Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color

Not-So-Senior Moments

I stare at my student unseeing, my mind a complete blank—total and utter silence, inky black darkness, no words, no thoughts, no emotions. I blink, and feel the hum as my brain reboots and the lights in my circuitry blink back on, one by one.Once all my systems are operational, I become aware of my student, still staring at me, waiting for a response. I recall his question and search the math files in my mind for an answer, but my brain won’t cooperate.
I blink again and shake my head, as if to clear it, and apologize, “Sorry about that. I seem to have fallen through a hole in my brain.”
I’d just concluded an evening review session. Even prior to the bloody brain I found evening sessions exhausting, and once they were over, dredging up any pearls of wisdom for the stragglers was hard work. It was as if the bridge leading to the solution was washed out and I needed a moment to find the detour. Now, post-brain injury, the difficulty is tenfold: I have to draw from my reserves when I teach in the evening and by the end of class, I feel completely spent, as if I have nothing left, as if there are no pearls of wisdom to be sought, as if the bridge is washed out and it’ll take a lifetime to find a detour.
The current semester has been much worse than usual, much more draining. Since I returned to teaching after the brain surgeries, by the end of one class, I’m totally wiped out, and after the second, I feel like a babbling idiot—I have trouble making sense of students’ questions, and when I finally do make the necessary connections, I have trouble accessing answers, then the words for my responses. What in the past would have been a brief “senior moment,” now, lasts longer, usually no more than a few moments, but to me, a person who used to be an extremely fast thinker, it seems like an eternity.
This semester the workload has been heavy, heavier than I’ve had to contend with in the past. In addition, I mistakenly believed that I would be better off teaching two consecutive classes, rather than having a break in between. So given the choice, I opted to teach my classes back-to-back, with no recovery time in between. Also, the course I’m teaching was revamped this year—it’s at a higher level of abstraction than it was when I taught it prior to the brain bleeds. Suffering from a malady common among brain injury survivors—self doubt and lack of confidence in my ability—I’ve been extremely anxious about teaching the material effectively. Hence, I doubled my usual prep time before each lecture, and mentally reviewed my presentation afterwards. I re-examined each proof, each example, each answer to every question, wondering if I could have improved on my explanations, wishing I’d been faster in some of my responses, beating myself up over the odd silly mistake, the occasional “teaching typo.”
I’ve been totally and utterly exhausted over the last few months, both physically and emotionally, especially on teaching-days. And of course, when fatigue strikes, so does the bloody brain, exacerbating deficits and causing severe headaches.
Until this semester, I’ve often floundered as I’ve struggled to maintain a decent quality of life, often having trouble staying afloat. Now, I feel like I’m drowning. I feel like I’m falling through the holes in my brain.