Lis Pilon sits for a photo in Whitehorse on April 24. Pilon suffered a concussion in March 2016 and has now become an advocate for the invisible injury. She started Concussion Café Yukon — a safe space for people with brain injuries to share. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Creating a safe space for those grappling with concussions

Concussion Café Yukon had its debut on April 25

The incident that changed Lis Pilon’s life forever happened during a mundane, every day task roughly three years ago.

“It was a really simple thing. It’s something that could happen to anyone,” she said.

Pilon went to start her car in March 2016 to warm it up. The stairs were slick. On the way back inside, she hit her face off the steps.

She ended up with a concussion.

Advocating for something invisible can seem near impossible, but that is exactly what Pilon did for herself afterwards and plans to continue in order to help others in this territory.

While the effects of the injury have carried on to varying degrees, she’s learned how to cope, gradually improving the quality of her life and those who share it, she said.

That’s why she created the Concussion Café Yukon, a space intended for people dealing with mild to moderate traumatic brain injuries.

“The idea is that we can share what we know, learn from each other and connect on the topic of brain injuries,” Pilon said, adding that tools and resources will be provided.

“I didn’t feel that people in the Yukon knew where to direct me or that there were services readily available for that.”

There are medical supports in the Yukon, Pilon clarified. Her role, she continued, is to help connect people to them and discuss what worked for her. Participants would reciprocate.

The first meet-up was on April 25 at Alpine Bakery. Pilon said stimuli were tempered — dim lighting, decaffeinated tea and no loud noises, for example. If attendees needed a lie-down, they could do that.

It was a long road to recovery for Pilon. She couldn’t work and was prone to emotional outbursts, she said, even grocery shopping felt like an “impossible task.”

“You want to connect with people, but to have someone walking in the room with you is too much stimulation, so they have to sit still and maybe they can’t even talk and maybe you can only sit with them, just while you lie still and stare at a wall for a little while.”

Pilon’s family brought her back to Ontario, where she received treatment at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. She found others there in similar circumstances.

“Just seeing that I’m not alone. That little peace of belonging I found and comfort.”

She wants to bring this tenet to the Concussion Café.

Majorie Logue, a resident from Dawson, had a concussion roughly two years ago. She said there’s little information about brain injuries in Canada. That’s why what Pilon is doing is so crucial, she said, because it’s helping raise awareness.

“Speaking with someone who’s going through the same thing or understands what you’re going through — it reduces the isolation. It’s really important, for sure.”

Logue tried to facilitate similar meetings with others but found it difficult to coordinate, she said.

“For Lis to do it, and to do it as well as she’s doing, I think is amazing. There’s definitely a need for it.”

The peer-led group, which will evolve as it continues, Pilon said, is to become a monthly event and maybe, eventually, something more.

“I think if we increase awareness of the need for these services, then, over time, they will evolve and we will, as a community, develop more of them. Who knows, maybe this will lead to starting an organization or a brain injury association in the Yukon. Maybe this will lead to a non-profit or a charity that will provide advocates. Right now, I’m totally open and dreaming about all the things that could happen.”

Pilon said she wouldn’t change anything, that, despite adversity tied to her injury, she’s been able to find a silver lining.

Being alone after the incident spurred introspection and introspection created calmness.

“This has brought so many unexpected gifts and allowed me to slow down and get to know myself in a different way,” she said. “Before I was always rushing and doing too much. This has allowed me to be kinder to myself and be kinder to other people. I am better for having experienced this.”

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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