• Deb Brandon
  • [SWP: Behind the Book] Creating a Map: Writing My Way Through the Fog
[SWP: Behind the Book] Creating a Map: Writing My Way Through the Fog
Written by
Deb Brandon
September 2017
Written by
Deb Brandon
September 2017

“Dreaming. Dreaming of dancing. A slow dance. Swaying.”

I’m not sure what prompted me to write those words in an e-mail to a friend within days of my release from the hospital after my brain surgeries. The format didn’t surprise me; between my headaches and disconnected thoughts, most of my writing seemed disconnected, sometimes choppy.

But as I wrote the line, I heard the rhythm in it. Without thinking, I rearranged it.


Dreaming of dancing.

A slow dance.


I reread it. It was the beginning of a poem, of sorts. But I don’t even like poetry. Except possibly haiku. Curious, I started experimenting, adding a line here, substituting a word there, changing the punctuation.

I moved on to another poem, about the effects of the brain surgeries on my essence. I wrote others about my anger and frustration, about sadness and grief, and about the new joys I was discovering. The poems flowed fast and furious, some decent, some appalling, all of them satisfying a need inside me. The need surprised and delighted me, as did my ability to fulfill it.

“I’ve started writing poetry since the surgeries," I told my neuropsychologist. "It just started, out of the blue. What’s going on? How did it happen?”

He leaned back in his chair. “Well, we don’t really know how it works. But in the rewiring, you unlocked a door.” He assured me that once opened, the door would remain open.

I experienced many losses following my brain injury—short term memory, attention span, independence, the old me. But I also experienced surprising gains: stronger friendships, creativity, enhanced sensory awareness, as well as poetry and other creative writing. I became a new version of the old me, a version I like better.

Though my discovery of poetry seemed accidental, I took up writing to fulfill a specific need.

Coming home from hospital, I felt separated from the rest of humanity, marked by my scars, both visible and invisible. I needed help, but I felt detached and alone. No one understood, least of all, me.

I searched for something to guide me, but there was nothing that truly addressed my needs, neither in books nor on the internet.

Yes, there was information about the medical side of recovery from brain injury; there were even how-to books. There were personal accounts written by caregivers—a look from the outside in. But I needed anecdotes, stories, a glimpse into the soul of others who’d walked my path.

Yes, there were stories from the inside, told by survivors. But they focused on crises, the cause of the injury and immediate trauma. A few addressed acute recovery, at best the first few post-injury months, but they ignored or barely touched on the ongoing experience of learning to live with brain injury.

I was on a journey into a new life. I was an alien in a fog-shrouded world that made no sense, and I was traveling without a map or compass.

From within the fog that was my mind, an idea emerged—I could create my own map, build my own compass for myself and for other survivors. Perhaps it would also help those on the outside understand.

Two weeks after my third surgery, I started writing in earnest, with this goal firmly in mind.

I wrote through the roller coaster that is recovery from brain injury. I wrote through joyful triumphs and giddiness, when I knew that in the foreseeable future, I’d be back to normal. I wrote through the times when my progress slowed to a crawl, and I was terrified that I’d remain stuck, forever damaged, unable to fend for myself, a burden on my kids. I wrote through the fear that I'd never be the mother I wanted to be again, that I'd be unable to return to my work as a college math professor, and that I'd have another brain bleed (which is possible and unpredictable). I wrote from deep within the black abyss of injury-triggered depression, releasing the denial I'd crafted so carefully to hide thoughts of suicide. I wrote of meds and moods and setbacks and discoveries. I kept writing, no matter what.

As my brain healed from its physical wounds, my writing helped my mind heal. The brain injury brought me writing, and writing brought me inner growth—improved awareness, including self-awareness. A better understanding of who I was now, post-injury, and who I used to be. A richer life; in so many ways, a better life, even with its unending challenges.

I'm proud of my memoir, But My Brain Had Other Ideas, and thrilled that it is finding its way into the world soon.

And I know that no matter what life throws my way, the door that opened after surgery will stay open: I will always write.

Let's be friends

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  • Michelle Cox

    What a great story, Deb! Fascinating. Can't wait to read this book!

  • Jenni Ogden Writing

    Kia ora Deb, This is inspirational. I am a neuropsychologist and author of articles and books about rehabilitation and patients' and their families' experiences following brain damage, and I know well how important memoirs like this are. Also how important it is for every individual to find the passion that helps them in their recovery process. I hope your book finds the readership who need it most.

  • Betty Hafner

    This is a beautiful piece of writing! What an inspiration your book will be.

  • Barbara Ridley

    I am so glad you got to write this important memoir. Wishing you all the best!