One woman’s story of traumatic brain injury recovery, written by – Cannabis Influencer – That’s What Weed Said – Anita Glibota. Anita is cannabis blogger and educator located in Southwestern Ontario with a focus on health and wellness.
Concussions and Cannabis
Life is marked by milestones, like when I got married, when I had my two babies, when I went through a divorce, when I fell in love again and became stepmom to three more children. A division of before and after the milestone is defined and noted. Life changes are specific and challenging in their own ways, but no milestone has been as life defining as my brain injury. May 24, 2015 is the fault line when my life broke into “Before” and “After” everything was suddenly… different.
For the Love of the Game
I loved soccer, it was my life growing up. In 1984, I played in the first all girls league in my hometown, with Mom as my coach. When I wasn’t practicing with my team, I was practicing with my brothers’ teams. Unknowingly, it was an outlet for stress and anxiety that sprung up from from my undiagnosed ADHD. I played soccer my whole life. Whenever I felt overwhelmed, I’d play a pick up game and just let it all go. I would throw 110% of myself into the game to push past my boundaries, and had all the injuries to prove it. By the time I was seriously injured, I was in my late 30s and was playing 3 games a week, mostly against players in their early 20s. I was addicted to the competitiveness and didn’t consider getting hurt when I was in the zone.
A Day to Forget
I remember that holiday Monday when I played two games back to back. During the first game, an unnecessarily hard shot went rogue and clipped the right side of my jaw. The uppercut stole my feet from under me, and I landed on my back. I remember laying there in the dark listening to some jerk laughing and recalled being upset. “Who would laugh at this… I think I might be really hurt.” I opened my eyes to my team surrounding me, and realized I was the one that was laughing. Later, I was told my reaction is common in brain injuries, and is often mistaken for being okay – which is exactly what I did. I made the mistake of thinking I was okay. I kept playing, and went on to play a second game even though there was a massive dark spot blocking the center of my vision. I was tough and I was going to play through and shake it off. I was so dedicated to the idea of being tough, that even though my head was screaming, I couldn’t see, and didn’t know which way our net was, I kept playing. I didn’t realize how bad of a state I was in until I got home and everything was blinding screaming pain in my brain. I found out a few days later, that I was hit in the second game as well, but I have no memory of it at all.
Not a whole lot is certain when it comes to the brain, but sometimes a second impact when your brain is already hurt, causes immediate death. It’s called Second Impact Syndrome. Every doctor I saw and scanned me said I was lucky that I didn’t drop dead on the soccer field. Nothing like doctors adding to your fear and anxiety.
I had a constant headache and lived in darkness and silence for weeks that turned into months. I was filled with fear and rage and emotions I had no control over. It was like living inside a panic attack with no end in sight. Everything felt dream-like and things that should make sense, just didn’t. My undiagnosed ADHD and anxiety was now amplified and out of control. Any coping skills that I might have developed over time, were completely useless and I felt utterly lost, confused, and hopeless. I was supposed to get better after a few weeks, but I didn’t, I got worse. I couldn’t remember more than a few things for a few minutes at a time, and I was terrified of everything. Including, the notion this was my permanent state of existence, and this was my life now. I was slipping further and further into a depression that was terrifying, and so easy. My brain was lying to me – telling me I shouldn’t even try to go on because I’m a burden, I’ll always be a burden, and removing myself from the equation would solve so many problems. Logically I knew it wasn’t true, but my soul was breaking up inside. I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t know how I was going to live the way I was. The worst part was I witnessed my kids and stepkids eyes fill with fear when they watched me fall apart. That part I’m still working on forgiving myself for.
The Mission to Feel Better
I wanted to give up, but I knew that wasn’t how I wanted my story to end, and I couldn’t pass my pain onto my kids and family. Logically I knew my brain wasn’t right, but that knowledge really doesn’t help when your drowning. The concussion and post concussion syndrome symptoms were making me believe I was hopeless. Thankfully, I am stubborn and come from a long line of stubborn! I’m a first generation born Canadian from Croatian immigrant parents, who fled communist Yugoslavia to Canada in the 70’s with a suitcase, and little else. I was born with a stubborn streak, and I became determined to feel comfortable in my own skin again.
When I started looking for therapies and relief for brain injuries, I learned there are not a lot of options available. What little was available was also expensive, and not covered by OHIP, or even most private insurance plans. For an organ that controls everything inside you, including how you think, feel, and perceive the world, there was surprisingly little research, information or help available for people with brain injuries. Neurologists believe that brain injuries cause a cascade of symptoms because of systemic inflammation response to trauma. Basically your brain tells everything in your body to inflate to protect itself, but inflammation makes a pile of other messes that lead to a lot of problems.
I was familiar with cannabis from experimenting in my late teen years, and had used it for insomnia on occasion as an adult. I didn’t really understand its therapeutic properties until I came across a study about the neuroprotective and anti inflammatory properties of cannabis, specifically CBD, and that gave me hope. I read everything I could on cannabis and brain research while I waited to be approved for my documentation for medical cannabis. CBD was something that gave me real hope for becoming “normal” again.
It was over three years ago that I was approved for medical cannabis, and I believe it saved my life. The first time I tried a full spectrum high CBD, low THC strain of cannabis, I felt instant relief. CBD oil wasn’t available then, so I had to make my own infused coconut oil, which I add to my coffee. When I felt the lowest, and I was drowning, CBD filled my lungs with air. For me, high CBD cleared out the heavy brain fog that felt like slow motion, and left me confused and terrified.
Finding the right dosage required some trials, and it has changed for me over time. You learn to listen and understand what your body needs, and adjust as required. For a first time, or novice consumer of cannabis, the rule of thumb is start low and go slow. I looked for a cannabis cultivar (or strain) that had the highest CBD available and less than 5% THC. Today, producers in Canada offer a wide range of ratios and methods of consumption. They not only offer cannabis flower, which is what people usually think of first , but producers also now offer oils and sublingual sprays. This makes medicating convenient, and easier to measure and track. I highly suggest keeping a journal and writing it all down, or downloading an app to help you keep track of the dosages and effects.
For the spray, start with 1 spray, or for the oil, start with 0.5ml and wait 30 mins and record what you’re feeling. If you would like to add more, add 0.2ml at a time until you reach the effect you’re looking for. If you are consuming 1 – 2 ml at a time, consider you may need to change the ratio or a different cultivar. Different cultivars (or strains) have varying cannabinoid, and terpenes ratios which also have impact on the user experience.
Cannabis wasn’t a magic, or instant fix for everything, but over time, my headaches got better and my brain felt clearer more often and for longer periods. My good days turned into good weeks. I noticed the calming effect adjusting to a higher THC had on my anxiety at night time. Even the arthritis in my toes didn’t ache anymore. Everything was changing, and for the better.
Discovering a Different Normal
Once the immediate fire was under control, and I was moving towards healing, I started to think about why I felt so different overall. I thought maybe it was the pain, but the “before” and “after” lines were very obvious. My family and friends saw it too. I literally felt like the “before” portion of my life happened to someone else, and the before version of Anita died that day in May 2015. It’s beyond bizarre to need to grieve a loss of who you were. I didn’t know who I was now, but I was definitely different, and was determined to discover myself and where I fit into this world. I had to discover a new normal, a different normal.
Over the following few years I learned about mindfulness meditation, and I discovered that cannabis helped me get into a mindset that was both positive and healthy.
One MAJOR challenge I had was interpreting interactions correctly, and I was often really REALLY wrong. It is the hardest thing in the world knowing 100% you are right, only to find out you’re actually completely wrong. I recalled being devastated, and so confused, but I can look back now with humour because it’s so descriptive of my headspace at the time.
How I Learned about Fake News
Shortly after my concussion, on a nice summer evening, I was in the backyard with my spouse Matt. Our house was a corner lot and our backyard was exposed to our whole neighbourhood. I saw my son and the neighbour’s kid playing on the boulevard next to our house, and I could also see another neighbour in his backyard, having drinks with friends. I was talking to Matt when all of a sudden, I heard a bottle smash. I quickly peered over the fence and saw my son and his friend looking at a smashed beer bottle on the road, and I heard the neighbour say “Oops!” with a chuckle. With the information that I had, I pieced together that the neighbour had thrown a beer bottle at my son and his friend. I ran out like a bat out of hell to fight that neighbour. I marched screaming and cursing towards our neighbours and his guests. Even though my son and his friend were yelling, “NO! We found and threw the bottle on the road!”. And, with my spouse running after me yelling “Nooooo!”, and about to tackle me at the knees to stop me, I knew what I had seen, and I was convinced I had a war on my hands. It was the most disorienting thing realizing that I had read the whole situation wrong. Even though I saw things with my own eyes, my conclusion was wrong. How could I be so wrong? I felt lost and broken. Standing in the streets apologizing to my neighbourhood, embarrassed as all hell, I had a “Jesus take the wheel” moment.
Once I was aware that my first reaction was based on fake news (snippets of real information squished together in a bizarre way), I stopped trusting my initial reactions. I discovered cannabis slowed the knee jerk reaction for me, so I could now take a second to breath in the information and process it. I could think about it, and consider the logical, or most likely scenario, and then compare my thoughts and decide how I was going to react. Cannabis also set a positive mindset, so I could even consider alternatives. My partner Matt also became my touchstone, and I’d call him and ask if I understood something correctly. It was an ego killing, humbling, exercise in trust. And, I grew as human being. That’s when I started to understand that negative emotions were toxic. For myself more than most people, the negativity got lodged in my head and heart, and it was so hard for me to let it go. I started to realize that sitting back, absorbing and observing with an open mind, and without judgement, was how I was letting the negative go and accepting positive healing. Cannabis was a tool to help me get there.
Eat, Pray, Cannabis
It took a lot of time, therapy, cannabis, love and understanding from my family, but when I was finally ready to return to work, I again discovered that who I was “before” and who I was “after” didn’t line up. “Before”, I wouldn’t ask for help or admit I needed accommodations – I was tough and could handle it. Admitting you need help is admitting you’re a failure, and I couldn’t have people judging me as weak – anxiety’s classic internal dialogue. But now, I ASKED for, and accepted love, help and guidance in my life. And, I decided to let go of the parts where I didn’t get the support that I needed. My life and perspectives were entirely different, and my career goals seemed like the “Before” Anita’s goals. However, the “Before” Anita was now gone.
Throughout my learning and healing journey, I wrote. I wrote to heal, and to sort my directionless thoughts, so I could follow their paths and learn to understand them. I wanted to understand the truth of what I was supposed to learn from all of this. I believe in my core, that everything happens for a reason. I believe that I have started on a path to my true life’s purpose, and sharing my story is a part of that. For me, my journey of healing includes cannabis as a part of holistically healing my mind, body and heart. That is my choice, and I’m so grateful to live in country like Canada, where my medicine is no longer under prohibition, and we can make our own choices as responsible adults.
I hope that my story has inspired or helped you in some way. If you are suffering from anxiety, depression, brain injury, arthritis or inflammation of any kind, you should consider exploring cannabis. I hope that my readers take away a deeper understanding of themselves and know they are not alone. I hope you all can join me in my journey.
If you are suffering from anxiety, depression, inflammation or brain injury, then cannabis should be explored as part of your wellness. Talk to your Doctor.
There are also many medical marijuana clinics throughout Canada. Here is the link to a site that will help you find a Doctor familiar with treating patients with Cannabis. Canadian Medical Marijuana Doctors MMJPR.ca
For more information on concussions and other traumatic brain injuries https://braininjuryguidelines.org/concussion/
The depression hurts website offers depression checklists and support plans.