Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color

Seven Year Itch

Wendy looked at me askance. “How come you didn’t mention the brain injury? Last year you did.”

She was interviewing me, as part of a writing exercise, during our annual writing workshop, less than two months ago.

It just didn’t occur me to mention it. I wasn’t sure why. It was my turn to interview her, so I mumbled something about the bloody brain not being as central part of my life anymore. But I tucked it away to examine later.

Every semester since I returned to teaching after the surgeries, my brain injury had been an important part of my breaking-the-ice routine, a way to connect with the students. “How many of you have suffered a brain injury? Including concussions.”

Every semester, I’d get the same reaction. After a brief silence, chairs squeaked with students twisting and turning to see as more and more hand went up. Then a lively discussion ensued about the effects of brain injury, the duration of recovery, my brain surgeries. Every semester this ritual benefited the classroom atmosphere, leading to deeper bonds with and between students, allowing for a more effective learning environment.

This year, on the first lecture of the semester, as I walked back from class to my office, I realize that I forgot about the brain injury. I spoke of weaving, of my travels growing up, of dragon boating, but I made no reference to the bloody brain.

The following week, after a regular checkup with my neurologist, I posted a message on Facebook about the clean bill of health he gave me. (Despite my residual deficits, which we clearly find boring.) I’d never posted such a message in the past, though he’d said much the same thing duringthe past few checkups. Did I feel more comfortable speaking of the bloody brain in a more public forum? Why?

I examined the pieces of the puzzle. This year has been different. Perhaps not physically, but in my state of mind.

I’d started yoga, with the thought of improving my balance. But by the end of my first conversation with my yoga teacher, I’d wondered whether it might be another phase in my recovery—one that would heal me emotionally.

Had I finally, seven years since the surgeries, stopped defining myself through the injury? Why? What had changed?

Is seven years some sort of natural mile marker for the mental and emotional side of the healing process? Is it the brain injury survivors form of the seven year itch?