Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color

First Last

image of countdown timer

This past summer was filled with lasts. It was my last stint as director of our REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates). I ran my last TA (Teaching Assistant) training workshop. The summer was my last summer as a college professor. And today was my last first day of an academic year.

I will be retiring in May 2020. That’s in eight months, fifteen days, thirteen hours, nine minutes, and fourteen (fifteen, sixteen, seventeen…) seconds from now. (But who’s counting?)

I don’t like the term retiring. I don’t feel like I’m retiring. I feel as if I will be going through a gear shift, a new beginning, a switch in focus, from a math professor of close to thirty years to a full time writer.

I have been wanting to make a change of this nature for a few years now. Five? Six? More? Working full time is draining for many of us brain injury survivors. When I first realized that my struggles to maintain a full teaching load was too much for me, I thought of going on partial disability. There is no such thing. And I wasn’t ready to go on full time disability. I didn’t feel disabled. I just felt… exhausted.

I held on, paying a heavy price daily throughout the semester, suffering from neuro-fatigue, bad headaches, and exacerbated neurological deficits. It took at least a month into each break from teaching to recover. As time wore on, the period of recovery increased.

Every year, I wondered how long I could keep it up. Finally, after a full summer of recovery, barely in time for the new academic year, I decided to yield to the demands of the bloody brain. That was the summer of 2018—I decided to quit at the end of the following academic year, in May 2019, shortly after I turned fifty nine.

I went to see the retirement guy in HR (human resources). He suggested that I wait a year, until I turned sixty, when I’d be eligible for retirement benefits. It seemed like a no-brainer. I started thinking of quitting in terms of retirement, but it didn’t sit well with me—this didn’t feel like an ending. It actually felt like a beginning, a rebirth.

I’ll be writing, authoring books, public speaking, and traveling. But I’ll be controlling the pace, accommodating the bloody brain as needed, making my own choices on when and how to prevent debilitating fatigue. I know I’ll be busy, very busy, as I’ve always been—it’s part of who I am. But I also know that when the bloody brain lashes out at me, I’ll be able to give myself time to recover, without being limited by the demands of my job.

I know that the next nine months will be rough—I’ll struggle through it, like I’ve struggled for more than a decade. But now, unlike the past few years, I’ll have May 2020 to look forward to. The anticipation will help me through the rough patches.

I have the countdown app on my phone to sustain me. I’ll be okay. And come May, I’ll be more than okay.