Hi there! My name is Grace Williams, I am a retired D1 runner-turned-professional cyclist. I have been racing for UCI Team Cynisca Cycling for the past year. Here is my story regarding my mTBI from this March, and how CBD has completely transformed my recovery and symptom management.
I’ve spent a lot of time describing and reliving the moments of my crash. Some I remember, most I don’t. Just blips here and there, but there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t replay it in my mind. It was the day after a cobbled race in Belgium, and we were on our way to get coffee as a recovery spin. I hit a hidden cable cover while descending, hitting the ground at 35 mph directly on the left side of my head. I got knocked out for about 5 minutes, and amnesia stole about 40 minutes of my life. Luckily, there was no brain bleed, and I quickly remembered who I was. I even remembered my address and my parents phone numbers: things that seemed to prove to everyone that I was okay. The doctors diagnosed me with a concussion, completed surgery on my broken elbow, and released me the next day.
I left the hospital having no idea what I was about to face.
At first, I just slept. All day. I would wake up, eat breakfast, and become so fatigued from doing so that I would sleep until lunch. Day 5, I went on my first walk. It felt like I was in a dream. Day 6, I went to PT for my broken elbow, and almost fainted while walking up the stairs. I finally flew home 10 days post-crash, and began to confront the realization that my symptoms were only just beginning.
Each week and month brought a new, defining monster of a symptom. Initially, my life was ruled by anxiety and anger, triggered by anything ranging from a bumpy car ride to a loud noise. Then, it was constant headaches, reactions to light and noise, and an inability to do nearly anything. I found myself constantly retreating to my room for relief, staring at the ceiling for hours. I couldn’t read, or write, talk to people, or exercise without my brain imploding into fireworks. During months 2-3, reality was dominated by brain fog, the horrible feeling of being detached from the world around you, almost like feeling high or drunk 24/7. Throughout all of this, the added monstrosity was the constant, debilitating, never-ending anxiety. I struggled to sleep or be alone, and every moment was filled with fear. It often felt like I was on the outside of my life, looking in. To be honest, it still feels like the day I hit my head pressed pause on my life, and I am now watching it all unfold from a place far away. I understand this to be the processing system within my brain struggling to work correctly, but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying.
Those first few weeks were by far the most intense and difficult. I took it upon myself to find a concussion doctor, and started going to PT where I worked on my visual (vestibular) system and completed varying degrees of complex tasks. The goal was to slowly ‘reteach’ parts of my brain to work together again. I started trying everything I could find to help my healing: lion’s mane, omega 3’s, red light therapy, breathing exercises, cold showers, magnesium, l-theanine, and melatonin (to name… a few). I bought myself noise canceling headphones and spent over 200$ on supplements. I cut out sugar, gluten, caffeine, and alcohol. I started going to therapy and using CBT. The combination of everything seemed to help a bit, but I was still struggling. I eventually picked up my first bottle of SSRI’s, but every morning I would read the long lists of side effects, too scared to take them.
Finally, relief came when I started (what I thought to be) just another shot-in-the-dark supplement: CBD. I began to take CBD in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Almost immediately, I felt a huge change. My anxious thoughts were still there, but it was easier to just let them float away. My headaches declined dramatically. I started sleeping again. I switched to Twisted Spoke at the suggestion of some fellow athletes, and the potency of Twisted Spoke CBD seemed (incredibly) to bring even more relief.
Despite my descriptions of the first few months, I feel like the most important aspect of this entire ordeal is exactly where I am right now. It’s June 21st, nearing month 4 since I hit my head. I am at the point in recovery where most of my major symptoms have dissipated. I have graduated from physical therapy, my doctor has released me, and I am functioning at a level that seems outwardly normal. I can go to restaurants, I can talk to friends, and I can bike upwards of 3 hours. Yet, life is still so, so difficult. With a brain injury, the emotional and mental health healing lag for months. CBD helped so much with the initial symptoms, but it’s at this very vulnerable point in recovery that I feel CBD has helped even more: when you have every reason to say you are healed, but inside you still feel off. This is where CBD has completely altered my life for the better in managing my symptoms. I still struggle most days, but it’s a managed struggle now.
I often write to process things. I write to make others feel what I feel; I write for them to see what I see. I hope to leave you all with this: a brain injury is by far the hardest and worst experience I have ever dealt with - and I am aware that my mTBI was lucky. It could have been much, much worse. I am still on the road to recovery. I still have bad days. Yet, I see constant progress. I have been given another tool to add to the arsenal of dealing with my anxiety. I am finally beginning to look forward, and am dreaming up a fall filled with gravel races and cyclocross (CBD-fueled of course).