BY: MARK KONING
“Dear Santa, all I want for Christmas is… the latest and greatest from Twentieth Century Fox!”
I use popcorn at Christmas, but not to string around the tree.
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.
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.
BY: MARK KONING
I remember lying in my hospital bed and looking out of the window at the smokestack that illuminated a soft purple glow when it got dark. I was six-years-old and recovering from encephalitis which had landed me in a coma for two-weeks.
Low level light therapy (near infrared) may have beneficial effects in the acute treatment of brain damage injury.– Dr Michael Hamblin
But, it is documented that: a number of individual cases in which patients with chronic mild brain injury showed marked improvement in cognition, executive function, memory and sleep with light emitting diode (LED) treatments. – BioFlex Laser Therapy: Shining light on brain injury – Benjamin Yuen, DC, MSc, MCC(UK); Fred Kahn, MD, FRCS(C); and Fernanda Saraga, PhD
Source: Meditech International Inc.
Fast-forward almost 40 years, and I still find comfort in lights, especially at Christmas.
I enjoy hanging Christmas lights around our house (though I try to finish it up before the weather gets too frigid and I freeze my hands and fingers.) Once they are all plugged in, I find it calming and almost mesmerizing to look upon them in awe.
Is this brain injury related? I don’t think Dr. Hamblin and the others were referring to Christmas lights when they spoke about light therapy. But they are a comfort.
We’re big on Christmas at home: our house explodes with Christmas decorations, we host an annual open house, I do the lighting inside for the tree and fireplace mantle, but my favourite are the outdoors lights.
I am no Clark Griswold in National Lampoon, but I like setting up a fair decent amount of lights on the exterior of our home. I may even think how to out-do myself, every so often.
I like the glow that shines in the darkness of night. Wrapping the lights around our flag pole like a giant candy cane, outlining the windows and doors with colour and thinking, yes, “What can I add this year?”
Maybe there is something to the effect of lights like this on my damaged brain, I don’t know. Or maybe it is the memory of the purple tower that I am drawn back to, something that made me feel safe and secure during a very vulnerable time of my life.
But maybe, too, it is simply the festive time of year.
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
BY: THERESA McCOLL
My husband, Norm, has lived in a long term care home since acquiring his brain injury six years ago. Each holiday, be it Easter, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween or Christmas, the facility decorates the common areas, in attempt to give residents and their families a more festive experience.
To be honest, since Norm’s accident, I really haven’t felt like celebrating the holidays. Norm and I don’t have kids so why bother? It seems as though I am just going through the motions.
Thankfully, Norm and I have good people around us. We get a crew together to decorate Norm’s room each year. His brother, sister-in-law and friends come to help. They help bring out the holiday spirit – which is hard, as Norm doesn’t show many emotions.
As much as possible, we try to keep things the same as before the accident. Christmas Eve we go to our parish church for mass. On Christmas Day we go to Norm’s brother’s to open presents and see the rest of the family. In the afternoon, Norm and I head over to our friends to wish them a Merry Christmas.
Despite this, our trips are more complicated now and planning is essential. When Norm and I go anywhere, I have to book the mobility van that is at his long term care facility. If the van is booked, I have to phone the taxi company. I have to strap Norm in with seat belts for safety. When we go out for Christmas dinner, to a restaurant or to friends, I have to make sure that Norm has a pureed meal to eat.
At the end of the day, I think having family and friends around is all Norms needs as when they are around, he just beams.
After her husband’s injury, Theresa went back to school to become a Personal Support Worker. She has taken courses in brain injury, and is now a full time caregiver. You can follow her on Instagram, HERE
BY: CELIA M
Over the past ten years I have struggled with enjoying my favourite holiday season, Christmas, so I know the struggle is real.
This year as I sat down to think about how best to get through this time of the year without feeling overwhelmed I had an ‘aha’ moment. What I realized is many of the stresses were also there before my ABI. You know, decorating just right, cooking the best turkey dinner, picking out the right gift, squeezing in all the holiday festivities, and let’s not forget scoring the right outfit and heels for each party.
What makes it feel more stressful is my energy reserves, or better said the lack of. So this year, I’m taking Christmas back to basics and I have to tell you, I’m feeling a lot merrier.
If you enjoy having a Christmas tree, but become overwhelmed and exhausted just thinking about decorating it and the thought of having to take it down in just a few short weeks, try a small table top tree.
You can find real table top trees at most grocery stores, Christmas tree lots or pick up an artificial one that often is already decorated, which can be dusted off year after year. You get your Christmas tree and no there is no struggling with big strings of lights, that I swear spring to life in storage doing the Tango and become tangled beyond hope.
I also keep décor throughout the house pretty simple, adding a poinsettia here and there and I also love Christmas cactus which adds a touch of colour during the holidays. And at the end of the holiday season take down is even more simplified.
Over the years Christmas has become so commercialized that you feel extreme pressure to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list (and take out a small mortgage in the process). Take a step back and remember that the original “Christmas is a time for giving” was about being practical, giving to those less fortunate, it was about the thought and not the cost of an item. I’ve started to think that our grandmothers had the right idea – with socks, pjs, and things of the like – practical. I have a friend who every Christmas gifts me a bag of my fav coffee beans, some cookies, tea, chocolates and a small gift that made her think of me (one year it was a t-shirt), each time I enjoy part of the gift, I think of her and smile.
A signature gift is something that you become known for giving, such as a book, pjs, home baked goodies, bubble bath, sweater, etc. Once you decide on what your signature gift will be, you adjust it to each recipient’s interest. For example if it’s a book, you choose one on the recipient’s particular interest. One of my signature gifts to give to friends is a journal. Yes, you can have more than one signature gift, for one friend I always gift her something for the kitchen, she loves to cook with her family.
I have saved myself countless hours of stress and anxiety and physical and emotional energy since adopting a signature gift method of giving.
There can be a lot of pressure to gift EVERYONE you know, what I have come to realize is that you don’t have to buy a gift for everyone you know. A good ole fashion Christmas cards is a great way to wish someone a Merry Christmas or Happy Holiday Season.
Whether it comes to gifts, entertaining, celebrating on the town with friends or decorating your home, it is important to know what your budget comfort is. Once you have determined your budget, allocate a portion to each area and track your spending and most important stick to your budget.
Having a budget does not mean you have to miss out it just means you need to prioritize and be a little creative. If you have more people on your gift list than budget, consider reducing the amount per person. Are there people on your gift list that really are more like acquaintances and should be moved to the card list?
If things are tight but you really were looking forward to hosting Christmas dinner go pot luck, the people you would be sharing a meal with are coming to spend time together and will understand and be more than happy to bring a dish or wine, if asked. A lean budget doesn’t mean you have to miss out on going out with friends, instead of joining everyone for dinner, opt to join them later for dessert.
Christmas is about spending time with family and friends, so enlist the help of your guests by asking them to bring something for the meal. If budget allows, you can purchase a prepped or fully cooked meal from places such as your local market, hotels, or restaurant. I used a prepped meal that was all ready to go into oven from Whole Foods, one Thanksgiving, and it was really good.
If a pot luck Christmas meal still seems overwhelming but you still want to entertain, opt for alternatives, such as hosting a hot chocolate, cocktail, afternoon tea, brunch, or a board game Christmas gathering.
As the hustle and bustle of the season whirls around your head, remind yourself that being surrounded by people who truly care about you is what is important. And also remember friends are often extended family who we choose for ourselves. Don’t feel pressured to over spend both in money and your physical and emotional energy bank.
These are some ways I have put Merry back in my Christmas, I would love for you to share some of the ways you have found work for you.
Celia is an ABI survivor who is dedicated to helping others move forward in their journey and live the life they dream of. She is the founder of the internationally read blog High Heeled Life – inspiration for living a luxurious and balanced life; featured author in Soulful Relationships part of the best-selling series Adventures in Manifesting; a Peer Mentor with BIST; a regular speaker for Canadian Blood Services – Speakers Bureau; Self-care advocate; Lifestyle writer/blogger. In 2016 Celia launched the website Resilientista to inspire women to put themselves in their day, practice self-care on the daily and live their version of a High Heeled Life. Learn more about Celia and be inspired: visit http://www.HighHeeledLife.com or http://www.Resilientista.com
BY: MARK KONING
Isn’t that how the song goes? “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” But for some I think you could easily substitute wonderful with stressful or depressing.
The days surrounding Christmas can be both joyful and stressful for many individuals who are out there listening to festive songs while fighting through the crowds at the mall. But when you factor in a brain injury things can become much more intense. I speak from experience as an ABI survivor when I say that the financial pressures we face, the family situations that come up, the social functions we’re expected to attend, and just the pace of the season can be a bit much.
I consider myself blessed because I have a pretty good family foundation and support system which keeps me staying positive, and doesn’t expect a lot from me. I help my mom with all of the decorations around the house. I write both as a therapy tool and to share with others. I have a social worker I can to talk to, and I’ve put in a lot of effort into trying to remain a positive person.
All of these things help me stay connected to others. I’ve learned the effort it takes to maintain these connections is easier than living with the challenges of being isolated. And I use the word effort because that is what it is, regardless of how much I do, it is an effort. It is an effort when others cannot understand what I live with. But for me, I really don’t see (or even understand) the alternative.
The opposite of effort is “hesitation, idleness, inactivity, laziness, or passivity” and then there is just plain old giving up, and none of these things are me.
The Christmas season can be a hard one to get through, no doubt, but don’t be afraid to speak up, look those difficulties in the face and push back. Be active, ask for some help. You never know what you may find. No one should be made to feel that they are alone.
Try to remember the real meaning, the value, of Christmas. A brain injury survivor may have to work a little harder for that smile to emerge on his or her lips, (or perhaps just in the heart is good enough) but it can go a long way. Things can get hard at times, but I keep reminding myself that this brain injury of mine does not dictate my happiness.