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How Running a Small Business is Healing my Brain

In 2015 I sustained a devastating traumatic brain injury (TBI). After years of rehab, I was still unable to return to my previous career, so I combined my new love of animals and my rediscovered love of sewing and launched Wiggles and Whiskers.

Scientists and doctors are continually learning more and more about the brain’s ability to reroute, repair and even regenerate neurons and neural pathways in the brain. The brain’s ability to ‘self-heal’ after an injury is enhanced even more through exercise including challenging the brain to learn new tasks and skills.

Thankfully our brains are highly adaptive, and with dedication, effort, and energy they can be reshaped and rebuilt. In addition to the regular treatments I receive for my brain injury, to address my chronic pain issues and related conditions, operating this small business has essentially become “the exercise to heal my brain.” The following are some of the activities/tasks involved with running Wiggles and Whiskers which challenge or exercise my injured brain:

  • When I first started Wiggles and Whiskers it was very difficult for me to sew and listen to audio books or podcasts at the same time, due to the level of multitasking that was required for my brain. I am now able to do this most of the time, with the exception of tricky finishing work or when I am under a tight deadline.
  • I initially worked with a government sponsored program to launch my website, but now all of the maintenance, addition of new products and design changes is all up to me. Learning how to use the Shopify platform (I’ve been told is more user friendly than most) has been a steep learning curve. Even though I was fairly proficient technically, prior to my injury, memory challenges, difficulties following multi step processes and not being able to spend long periods of time in front of a screen, means that anything to do with my website takes a lot longer to learn how to do, and actually complete than the average person.   
  • Talking to customers and making pitches. Prior to my injury my job involved speaking in front of large groups and making presentations on a regular basis. Now making phone calls and meeting 1 on 1 with people give me butterflies. Information processing and verbal expression (word finding) are real challenges for me and add in a healthy dose of nerves into the mix and awkward silence. Pushing myself to get out there and meet with people or pick up the phone and not to worry about using the ‘perfect words’ is always top of mind.
  • Launching new products is fun…. but so much work. This is one of my favourite parts of having a small business, but it is also one of the most time-consuming processes. Executive functioning covers a wide variety of skills (time management, judgement, planning, decision making) and it is one of the cognitive functions likely to be affected by a TBI. This is definitely true in my case, which means the process of product development, which involves a lot of decisions and planning, is a very slow process. Add on top of this learning and practicing the steps involved in producing a new product from start to finish, and this could easily take more than a month.
Overall, despite the additional challenges I face as a TBI survivor, I do enjoy being a small business owner. I have met some amazing people who have been extremely supportive and who are open to my frequent questions. Even though most of the people I have gotten to know so far are working their small business as a side hustle, they do so with a passion and a vigor that is encouraging to be around.
In the end I’m just like other small business owners trying to grow their business one customer at a time, but I’ve also got something a bit more invested too. I’m also trying to grow a few more neurons along the way.

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