After Carnegie Mellon University math professor Deb Brandon was released from the hospital following three brain surgeries in 2007, she took to books and the Internet to try to understand what life would be like.
Although there were plenty of resources about the trauma that caused the injury, there was nothing about living with one. Finally, a decade later, Brandon came to a realization.
“It occurred to me that if I write about it, not only would it help me deal with it, it might help other brain-injury survivors at the same time, and it would help family and friends understand what I’m going through,” she says.
But My Brain Had Other Ideas: A Memoir of Recovery from Brain Injury (She Writes Press), Brandon’s first non-academic work, details life after three surgeries to fix cavernous angiomas — tangled brain vessels that had leaked blood in her brain.
In order to write the book, Brandon hired a writing coach to help with everything from securing an agent to putting words to a page, and even with pacing the work of writing itself.
“She could tell from my writing if I was in trouble, and could tell when I had ‘bad brain days,’” Brandon says.
While My Brain is in part an account of life with a brain injury, Brandon, 57, also wants it to help people understand what it’s like to live with invisible disability in general, like multiple sclerosis and depression.
Brandon returned to teaching about a year after the surgeries. She says that both students and colleagues have reacted positively to her debut book, attending signing events and praising her in the hallways of the Department of Mathematical Sciences.
Although life post-surgery has been, and remains, difficult, Brandon said the journey, with all of its losses and gains, has led her to find a new passion: writing.
“I can’t say, ‘I wish I hadn’t gone through it,’” she says.
Brandon is currently working on a book about textile techniques from around the world (for release later this year) and a collection of photo essays with CMU professor of photography Charlee Brodsky. More information is at www.debbrandon.com.