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Deb Brandon

March 26, 2024
Deb Brandon

In Fall 2006, when I was 46, I was diagnosed with multiple cavernous angiomas, tangles of malformed blood vessels in my brain that were behind the terrifying but fleeting symptoms I’d experienced. Apparently, two of the angiomas had bled, causing dizziness, vertigo, loss of balance, and numbness and tingling in my left arm. A neurosurgeon told me that chances were that it wouldn’t happen again. I proved him wrong a few months later: in March 2007, I experienced acute bleeds from a large angioma in my right parietal lobe and a smaller one in my brain stem. The bleeds turned my life upside down: excruciating headaches, seizures, loss of balance, and more. I couldn’t work or drive. I couldn’t be the mother I used to be. I was a math professor, and I couldn’t teach. I was a weaver and textile artist, and I couldn’t weave. My life became a mere existence. Desperate for a better answer than, “Wait and see if it happens again,” I underwent three brain surgeries in August, 2007, two planned and one an emergency, which gave me a chance to reclaim my life.

And reclaim it I have. Recovery has been an incredible—and ongoing—journey. At first, it was a complete and utterly confusing nightmare. But as I progressed, the bad brain days became less frequent and intense, with rough stretches here and there (which continue to happen). One of the lasting effects was severe depression, which led to a few bouts of suicide ideation. With the help of meds, the depression is pretty much under control.

In the process of recovery, I grew as a person. My life became fuller. A few days after I returned home from the hospital, feeling lost and afraid, I started writing about my experience. What started out as an “eh” journal, grew (with the help of a writing coach) into an award-winning book, “But My Brain Had Other Ideas.”

Having had to learn to ask for help, I learned to connect better with people. I relearned math in order to return to teaching. As my brain learned to work around my damaged sequential thinking, I came to appreciate a variety of thinking styles. Through my struggles, I became a much better teacher.

The injury brought me to where I am now. I am a more authentic version of myself, more comfortable in my own skin, more content. I’ve become more aware of so much in the world that I’d learned to ignore; everything is brighter, more vivid. Though I don’t want to repeat the experience, I have no regrets. I still have cavernous angiomas; it’s possible that one or more might bleed. But whatever happens, I am living in radiant color.

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