someone else. This reduces the climber’s body weight (i.e. pressure), thus making it easier to hold themselves up and climb upwards. You can adjust the level of difficulty by choosing someone that is heavier or lighter to be your counterweight. When I was connected to someone heavier than me, it felt as if my body was already being pulled up. With that assistance, I was able to climb the wall all the way to the top, more than once.

I had tried indoor rock climbing before my brain injury and easily climbed a 100-foot chimney my first time. But during the adaptive climbing session, I noticed that aside from having weakness and numbness in my extremities, my body didn’t move instinctively like it used to. I really had to think about how to position my core, when to turn my body, and I had to purposely rely on my legs more than my arms. After a brain or spinal cord injury, our movement and connection with our bodies gets disrupted, and I think that climbing regularly would help with moving efficiently and naturally again.

I want to note that the stimulation from the bright coloured rocks and tall walls made me a bit nauseous part way through the session. Nevertheless, I hope that you’ll consider registering for one of Canadian Adaptive Climbing’s free Try-It (sign up to get contacted for a session in Toronto) sessions to see if this activity is right for you!


‘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 health problems). 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. You can follow her on Twitter, HERE.

8 tips on how to holiday after brain injury

BY: ALISON

Feelings of apprehension, stress, and loneliness often accompany the anticipation of winter holidays for brain injury survivors and their caregivers. Typical stressors such as finances, unpleasant gatherings, and being too busy are much more difficult to manage.  When brain injury causes changes to employment, cognitive deficits, lowered emotional health, chronic fatigue, and sensitivity to stimulation, things can be that much harder.

Here are some tips and ideas for enjoying the holidays after a brain injury:

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FREE and ABI friendly activities to do in Toronto over the holidays

BY: ALISON

Not feeling the Holiday Spirit?

You are not alone! But in case you want to start feeling those holiday vibes, here’s a list of free, brain injury friendly activities in Toronto. You never know, you may get into the spirit after all.

  1. Check out Amazing Christmas Decorations 🎅🏾

Go for a walk or drive in neighbourhoods that are known for their extravagant decorations. For example, the residents on Inglewood Drive (which happens to be close to the BIST Office, just south of St. Clair and Mount Pleasant, DIRECTIONS) put up giant blow-up Santa Clauses all along the street. But there are more! You can find other incredible decoration displays in Toronto, HERE.

 2. Watch a free or low cost Christmas movie! 🎬

Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema is showing classic Christmas movies for free, a price that can’t be beat! 506 Bloor Street West, DIRECTIONS

On Saturday mornings at 11 a.m., select Cineplex theatres offer screenings of family friendly Christmas movies for $2.99, which isn’t a bad deal either.

Tips: bring ear plugs and sunglasses to reduce the stimulation from watching movies in a theatre. Adding ear muffs and / or a toque will further reduce the noise.

3. Go to (one of many) Holiday Markets! 🎄

Toronto has upped its Holiday Market game in the past few years, and many of them have free admission. Check out some of the more popular ones below.

  • The Toronto Christmas Market in the Distillery District has free admission on weekdays, and begins to charge admission on weekends starting on Friday nights at 6 p.m: 373 Front St E, DIRECTIONS
  • Evergreen’s Winter Village has a charming ice rink, a Christmas Market and other wonders: 550 Bayview Avenue, DIRECTIONS
  • stackt Market is a “unique, ever-changing and curated retail experience” plus it’s indoors and pet friendly: 28 Bathurst Street, DIRECTIONS
  • Nathan Phillips Square Holiday Square, what could be more Toronto than skating at the Square? The Holiday Square is a space where a winter carnival and Christmas Market come together. Best, it’s always free: 100 Queen Street West, DIRECTIONS. How many times can we say square in one bullet point?

 

 4. Soak in the tropics and glitter in the 6ix 🌴
  • The Winter Flower Garden in Allan Gardens is filled with displays of stunning flowers, plants and vines from all over the world. International, natural beauty without the jet lag: 19 Horticultural Ave, DIRECTIONS
  • Did you know there is a bamboo forest in the heart of downtown Toronto?  Check out the The Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research and it’s hidden bamboo treasures: 160 College Street, DIRECTIONS
Tunnel of Glam
PHOTO VIA YONGE + ST. CLAIR
  • Did you know there’s a sequinned-filled tunnel at Yonge and St. Clair, right by the BIST Office? Yes, you read that right. Check out the Tunnel of Glam: 1501 Yonge Street, DIRECTIONS.

This holiday season, I hope that you’ll use all of the energy that you saved to heal and create joy for yourself.


‘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 health problems). 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. You can follow her on Twitter, HERE.

How to redefine yourself after brain injury

BY: ALISON

Most people don’t realize that the most painful part of living with a serious health issue is losing your identity.

When every day things – that you’ve never given any thought – become difficult and you’re no longer able to do the things that you enjoy, you constantly feel self-conscious, misunderstood, and pressure to be who you once were, especially around people that knew you before your injury/illness.

It feels like you’ll never stop grieving the loss of your old self. To cope with this and to pre-emptively explain themselves, I’ve noticed that a lot of people with brain injuries are very quick to share a detailed recount of their medical history, even with people they’ve just met. This makes me sad to hear, because it means that they have likely turned their injury into their identity. As a result, the injury becomes the only thing that their peers see in them, too.

People from this community also tend to talk more about their past lives than their current ones. For example, they often tell you about the things they used to do; i.e. their past careers, the sports they played, or their hobbies, talents, and skills from before their acquired brain injury. This may be because, on some level, they worry that the current version of themselves is lesser than their original version. Although this line of thinking is understandable considering the constant reminders they have of their new limitations, it is completely untrue. Here’s how I changed the way that I define myself and how I measure my self-worth now.

After a debilitating brain injury, I wasn’t able to tolerate any form of stimulation which meant that I wasn’t able to do anything. I couldn’t even lift my head off the bed to take a sip of water without excruciating pain and exhaustion. At my lowest point, I was absolutely useless to the world and had become a huge burden to my caregiver. But luckily, I have always believed that every life serves a purpose and adds value to the world. So, I refused to accept the notion that I had become worthless. First, I allowed myself to mourn the loss of my old life and then I accepted the reality that things would never be the same. I never gave up hope that things would improve but even if they didn’t, I resolved to do the best with what I had and live my best life. The next step was to figure out who the new me was.

I asked myself, who am I if I can not work, socialize, or volunteer anymore? Can I still tell people that I love to travel if I may never travel again? Am I still considered a TV and movie lover if I no longer watch them? Am I still a foodie if I can’t cook or eat in restaurants? That’s when I realized that I had been using the wrong definition of “self” all along, because I had based my identity on things that I “do”.

Who we are is not simply a sum of our jobs, likes and dislikes, and strengths and weaknesses. Even our thoughts don’t make us who we are; it’s what we do with those thoughts that does.  Eckhart Tolle coined my favourite philosophical definition of the “self”. Paraphrasing in my own words: The real you is the part of your mind that’s aware of your thoughts.

Too often, we base our self-esteem on measurable things such as salaries, belongings (e.g. cars, jewellery, wardrobe), size (e.g. waist, chest, bicep, etc.), fitness abilities, and achievements (e.g. professional and conventional life stages). I decided that I would define myself and measure my self-worth based on the choices that I make. Every time you try again, exercise patience with yourself, focus on what you have as opposed to what you don’t (or how far you’ve come as opposed to how far you’ve left to go), show appreciation to people that have helped you, or do something that helps your health (e.g. drink a glass of water or stretch), you’re building character and proving your value. Internal decisions such as these are significant victories, especially in the face of struggle.

So, who am I? Before my brain injury, I would have answered that question with my profession, travels, and plans for the upcoming weekend. Now, I will tell you that I am grateful and funny, that I’m learning, I persevere, love dogs, and care about others. The more important question is, who are you?


‘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 health problems). 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.

 

 

 

 

The future is now: virtual reality as a potential new therapy for brain injury

BY: ALISON

The worlds of brain injury rehabilitation and Virtual reality (VR) are coming closer together.

The technology for VR is advancing very quickly, including multi-player games and the development of devices that involve your entire body to create highly realistic virtual experiences (e.g. driving or flight simulations). Toronto has a VR arcade, Ctrl V, that uses top of the line equipment and offers over 52 different VR games.

Ocutherapy is a new company that is developing VR games tailored for people with brain injuries. The hope is that the games will help brain injury survivors practice certain skills including memory, speed, fluid cognitive abilities and coordination, etc.

women wearing Virtual Reality Device
Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

The software will track your performance over time. The Ocutherapy games will have simple 3-D graphics and will require minimal VR equipment. The games will be compatible with most of the industry leading VR hardware (head sets and controllers). If you own a Chromecast device and have access to WiFi, then you could display what the player is seeing in the headset onto a WiFi enabled TV or computer monitor, so someone else could watch and help the player figure out the game as needed. Ocutherapy is still in development and is not yet available for sale. Although you will eventually be able to buy the system for yourself (likely before the end of 2019), the company is also working on getting their product into some occupational and physiotherapy offices.

Much like in real life, when you’re playing, you can only see the part of the virtual environment that’s directly infront of you. So, if you’re standing in the middle of a room in the game, you have to turn your head (or your entire body) to see the rest of the room. The controller can sense your spatial presence and hand and arm motions and allows you to interact with the VR environment. You click on buttons to select options, move forward, and pick things up and move them around, etc.

VR has never been formally used as a rehabilitation aid before, so they can’t predict if it will be right for your condition.

Here’s an example of what it’s like to play one of Ocutherapy’s task-oriented games. You start off feeling like you’re standing in the middle of a room. Using the controller, you navigate through hallways and stairs to enter a kitchen. Then you ‘stand’ in front of a counter to make sandwiches based on specific instructions (e.g. four  four slices of cheese, three slices of tomato and three slices of lettuce). Part of the challenge is in having to remember the details of the instructions as you complete the task. You use the controller to simulate picking up a knife and slicing cheese before picking up the cheese slices and placing them on a slice of bread. Then you finish making the sandwich by adding the remaining ingredients and another slice of bread.

If you are interested in trying the games for yourself, Ocutherapy will be offering a demonstration at the BIST Community Meeting on August 28, 2019. Find out more, HERE

I tried Ocutherapy for one session and here are my personal thoughts about the experience (note: I am not a health care professional):

  • The advantages of using VR include:
    • A fun and interesting experience
    • Something new to try
    • The opportunity to learn how to use new technology
    • The ability to practice certain skills in the comfort of your own home
    • Fewer distractions while you’re completing the virtual tasks
    • The headset and controller can be used to play VR games produced by other companies as well
  • Disadvantages of using VR include:
    • The head set felt a little bit heavy for me, so I wouldn’t recommend VR if you have whiplash or if neck strain could exacerbate your symptoms
    • If you are sensitive to light and electronic devices, then VR will be difficult to use, because the screen is electronic and close to your eyes
    • VR can make even perfectly healthy people feel nauseous. I felt nauseous after just a few minutes of playing Ocutherapy, but my most recent brain injury was less than four months prior to that
    • Using VR as a rehabilitation aid for brain injuries is a brand new approach, so there isn’t enough research available to know if it will actually improve the skills in real-life application.

The more advanced the technology, the more real the simulation feels. At a minimum, you must wear a headset and use a hand-held controller. The headset is designed to block your peripheral vision so the only thing that you can see is a small screen placed a few inches away from your eyes.

Learn more about Occutherapy at our August Community Meeting

August 28, 2019, 6-8 pm 

Find out more, HERE

Sign up for the VR Study, HERE


‘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 health problems). 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.

 

How to save money during the holidays

BY: ALISON

No matter what you’re celebrating – be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza – or any other holiday – during the winter season traditions, celebrations and get togethers can be expensive, especially when gifts are involved. It’s extremely difficult for anyone to set a realistic budget and stick to it, so here are some tips to help you spend within your financial means during the holidays.

#1. Reduce the number of gifts you buy

Make an exhaustive list of all of the people you typically purchase gifts for. Review the list and see if you can shorten it. Ask yourself, is there anyone you don’t see as often, or anyone that you keep on your list simply because they have you on theirs? It might be time to cut them out.

person holding a gift in front of a christmas tree

It can be helpful to think about who are the people that you buy personalized gifts for, and who you buy generic gifts for. Consider not purchasing gifts for the people who fall in the latter category. This doesn’t have to be an awkward moment, a simple conversation or email to say you’re trying to save some money, de-clutter or that you have everything you need already, is usually all it takes for people to get the message. Ask what they think of no longer exchanging gifts, and odds are they will happily agree.

Suggest only getting gifts for the children in your lives. Adults can arrange a Secret Santa or Gift Swap, where each person brings one gift for one adult. Set a price range everyone can agree on, and remember a smaller amount can be even more fun, because then people have to be creative and thoughtful. I’ve also done this with gift themes, like practical gifts, handmade gifts, cooking tools, or re-gifted items only.

Here’s another option: my favourite type of party to host is an exchange party, because one person’s trash is truly another person’s treasure. People bring gently used clothing, shoes, accessories, or household items that they don’t want or need anymore. It all gets placed in the centre of a room and then people can look through and take home any items they like. Anything remaining at the end of the night gets donated to a charity that accepts such items.

christmas cookies

Once you’ve finalized the list of people that you will be giving gifts to, it’s important to set a realistic budget per person and stick to it. It will be very tempting to add little things or to get more expensive presents, but if you’re not strict about not going over budget, your finances could suffer for quite some time after the holiday season. It’s not worth it, and your friends and family don’t want that for you.

#2. Choose less expensive gifts

Some of the best gifts I’ve ever received barely cost anything, check out some of these ideas below.

Write it Out

Write a letter expressing how much someone means to you. Relive favourite memories, share what you admire about them and let them know the difference they’ve made in your life. The recipient will feel very touched and appreciated, and just the surprise of receiving something in the mail is a wonderful gift in and of itself.

Edible Options

The most thoughtful gifts are homemade. If you want to give people edible gifts, cookies, cake, or chocolate truffles made from scratch (or close to it) are great. If you want to give a bit more, wrap the food in in an additional gift, such as a tea towel, baking pan, or a pretty dish, bowl, or gift box. Alternatively, you can assemble meals in glass jars, such as this delicious split pea soup. You can also check out some of BIST’s favourite Chef Janet Craig’s easy recipes, such as these amazing coconut cranberry slices.

For the Crafty Folk

If you’re a knitter, handmade comfy socks, scarves or ornaments make a great gift.  Another idea: my cousin starts growing unique plants up to a year in advance and separates the baby plants into new pots. Then she gives the individual plants away as gifts for the holidays. All you need, other than time, sunlight, and water, is small, inexpensive pots and potting soil.

A bowl of chocolate Santas with oranges

Make an Advent Calendar 

I love receiving and making advent calendars. You can use kraft or wrapping paper to make gift bags, you can reuse small boxes, or sew your own mini stockings (DIY instructions HERE.

I’ve seen people wrap toilet paper rolls in pretty paper. Number the gifts from 1 to 24 and you’ll be able to surprise someone for almost the entire month of December. I like to collect little $1 items for advent calendars throughout the year, such as small toys, craft supplies, stickers or $1 lottery scratch tickets. You can also write down inspirational quotes or suggest a daily activity, such as building a snow man.

#3. Life Hacks on Saving Money while Shopping

If you decide to spend money on gifts, here are some tips for how you can still save money on your purchases:

Make a donation to a cause that your friends and family are passionate about. Make the donation in their name and send a card to let them know.

Buy discounted gift cards, look for deals where you pay less but get a higher valued gift card. Costco offers these on a regular basis, while Cineplex often offers deals closer to the holiday season. Just be sure to read the fine print, because sometimes an expiration date may apply.

Start early – really early 

The following tips work best if you know exactly what you want to give to each of the people on your list:

  • Start researching prices and shopping early in the year so you can track sales and figure out what the best prices are. It also allows you to spread the cost of the holidays across several months. Just don’t purchase edible items too early in advance!
  • Go to chat forums such as www.redflagdeals.com where people share and discuss all sorts of deals and sales.
  • Be sure to compare the prices of the items you’re looking for across different stores. Don’t forget to price compare online, if you’re able to.
  • Create an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the best prices and sales that you find throughout the year. Sales are often announced in flyers and on store websites. I love using the flipp app to pull up and compare all of the flyers in one easy place.
  • The best deals are when you can stack promotions. For example, if you have a general coupon that you can use on anything in a store, wait to see if your item gets heavily discounted, and then use your coupon to get a further discount. Check the conditions and keep an eye on the expiration date.
  • Find out which stores near you will price match and learn their conditions. Some companies will even offer you an additional discount when you price match in their store.
  • The most important things to consider when shopping online are exchange rates, shipping costs and times, refund/exchange policy, and applicable duty costs.
  • If you’re shopping for experiences, try deals websites such as groupon.com and wagjag.com but read the fine print as they tend to have short expiration dates and multiple conditions.
  • If you shop online often, consider signing up for an account with ebates.ca which will give you cash back if you shop on certain websites through the ebates link.
  • Some of the best discounts are not advertised. For big ticket items such as TVs, appliances and furniture, stores will sell discontinued models at a very good price. You can ask sales associates if they have any discontinued models or when they are expecting the manufacturers to release new lists.

A pile of boxed gifts

Here’s wishing you a happy, stress-free and cost-efficient holiday!


‘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.

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.