What follows is a detailed account of my ongoing recovery from a concussion sustained in a crash in a race. I have written this in the hope that will help anyone who is going through a similar set of circumstances. If this affects you in anyway, please do talk to somebody about what you are going through. If somebody you know could be going through a similar time talk to them. I know it’s a cliché but talking to people is the only way of making things better. My DMs/messages are always open.
On the 13th of September I was racing at Richard Kell Memorial Race. I was involved in a crash at around 60kph. When I hit the ground, I slid a long way however I didn’t hit my head. I didn’t stand up after the crash, like I usually would. I can’t remember what happened immediately after the crash. However, there was no clear loss of consciousness. In the car on the way home I was hurting from the road rash but had no signs of concussion. To my family I seemed normal. However, at lunchtime my head started to really hurt and that’s all I can remember from that point on for about 2 weeks. Everything that follows for the next 2 weeks is what others have told me. I had severe concussion.
On Saturday afternoon I spent most of it asleep. All lights and sound were extremely painful. I was wearing sunglasses and a hat permanently to block the light and stop my head hurting. I got worse over night and on Sunday I couldn’t stand up without people helping me because otherwise I would lose my balance. I would cover my ears to block noises-even the sound of an aeroplane flying overhead. Then there were voices in my head and when I shut my eyes there were spinning lights and I would sometimes feel like i was floating or not in my head. I was very confused, had very limited vocabulary and a ‘baby voice’. When I shut my eyes, my head would physically spin in circles. It would spin faster and faster till I woke up in huge distress. On Monday I hadn’t improved, and my mum took me to hospital. They were confident that I had concussion but no worse injury than that. They said I had slightly dilated pupils. They gave me some drugs to help with the spinning lights and voices in my head. For the days after that no improvement really happened. I was collapsing and losing my balance. My memory was really bad. My vocabulary was improving but I was still struggling to find words. The drugs from the hospital helped a bit with the spinning lights and I didn’t have to follow all the circles, but they made me really drowsy. I couldn’t be left alone. I was looked after full time by my family and girlfriend.
On Friday I woke up and was able to stand up by myself without collapsing. This was the first real improvement and the biggest jump in recovery that has happened. For the next week I did basically nothing and spent most of the day asleep, I watched lots of kids films but I don’t remember any of them.
On Monday the 28th of September I started riding again. This was a terrible decision. I was nowhere near well enough to be riding again. But I really wanted to do the last few races of the year. No one was putting pressure on me but myself. Since crashing, the Nopinz team have been really supportive. They made me feel much better about the situation and assured me that that would be there for me. This made a huge difference to my mental health as I was highly anxious about my cycling future. After 12 days I stopped riding again. My heart rate wasn’t responding to increases in effort and it felt like I had gone backwards, my vocabulary was worsening, and my memory deteriorated again. I stopped riding for 16 days. In this time, I mostly just slept. Removing the pressure, I had put on myself to race again this year helped my mental and physical health. By this point I had missed a half term at school. I started riding again for the second time on the 26th of October and this time it went much better. My heart rate was responding properly, and my recovery wasn’t affected.
On the 2nd of November I went back to school believing I was better. I wasn’t. This was a huge knock to my confidence, and I was not in a good place at all for 3 weeks. I was depressed, anxious, empty. I felt like a burden on everyone, I thought it would be easier for everyone else if I wasn’t here. I’d look at my arms and want to stick a knife in them in a desperate attempt to feel something. I tried to cope by taking long walks in the dark by myself and avoiding talking to anyone. However, fortunately for me, my family and girlfriend did not give up on me and once I had found the words to tell them how I felt (which they had worked out for themselves anyway) things gradually started to improve. As time has gone on, I have gradually become more positive and I have more control over my emotions and mind now than I had previously. This is due to not being scared of myself or what I might or might not do.
Different more constructive and useful coping mechanisms have been found. For example, I have a grip strength thing and a fidget cube that I use instead of pulling my hair out when I’m anxious or worried. When I’m feeling down and empty, I mostly do exercise to cope, I use a skipping rope, ride my Mountain bike, do a core session or push ups. Having come up with these plans for what to do I am in a better mental place than I was.
On the 3rd of December I had a neurologist appointment. In the week leading up to it I was very worried about the appointment. I was petrified that he was going to say that because of my injury I would be unable to be a pro cyclist. That I would have to give up my dream, my plan for life. That I would have to give up on a huge part of my life and that I wouldn’t be able to race my bike again, which is the thing I love most in the world.
The neurologist said quite the opposite. He said that there is no reason at all that I can’t be a professional cyclist. I will make a full recovery from my axonal injury. He said I can go back to racing again in January and that I can go back to school in January. This was the best possible news, and it has given me a lot more confidence in myself. My training is now going really well, and I am looking forward to racing again in 2021.
I am very thankful for my girlfriend, family and the Nopinz Team who have been supporting me throughout and the future is looking bright once more.
I hope that this blog helps to raise the profile of concussion and the recovery from it within cycling. More than that I hope that this blog reaches far beyond the cycling community and helps people from all walks of life to talk about their mental health.