Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color


“Am I not trying hard enough?”
“Am I being melodramatic? A hypochondriac?”
“Will I always be like this?”
“Will I be able to get back into the classroom?”
Those, and more questions, plagued me during my first year of recovery from my brain surgeries. Some of them continue to plague me. I still wonder whether I am over-dramatizing, whether my symptoms are real, brain injury related, or imagined. Am I truly suffering from sensory overload, or am I exaggeration? Is my balance really that bad? Or am I merely seeking attention?
Since my brain surgeries, self-doubt has become a part of who I am, though I hide it well. Apparently, it is a common phenomenon among brain injury survivors. Many of us, who used to be independent and self-confident prior to our injury, become filled with doubt.
In my case, and I’m sure among many others, questioning whether I am malingering, I tend to overdo it. I often run myself into the ground, not wanting to inconvenience others or cause concern. I don’t want outsiders to think that I am lazy, or that I am not pulling my weight.
During my first year of recovery, I wondered whether I’d always be as damaged as I was, whether I’d ever return to “normal.” In particular, I was concerned that I would never regain my independence. Would I ever be able to earn a living? At first, certain that I wouldn’t be able to return to teaching, I thought to search for an alternate career. But in time, as I healed, feeling a glimmer of hope, I started to relearn arithmetic, then college algebra, and finally calculus.
Reaching a point where I felt I was as ready as could be, I went back to work. In retrospect, I’m not sure I was ready—I probably could have used another year without teaching. During my first year back, I felt that I was a total disaster as a teacher—I was disorganized, I was easily distracted, my explanations were lacking, and I was completely drained after each lecture. But in time, my teaching improved. In fact, within a couple of years, I realized that I’d become a better teacher than I used to be before the brain bleeds.
Having had to relearn so much material, still having trouble with multi-step problems, I could better empathize with my students when they ran into difficulties with the material, and better able to address their issues. My teaching philosophy changed as well, instead on focusing on the material, I started focusing on the process, to help them hone their analytical thinking skills.
My life didn’t go back to “normal” in any sense of the word. Easily tired, I often suffer from debilitating fatigue. Headaches plague me, sometimes crippling me. And cognitively, I’m not the same, especially when I’m tired. I have trouble accessing vocabulary, I become easily distracted, and my thinking slows down. When exhausted, my brain sometimes switches off and my thinking comes to a halt—you can talk to me as much or as slow as you want, but I can’t absorb anything, let alone process it and respond accordingly.
I have missed a few meetings—I forgot about them, or the note I wrote to myself about it didn’t make sense, or marked the wrong time of day, or the wrong day, something the wrong week. Sometimes, to cancel appointments, because of crippling fatigue or a blinding headache. I
often have to forgo a much needed trip to the grocery store or the bank. Because of issues with epilepsy, I can no longer drive.
However, many of my difficulties have become mere inconveniences that I have to circumvent. In many ways, my life became fuller.
Better able to connect with people, my friendships have strengthened and I form deeper bonds. The environment in the classroom… is fabulous—I have so much more fun with my students. (Hence Fake Mustache Day and Balloon Day.)
I enjoy teaching so much more than I used to—I am much more passionate about it.
And then there’s writing—I can’t imagine my life without it. How did I live without it in the past?
I am more, not less, different, not deficient. Even though self-doubt is a frequent companion.