Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color


After the surgeries, I was lost—I had no frame of reference. I didn’t understand the rules that governed the new world I found myself in. I had no idea how to navigate through it. I was broken and I had to find a way out of the chaos that was now my life. But where to start?

All I knew of recovery was what I learned in inpatient rehab. Mimicking my experience there seemed as good a place as any to start.

I had to overcome the cognitive and physical deficits that blocked my way. Debilitating fatigue and physical weakness were huge obstacles, as were psychological issues.

Before I started rehabilitating myself I had to seek a psychotherapist— I was now severely depressed, prone to anxiety, and overwhelmed—I knew I couldn’t manage on my own. Three months into my recovery, after a particularly alarming bout of suicide ideation, I admitted to myself that therapy wasn’t enough. I needed to go on antidepressants—I started seeing a psychiatrist.

Once I began therapy, I was ready to tend to my cognitive losses. In addition to slowing my speed of thinking and damaging my memory and attention span, the bloody brain impaired my ability to think sequentially, crucial to mathematical thought.

Throughout my adult life, I’d been proud of my brain power. It was a significant part of my life, my identity. Would I be able to recover sufficiently to reclaim the brain capacity I used to know and enjoy?

I made an appointment with a neuropsychologist. After several hours of damage assessment, he suggested I play brain games on a Nintendo DS. The games helped rewire my brain to work around my difficulties with sequential thinking. They also increased my speed of thinking, improved my memory, and enhanced my attention span.

To recuperate physically, I exercised daily, alternating between a stationary bike and a rowing machine. I also took frequent walks, which later, as my balance improved, evolved into hikes.

Eight months after the surgeries, I rejoined my dragon boat team—dragon boating addressed all three aspects of my recovery. I took pride in my skill as a paddler. It increased both strength and stamina. I became as physically fit as I had ever been—I relished feeling strong, powerful. The adrenaline rushing through my systems during races brought me fierce joy. Working to stay in sync with the other paddlers increased my attention span. Following the coach’s instructions improved my damaged sequential thinking. In addition, the supportive community of dragon boaters helped me through the emotionally rough patches—I felt safe, accepted for who I was now, respected for my prowess as a dragon boater. When in the boat, I felt very much alive, whole, unbroken, empowered.

             Four years (or was it five?) after I returned home from hospital, due to persistent shoulder injuries, I had to quit the team. Not wanting to lose what I had gained through dragon boating. I tried Pilates which would increase my strength while being easier on my body. But it didn’t me that passion and joy, nor the feeling of empowerment I experienced in dragon boating.

A woman from the Pilates class suggested I try yoga. I hesitated—my limitations would get in the way. My poor balance would be an issue, bending too far backward caused vertigo, and putting my head down triggered splitting headaches.

            I was afraid to work with just anyone—so many yoga instructors out there wouldn’t know how to adapt the exercises to accommodate the bloody brain. A woman from the Pilates class recommended Yoga on Centre. “Ask for Sara. She’s amazing.”

At the time, I wasn’t aware that Iyengar Yoga, practiced at Yoga on Centre, was originally developed to manage health problems. Nor did I realize that Sara specialized in that aspect of Iyengar yoga.

I perused the Yoga on Centre website. And there it was—a class named Yoga Therapy and Rehabilitation, taught by Sara Azarius. I started attending the sessions within the month. Sara was indeed amazing.

In addition to being knowledgeable, she was a skilled teacher and very personable. She took time to connect with her students, treating each one of us as excellent problem solver she always found ways to adapt exercises to our individual needs.

By the end of my first year practicing yoga, my balance improved as did my pain management skills. Sara even addressed my dragon-boat related shoulder injuries as well as back problems I’d had since I was a teenager.

Several months into attending the classes, I noticed that not only was my body responding, but so was something inside me. I wasn’t sure what was going on. Certainly, as I’d expected, the breathing exercises helped me quiet my mind, but there was more to it, something I couldn’t verbalize.

Examining the issue through writing, led me to an epiphany—dragon boating had fulfilled a desperate need to prove to myself that I was recovering, both physically and cognitively. Through the sport, the bloody brain was losing its grip on my body and mind. Now, feeling more in control, my need for validation abated and with it my compulsion to dragon boat.

Until now, I was unaware that there was more to recovery than the physical, cognitive, and psychological. It didn’t occur to me that there was anything else going on. Now, I knew that the bloody brain had also damaged… what? The inner me? My essence?

I was now embarking on the next leg of my journey of recovery—actively rebuilding the post-brain injury. Until now I was not fully aware of that part of my journey. It was now time to work to repair my broken inner being, to make myself whole.