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What It Was Like To Participate in a Brain Injury Clinical Trial

February 14, 2017

For those of you who have been following my story for a while, you know I suffered a brain injury almost five years ago when I went into a medical clinic to get an x-ray of my neck and ended up fainting and hitting my head on the concrete floor. Life has not been the same for me since.

Although my brain has done a tremendous amount of healing since my accident, I still get headaches each day and I am sensitive to light and also to noise. I was told three years ago by neurologists that my healing has plateaued and I would need to get use to all of these symptoms.

I was willing to accept where I was in that moment, but I refused to give up on my continued healing. I kept moving ahead, treating myself with kindness, and I am happy to say that I have proven the experts wrong. I continued to heal greatly past the two-year post-injury mark. But, I still have further to go.

When I heard about the medical clinical trial to test the PoNS device, I was all in. It was a big sacrifice for my family to have me spend so much time away, but if it could help me, I wanted to try it. My supportive husband was completely on board to do whatever it took to help me continue to heal. So, I applied to the program.

At the start of December, I received word that I was accepted into the trial. This meant I had to pack my bags at a moment’s notice and was gone from mid December until the end of January, only returning home for a few days a week in January.

This intensive program tested an amazing gadget called the PoNS device that was featured in the bestselling book The Brain’s Way of Healing by Dr. Norman Doidge. The company that holds the patent for this device is owned by the talk show host, Montel Williams. After Montel experienced life-changing improvements from his MS symptoms when using the PoNS, he set up a company to get this device to market. The clinical trials held on it are a big part of this process. The inventors of this device claim it will have a profound impact on helping those with Parkinson’s, brain injuries, MS, strokes, and even Alzheimer’s Disease. I knew I wanted to be a part of trying out this piece of equipment and helping bring it to market as soon as possible for those in need.

When I first arrived at Concordia University, the Montreal testing site for this trial, I felt a real mix of emotions. The butterflies in my stomach came alive as I began to think about the possibility of being ‘normal’ again and also a bit of fear about the symptoms I could face through participating in this intensive trial. I had no doubt it was going to be exhausting. Could I actually stay the course and be able to physically do this?

My physiotherapist, Laura, a woman in her late twenties with brown, long hair who was born in Columbia and had made her way to Canada as a child, put my fears at ease. She told me that everything we did would be within my symptom range and she continually checked in with me throughout our time together.

The goal of the study was to see if using the PoNS device while having physiotherapy for the brain several times a day for an hour and a half each segment plus a meditation session each evening for six days a week, for a period of at least 5 weeks could improve the brain’s ability to heal over just doing the physio itself. This meant there was a real PoNS device used by some participants and a placebo PoNS device used by others. No one, not even the physiotherapists, know who has which device and we don’t find out until the study is fully wrapped up later this year.

I spent 5 weeks standing on foam pads with my eyes closed for twenty minutes, twice a day. As well as walking on a treadmill while looking different directions and then walking forwards and backwards along hallways with my eyes closed. I also trained my core like I never have before in my life. This was part of helping create greater stability and balance. I swear I must have a six-pack in there somewhere that seems to be not quite popping out thanks to all of those great French pastries!

I also found the experience of being away from my family for that long was really eye-opening for me. I was previously such an independent woman, but since the brain injury I have come to rely on my husband A LOT!

When I sat in the empty hotel room, looking out the window and seeing the Christmas lights and people walking by laughing, I realized I had lost more than just my healthy brain in the accident. I had lost a big piece of myself. In this hotel room by myself, I felt felt bored. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I actually felt helpless without my husband. I was scared to venture outside in case I fell on the ice and got hurt and no one I knew would be around to help me.

After an hour of this fretting, I pulled myself together and suited up to head out into the cold Montreal night. I walked around, looking into the store windows and ended up going to a movie. I must admit, I felt a great sense of pride sitting in that movie theatre by myself and really enjoying the show. Being okay to be with me again.

I still don’t know if I got the ‘real’ PoNS device. I did make some improvements in terms of my vestibular functioning and my vision issues have improved slightly, but I still have a way to go in terms of my healing. This trial was an important piece of the puzzle that led me to meet some amazing people I would have never had the chance to otherwise.

Would I do it again, knowing that I wouldn’t be completely healed after sacrificing this much time away from my family and business? Foresure. Not only did I walk away a little stronger due to better balance, I walked away with a piece of myself that could only come from being forced to stand on my own two feet again in the world. I may not be completely healed. But, I am very proud of myself and I know that I am a survivor.

If you or someone you know has suffered a concussion/traumatic brain injury, there is still time to participate in the study. Reasonable expenses are covered as part of this study by the U.S. Department of Defense-funded trial. Clinical trial information.  Please check with your doctor before participating.

This blog is based on an individual experience and Potential Unlimited or Carey-Ann Oestreicher will not be held liable for others experiences.

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Suffering from the Impacts of a Concussion? A Clinical Trial That Might Be For You

February 9, 2017

If you have been following my story, you know that I suffered a brain injury or concussion almost 5 years ago when I fainted during an X-ray and hit my head off a concrete floor.  Freak accident that left me with daily headaches and visual sensitivity among other symptoms.

I have finished the 6.5 week clinical trial (including pre-assessment to qualify) in Montreal. I still don’t know if I had the PoNS device they are testing or the sham one for a focused control group. But, I had an amazing brain physiotherapist there who worked with me within my brain injury symptoms. The goal was to help strengthen my vestibular system and stability. I didn’t realize I had any issue here as I was more focused on the light sensitivity, headaches and symptoms that come with many different forms of stimulation. But turns out, I did have some issues here too. I do see some benefits from this study,but I also still have a way to go in my healing. It was another piece to the puzzle in help putting me back together again. It was a big sacrifice, but I am so glad I did it. If you know anyone suffering from the impacts of a concussion, check this out to see if they qualify. http://www.tacklingtbi.com/

Carving Out Your Own Leadership Style Within Your Organization!

November 3, 2016

Have you ever wished you were a more inspiring leader, but feel you are too busy in the execution of the job that you really haven’t spent much time reflecting on how you want to carve out your own, authentic leadership style? I encourage you to take 5 minutes now to read this article and begin thinking about some simple steps you can put in place to set you on the right course!

Regardless if you are just starting at a new company or have been there for 25 years, there is an opportunity to look within yourself and bring more to your job. I am not talking about giving more hours or even energy, it is about giving more of who you are to the role and your people. How do you do that?

  1. Identify what is important to you in terms of leadership characteristics. List three to five characteristics.
  2. Where are you acting inconsistently with these characteristics now?
  3. Assess the development gap.
  4. Write down a quick action plan for yourself to progress on leading in a way that feels right for you.

Challenges you may face:

What if the organization’s culture doesn’t align with the values you hold or if you are working for an extremely different leader? How do you operate authentically within those environments?

1.Spend some time assessing your leader’s style. Avoid being judgemental of him or her and saying things like, “they are a stress case.” Simply list characteristics such as: procrastinator, charismatic or introverted, etc.

2. Ask your leader how they prefer to communicate with you. Is it once a week, email, open door anytime policy. Really understand their needs – what they want and how they want it. The best way to know is to ask!

3. Now, assess your culture (both departmental and organizational). List characteristics of these cultures. Are they consistent with each other? No need to judge them. I am just asking you to understand them.

4. It is time to review your own aspirational leadership characteristics and compare them to that of your leader, department and organization. Consider where can you be of service while working to be a stronger leader in your own right. Where can you fill a gap that others in your area do not have the skills to do?  How can you work with your leader, department and organization as a partner, considering ways to bring even more of your true self out in the work place?

Often we don’t spend the time to make these more formalized assessments of ourselves and our working culture. Then we find ourselves morphing into the culture around us – whether we realize it or not. I am encouraging you to bring more awareness to who you want to be that feels authentic for you and understand that there is a need for the real you in the workplace, not just for someone who acts the part.  This is the path to greater work and life satisfaction.  And if people don’t like the person you are, there are always other opportunities with people who will appreciate the special qualities you bring to a leadership role.

Learn more about Potential Unlimited’s Executive Coaching programs.

Enough with the Mommy Guilt!

November 3, 2016

Once a week, my husband picks up our girls at school instead of them taking the bus home. On these afternoons, my family likes to linger longer at the school playground with some of their friends who walk home or get picked up right at the school.  During one of these occasions, my eldest daughter was playing with a friend when this little girl asked her, “Did your Mommy die?” My daughter told her I was still alive. “Well, she never picks you up from school. I thought because I never see her, she is dead!” said the friend.

Later that evening, my daughter told me what was said by her friend. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry. After that comment sat with me for a moment, I felt this sharp pang of guilt in my stomach. Yes, the dreaded Mommy guilt that most working Moms experience at some point or another.

I felt like a bad Mom. I ‘should’ be picking up my daughters more often. But notice whenever we use the word ‘should’ in a sentence the action becomes more about what we think other people expect of us versus what is right for us and our families. No one knows what life is like for each family.

My second thought was ‘this girl has a stay-at-home Mom and she isn’t recovering from a brain injury.’  I asked my daughter if her friend’s Dad ever picks her up at the school and she said no. It was interesting that at this early age there is already a gender bias for that girl who thinks that Moms do the child duty and Dads do the work. But, as we know that is a problematic theory for most of us working women, many of which had stay-at-home Moms ourselves. Our strongest role models in life were those ladies who baked home-cooked meals, spent the most time with us and kept the house clean.

Fast forward the clock to our generation where we were told as little girls we could do anything we wanted in our careers and we have aspired to be our best. But, we still haven’t been able to let go of the beliefs deeply ingrained within us that we should be the ones taking our kids to school and being the primary caregiver, too.

How do we deal with this nagging feeling of ‘Mommy Guilt?’

  1. Extinguish your superwoman beliefs – We really can’t do it all. We know in business that it is not a smart strategy to try to be all things to all people so remind yourself, this is not smart to do at home either.  If you are working out of the house, outsource your cleaning, shopping, whatever you can. Most Moms I know have two major priorities, which is their family and doing fulfilling work. Try to eliminate all of the little stuff from your life so you can spend more quality time doing the things you love.
  2. Focus on quality moments when you are with your family – When was the last time you looked deeply into your children or partner’s eyes when they spoke to you? This allows them to feel like they have your full attention and it also keeps your brain present versus thinking about your to do’s for work or the little things at home that don’t really matter in the long run.
  3. Speak up – If you are feeling your schedule is unmanageable, consider if it is time for you to share this with your leader. There may be options you can explore around working from home a few days a week, reducing travel, getting a coach to help you deal with the feelings of overwhelm or even working part-time. Like my Grandfather would always say, “Where there is a will, there is a way!”
  4. Working is not a bad thing – Sometimes when we feel overwhelmed by life’s demands, it can feel like work is the devil. You may begin to feel resentful towards your job and the time it is taking away from your family. In these cases, you have to be responsible for finding a way to set boundaries for yourself and the job, knowing you will burnout if you don’t. But also, work can be a positive thing from the perspective of your children. It teaches them independence, the value of work and that you are a strong woman who is willing to put yourself out there and do a job that has a big impact on others.  We need more women leaders in the world to show the younger generations what is possible for girls!
  5. Mommy Guilt could be a sign of a bigger problem – If you feel like you are going off the rails in your life with high demands at work and home, Mommy guilt might actually just be the straw that broke the camel’s back. The real issue may be around working in a career that isn’t fulfilling or having an over-scheduled life outside of work.  In this case, the Mommy Guilt may be a gift in that it makes you feel uncomfortable so you begin to reflect on what you really want out of life and work. This reflection may lead you to make some changes in your life that feel more in tune with what you really want.  Remember, feeling discomfort is not a bad thing. It often prompts us to make some of the biggest changes towards a deeper level of growth in our lives.
  6. Cut yourself some slack – Remember you can’t do it all. Tell yourself you are doing the best you can. When you go home from work tonight, look into your child’s eyes. Hug and kiss them, tell them you love them. Laugh with them. Forget about the details and organization in life for a while. Just be you. A woman who loves her child, and for that time, all the rest of the world will slip away.

Find out more about my After-the-Baby Coaching Programs for Moms balancing demands of busy career and home lives.

Setting Work-Life Boundaries That Stick!

September 26, 2016

One of the greatest challenges I see for the people I work with as an Executive and Career Coach is wanting to work in a fulfilling high-level career while still enjoying quality time with family and friends. This issue is often referred to as work-life balance, but the idea of perfect balance is rarely true. What I want clients to build for themselves is career-life integration, where components of their lives are managed in a way of their planning based on given priorities at the time.

I am going to walk you through a great exercise to help you with your priority setting. Take out a piece of paper and pen. Write down your top 4 or 5 non-negotiables. For me, it is – #1 Spending time with my family and helping support them the best I can #2 Taking time for myself to practice daily meditation and exercise #3 My work – I feel completely energized by helping others be their best in their careers and in their lives outside of work #4 Fun – This includes time with friends or doing some fun activity by myself or with family.

Now get specific. What is it about each of those priorities that is important to you. For instance, for my family piece, it is important to us that we go out for a nice dinner as a family once a week, including going for a yummy kid-friendly dessert somewhere after. Also, it is important to my husband and I that we are outside with our children 3-5 times a week doing something active, such as biking, walking, running at the park or playing with neighbours on the street.

Complete this exercise for each of your above priorities. The more specific and measurable you can be, the more successful you will be in setting priorities and establishing boundaries.

Now, build these priorities into your online work calendar. Use this calendar for your evening and weekend commitments, too. Mark them in a way so others do not see what you are doing. Your downtime belongs to you. Think of blocking off this time as making appointments with your family and yourself.

By completing this exercise, you have just established your boundaries. So, how do you stick to them? Well, first off having them in your calendar shows others you are already booked. It also reminds you of your family and personal time.

The second point to making boundaries stick is about modeling your priorities. This means not sneaking out of the office when it is time to go home, but just leaving and saying good-bye to those along the way. You don’t owe everyone an explanation on the way out if you are heading to the gym at lunch or leaving work on time in the evening, just leave. Place family pictures on your desk to remind you of your family if you are tempted to keep staying late and missing dinner with them, if that is one of your priorities.

The more you can model a leader who is doing a great job while still enjoying life, the more you will show others it can be done. These behaviours have the power to change the culture to be a more productive one where people are motivated not by fear and face time, but by results and quality of life.  You are in control of your life and time. Make sure you use it in a way of your choosing.

Visit Potential Unlimited’s website to find out more about the coaching program that is right for you!

Career Advice For Women At Each Decade

September 23, 2016

As an Executive Coach, I work with a lot of amazing people, both women and men. Over time, I have seen some themes that women tend to follow throughout their careers that can either hold them back or help them launch into meaningful work at a high level.

There seems to be a life cycle for women which corresponds to their careers. If an individual plays her cards right in each area, she is home free on the career front, yet if she hesitates or lets fear hold her back or insecurities and lack of confidence, then she will have to play a game of catch up later on.

To help women in their careers, I would like to share my career advice with you for each decade:

Career Advice to Women in Their Twenties:  First of all, have fun. This is the time in your life when your biggest stress is likely school loans and perhaps dealing with doing the grunt work in a role, starting out in the work world.  Apply to all kinds of roles. Go for the roles that interest you as a priority and ensure you can learn from that manager. Ask lots of questions in the interview to determine the fit both ways. Choosing the right role and manager is even more important than the company you work for. You can work for a great company, but if you hate what you do and who you work closely with, it won’t be a good experience.

Don’t be afraid to move around. I know you need to have a bit of stability on your resume, yet this is the time in your life when you will be more open to making career changes. I think the older we become, the harder it is to change. We become more set in our ways. So be daring in your career here.  I held 5 jobs at 5 different companies between the ages of 24 and 29.  I did stay at one of those roles a few years, but the rest were quick stints and then something else came along more senior that paid better so I jumped for it.  I believe that making these jumps was critical for me to land a senior executive role by the time I was  in my late twenties. I was fearless in making these moves, and it did pay off for me.

Career Advice to Women in Their Thirties: This decade is often the time period of biggest change for most women. If you haven’t gotten married or connected with a serious partner yet, chances are you will in this decade. And, you may also have your children here. This tends to be the decade where most people invest in buying a serious life home that leads to a substantial mortgage so there are some pressures here around earning money and also, wanting to spend time enjoying life. You have done the grunt work in your twenties, and you may be feeling the need to slow down a bit more.

My advice to you is to listen to that voice inside of you that seeks more balance. It doesn’t mean you have to throw your career out the window.  But, you do have a lot more of the adult stresses now and more priorities so it is time to put boundaries in place to help you gain more balance. You likely could do it all in your twenties – like superwoman. Now, your energy is starting to lessen as priorities are becoming greater.  Make exercise each day a priority to help keep your energy up and commit some time to you each day.

In your career, keep moving ahead with fulfilling work.  By this age, you have earned some goodwill and credibility that you can ask for more flexibility in your role. As long as you are performing your job at a high level, most companies won’t care if you come in late to see your child’s Christmas concert or go home early to help them get ready for Halloween. Don’t be afraid to do what you want to do. Draw those boundaries and then know when it is time to focus on personal and forget about work or else you will become resentful of your job, and likely want to throw in the towel.  Remember, as a senior executive you have more flexibility and control over your schedule than someone more junior. Sure, you are busy, but make sure you are using this flexibility to make your career and life work best. DON’T STUNT YOUR CAREER GROWTH HERE BECAUSE YOU ARE AFRAID YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE NEXT LEVEL ROLE!

Career Advice to Women in Their Forties.  Take a breath. You have made it through the craziness of your thirties and all of the changes that can come with that. You are more established in your career, likely your kids are out of diapers and you are getting more sleep at night. You may be closer to actually owning your home, and you probably even have a nice car or two in your driveway.

This is the time to really get in touch with yourself again. Who are you after all of your life’s changes? What is important to you? How do you want to live your life? Around the late thirties and forties is the age I find that most people come to me interested in building Mindfulness into our coaching. First as a way to reduce stress, but also as a tool to help them to rediscover themselves now as a mature adult.

Do this self discovery, take a look at my Career Coaching to help you figure out your next steps. And then put your hand up for the roles that are going to challenge you. Don’t get tempted to settle. You still have a long way until retirement so make sure you are leading an area at this point in your career that you love.

Career Advice to Women in Their Fifties. Take the lead. If you have been working progressively your whole life, you will be ready to take the lead within your organization. Whether that is the CEO role or the top role in your area of expertise. If you are already here, congratulations! If not, you need to tell the key influencers what you want and continue to build those relationships.  At this point, you have likely gained a great deal of experience and education to support you. Now it is about promoting yourself (don’t be humble, you’ve got great things to share) and get out there and build relationships. Put yourself out there full force and go for it. Don’t forget to take care of your health and wellness along the way and manage your stress through mindfulness and exercise.

Career Advice to Women in Their Sixties.  This is a decade of career reflection and celebration. Look back and acknowledge your amazing career. Take the time to share your journey with others. Put up your hand to mentor others. Think of the legacy you want to leave. If you haven’t fully accomplished everything you wanted to do, identify an area or two of key focus and put your energy into leaving your organization a much better place than when you first found it. Take the time to have conversations with people and ask questions. As much as you have information to share, others also want to share with you. Learning really is a life long process.

Visit Potential Unlimited’s website to find out more about my After-the-baby Coaching, Career Coaching, Retirement Coaching and Executive Coaching programs

Grandma, I Remember…

September 9, 2016

Last evening, my Grandma Wilken passed away. She is my Mother’s Mom. Grandma was a dear soul and very special to me. I wrote this poem for her birthday, two years ago, shortly after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Grandma, you will be missed.

I Remember

I remember when your grey hair was brown.

I remember going fishing with you and watching you make real maple syrup in the bush.

I remember loving going to the farm and seeing you with all of your animals.

I remember writing my school speech on you because you’re so free and adventurous.

I remember spending the night at the farm and making yummy yellow cookies.

I remember meals at Grandma and Grandpa’s house and loving being with you.

I remember going on trips with you and Mom and having lots of fun.

I remember the truck drivers honking at you because of your good looks!

I remember your wild sense of adventure and ability to be the life of the party that I have inherited from you.

I remember tricking your neighbours and old family friends dressed in Halloween costumes (some times not even on Halloween!) and we never did tell…

I remember playing games with you and the boys and dancing around!

I remember pranking you on the phone…my friends always thought you were the coolest Grandma that we had that kind of fun relationship.

I remember seeing you with my children and making you a ‘Great’ Grandma.

In this life, our memories can be taken. The details and pictures in our minds can fade in time or they can be stolen away by an injury or health related condition. But there is something deeper I remember about you, my sweet Grandma, than all of the memories.

I remember the feeling of love produced by 40 years of our beautiful relationship. That is something that stays with us until the end of time and beyond.

Us, May birds, are one of a kind. We are strong, wild and free. We love to laugh. We are independent.  Sometimes we hit rough patches and life can bring us down, but that is only a part of our journey. Grandma, I am in you and you are in me.

That is something I will always remember.