Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color

Me or Me?

I posted on Facebook: “I lie here in bed contemplating my headache. What should I do for it? (Or should it be against it?) It’s definitely a bad one. (Are there good headaches?) Then I wondered about wondering—it’s getting to the point where wondering/thinking will aggravate the pain. I should stop.”
My inner voices are active through many of my waking hours, questioning, explaining, advising, arguing. They’ve always been there to some degree, but after the brain bleeds, they became much more pronounced, especially during times of sensory overload, when my panicked voice argues with a calming voice of reason.
These voices, of course, appear in my memoir writing:
“I need to get out of here. But how? Where? My eyes are pricking with tears. I can’t cry, not in front of everyone! It is so crowded, so many bright colors, so much motion. They’re too loud, they’re too close! I have to get out. I feel raw, in pain.”
I didn’t think of them as distinct entities—they were just a part of me, a unit. Until I started working with a speech coach, Natalie, a professor in the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama.
During our first session I explained that I wanted to improve my public speaking skills. I wanted to raise awareness and help remove the stigma about recovery from brain injury, and I wanted to convey my message effectively. I wanted the audience to come away changed. In a positive way. I wanted to make a real difference.
During my second session with her she asked me to read out loud. I read pieces poetry and prose that she provided. We next moved on to excerpts from my book “But My Brain Had Other Ideas.”
“Have you thought of making an audio book out of it?” I hadn’t. “You should. And you should do the reading.”
I should do the reading?
“You could have an actor do it. But these are your words. No one knows them as well as you do. And you can do it. It’ll take a while, but you should do it.”
I should do it!
We are working on it. It’s not easy. Though I hear my voices in my head as I read it, it takes work to speak them out loud. “You have to learn to be an intensified version of yourself. You need to sound real to an audience.”
She explained that I have to sound like the real me, but more so. In order to sound convincing, I needed to increase my breath control so that I could utter long sentences without pausing. I needed to avoid upspeak, the rising inflection at the end of a sentence, which would sound as if I was questioning myself.
“When you introduce yourself, you need to sound as if you mean it. You’re declaring that you are Deborah Brandon.” She suggested that in my mind I should add a challenge to the audience, “My name is Deborah Brandon. Do you have a problem with that?” To help me remember to pause at various points, she proposed that I should think, “Do you understand?” I also had to learn to slow down and take a break between the voices to mark their distinguishing characteristics.
We worked on one of the most challenging passages in the book—it includes several voices, all of them mine. I had a lot of trouble transforming the written words into speech that sounded like me, even though I could her the voices in my head.
Natalie told me, “If you can read this, you can read anything.”
A week ago, she made a couple of new recommendations. One was to highlight each voice with a different color, and the other was to write it like a script. And it worked–Natalie feels that I’m ready. In two weeks we’ll do a recording of me reading to post on my website.
Reasoning: I need to get out of here.
Panicking: But how? Where?
Narrator: My eyes are pricking with tears.
Panicking: I can’t cry, not in front of everyone!
Narrator: It is so crowded, so many bright colors, so much motion.
Panicking: They’re too loud, they’re too close! I have to get out.
Narrator: I feel raw, in pain.