Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color


Speed limit 5 road sign
Christopher Sessums Photo credit:

I read the first sentence: “An island is 2 miles due north of its closest point along a straight shoreline.” Oh God! What the hell does that mean? “Closest point along…blah blah blah”

There was no way I could figure this out. About to panic, I took adeep breath. What if I drew a picture? An island—I could do that. “2 miles due north of its closest… blah blah blah…” Clearly this wasn’t going to work. Another deep breath. I decided to skip ahead, perhaps that would give me a clue. Ah! “a straight shoreline.” I could draw a straight shoreline. I reread that part. Oh, the island is north of the shoreline. I adjusted the drawing—shoreline on the bottom, island above it. Oh, 2 miles above it.

Once I drew the picture, step by step I figured out how to translate it into variables and equations. Solving it was a piece of cake.

Before the brain surgeries, I would have flown through the problem, thinking it through in real time, sketching the picture quickly while incorporating the variables into the picture. The surgeries robbed me of that speed.

People I met socially usually reacted to my being a mathematician with “You must be really smart.” In the past, I accepted it as my due. Now, I equated my inability to think as fast as I used to with loss of intelligence, an integral part of who I was. I now felt like an impostor.

My neuropsychologist explained that though I lost speed of processing, my brain power was intact. He added that I probably wouldn’t fully regain speed, but it would improve. In time I did regain speed. But I felt it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t back to who I wanted to be.

As I progressed in my healing, I came to understand that I was not the same person I used to be and I never would be. I learned that my new norm was actually better than the old. Not only were the losses accompanied by gains, but in fact, the gains far outweighed the losses. My life became fuller, much richer. But still, the memory of the old me lurked in the recesses of my mind, occasionally resurfacing whenever the bloody brain lashed out at me, and I lamented my cognitive deficits.

Before the onset of the bloody brain, a friend told me that I got much more done than most people. When she asked how I did it, I had no answer for her—it was all I knew. I assumed that everyone got as much done. And now, I wonder at the old me. How did I manage it all?

Recently, I watched a video where the narrator suggested that instead of worrying about societal norms about our looks, what we wear, and what we do, we should take the time to look in the mirror and tell ourselves that we are enough.

The word “enough” brought back my writing coach’s advice. “Set yourself goals for the day. Make sure the list is within reach. And at the end of the day, tell yourself the whatever you manage to get done is enough.” She referred to this strategy as conditions of enoughness.

Now, at the end of the day, when frustration threatens, I think back to her words. And it helps, most of the time.

As I watched the video, it occurred to me that I could apply conditions of enoughness not only to a list of tasks. I could implement them to myself, as a person, the new me.

I am enough, thinking speed, bloody brain and all.