Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color

The Bloody Brain vs. the Bloody Brain

Losses and Gains

  • Independence

I used to be independent, fiercely so. I avoided asking for help as much as possible—I couldn’t bear to expose my weaknesses.

In the wake of the brain bleed, I lost my independence. I had to take a crash course in asking for help. Now, more than a decade later, though much better, I am still not fully independent. When sensory overload strikes, I can’t escape the source of my difficulties on my own. When I travel, I try to arrange for a travel companion to take care of the logistics when I can’t, and for a person at my destination to take over when necessary.

On the other hand, asking for help, exposing my weaknesses, forced me to be more trusting, which prompted people to open up to me. From a painfully shy introvert, I grew into an eager extrovert. I discovered a whole new world.

  • Fatigue:

I now tire easily and suffer from neuro-fatigue. Exhaustion aggravates my neurological deficits and brings on horrific headaches. It also forces me to slow down. I accomplish less than I did in the past. On the other hand, I have come to enjoy my time relaxing, sitting on my front porch watching the world go by, listening to the grass grow, playing with my dog.

  • Sensory overload:

I can’t process high volumes of sensory input. Data floods in with equal value—a whisper and a shriek, pale blue and lime green. The gentlest caress feels like sandpaper scouring my skin. Every sound is grating, every color garish, every touch harsh. Unable to catalog and form order out of chaos, the data backs up, creating traffic jams in my neural pathways. Sensory overload often causes panic and subsequent meltdowns.

But sensory overload also allows me to notice details that didn’t even register in my past life. I’m better at reading social cues, noticing even the subtlest of signals. I see the fluidity of the most mundane of movements of a dancer. A dew drop hanging from the stamen of a lily draws my attention. I  take joy in a snowflake melting on my fingertip.

  • Sequential thinking:

I used to be predominantly a sequential thinker. It took me on the path to becoming a mathematician, which became a central part of my identity.

            The damage to my ability to think sequentially forced the bloody brain to learn to work around it, to rewire. In the process, I transformed into a multi-style thinker, which helped me view the world around me from a wider angle and see the bigger picture. It probably also contributed to my creative ability, which has grown since my injury. 

  • Processing speed:

My processing speed used to be ridiculously fast. But after the injury, I thought more slowly. It used to frustrate me, but now it’s part of my new normal. At first, so used to thinking fast, I made a lot of errors. I had to learn to think more slowly.

            I had trouble keeping up with conversations. Usually I just switched off and enjoyed my own thoughts. Occasionally, when Particularly interested in the topic, I resorted to asked my people to repeat or reword. I used to be afraid of being judged. Now I’m open about the bloody brain. I’ve found that most people are intrigued—my explanation is an ice breaker, a start to an interesting discussion, a way to connect.

  • Memory and ADD:

Before the brain bleeds, my ability to focus was beyond that of most people I knew. My brain injury significantly shortened my attention span. It’s not bad enough to require meds but it can get in the way of productivity.
My short term memory is also abysmal. I need a lot of reminders about appointments, people’s names, what’s next on my to-do list, and what I was talking about. I often repeat myself in conversations.

My glitches in memory and my attention span are seldom more than an annoyance, a minor inconvenience. There’s no point in getting upset over them—what’s done is done and it’s beyond my control. In fact, I usually find my mishaps as great sources of hilarity.

  • Emotions:

During my early days of recovery from brain injury, many of my filters were harmed. Consequently, i became emotionally volatile—I suffered from bipolar-type mood swings, from extreme giddiness to the depths of depression and back, sometimes within minutes. Brief bouts of rage also plagued me.

The uncontrollable spikes in my emotions have since dampened. The only emotional issue that is still problematic is depression, but it is well managed with meds. On the other hand, those damaged filters are also responsible for passion and immense joy I am now better able to experience.

  • Teaching:

In order to return to the classroom, I had to relearn arithmetic, algebra, and calculus, which was a struggle. My difficulties caused my self-confidence to plummet. But as I relearned the material, I regained a decent chunk of my self-confidence.

Once I returned to the classroom, I quickly realized that my struggles made me more empathetic towards my students. Also, becoming more adept at a variety of thinking styles improved my ability to address the needs of students from a wide range of backgrounds. In addition, being able to connect better with my students improved the learning environment.

Before the bloody brain I enjoyed teaching and was a pretty good teacher. After I returned to work, my teaching skills improved no end. Teaching became a passion and I took more joy in it. From a mathematician, I grew into a teacher of mathematics—now, I’m a Teacher. Period.

  • Writing:

I came out of the surgeries feeling lost and afraid. Would I recover? Would I ever regain my independence?        

Finding nothing helpful on the internet or in books, I decided to write my own book, to help me on my journey as I bumbled along.

In time, the project grew—I wanted to reach a broader audience. To do so, I had to work on my writing skills, but because of my various deficits, I couldn’t attend classes or workshops. Instead, I hired a writing coach, who transformed me from an “eh” writer, to an award winning author.
The process of writing became a new passion So far, I’ve published two books, and have two more in the pipeline, and a couple more waiting in the wings.

  • Inner Growth:

Along my road to recovery, as I searched to understand the full nature and implications of the bloody brain, I became more aware and, in particular, more self-aware. I grew into a more authentic version of myself. I like the new Deb better than the Old Deb.

And…The Bloody Brain wins—the gains outweigh the losses by far. I wouldn’t want to repeat the experience, but I’m actually glad it happened.