My Stroke of Insight
A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey
From Library Staff
Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist by profession, writes about her experience with stroke. Includes information about how the brain works, as well as a personal account of her experience.
A brain scientists recounts her experiences after suffering a stroke at the age of thirty-seven, describing her discovery of differences in the left and right side of the brain and the steps she took over a period of eight years to recover her health.
On the morning of December 10, 1996, Taylor, a brain scientist, experienced a massive stroke. She observed her own mind completely deteriorate. Now she shares her unique perspective on the brain and its capacity for recovery.
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My soul was as big as the universe and frolicked with glee in a boundless sea. (p. 69)
I was simply a being of light radiating life into the world. (p. 71)
In the absence of my left hemisphere's negative judgment, I perceived myself as perfect, whole, and beautiful just the way I was. (p. 71)
Because everything around us – the air we breathe, even the materials we use to build with – are composed of spinning and vibrating atomic particles, you and I are literally swimming in a turbulent sea of electromagnetic fields.
I felt weak and wounded. My arm felt completely depleted of its intrinsic strength, yet I could wield it like a stub. I wondered if it would ever be normal again. Catching sight of my warm and cradling waterbed, I seemed to be beckoned by it on this cold winter morning in New England. _Oh, I am so tired. I feel so tired. I just want to rest. I just want to lie down and relax for a little while._ But resounding like thunder from deep within my being, a commanding voice spoke clearly to me: _If you lie down now you will never get up!_
I was aghast when I realized it was their plan to cut my head open! Any self-respecting neuroanatomist would _never_ allow anyone to cut their head open!
What a wonderful gift this stroke has been in permitting me to pick and choose who and how I want to be in the world. Before the stroke, I believed I was a product of this brain and that I had minimal say about how I felt or what I thought. Since the hemorrhage, my eyes have been opened to how much choice I actually have about what goes on between my ears.
Many of us spend an inordinate amount of time and energy degrading, insulting, and criticizing ourselves (and others) for having made a “wrong” or “bad” decision. When you berate yourself, have you ever questioned: Who inside of you is doing the yelling, and at whom are you yelling? Have you ever noticed how these negative internal thought patterns have the tendency to generate increased levels of inner hostility and/or raised levels of anxiety? And to complicate matters even more, have you noticed how negative internal dialogue can negatively influence how you treat others and, thus, what you attract?
There has been nothing more empowering than the realization that I don’t have to think thoughts that bring me pain. Of course there is nothing wrong with thinking about things that bring me pain as long as I am aware that I am choosing to engage in that emotional circuitry. At the same time, it is freeing to know that I have the conscious power to stop thinking those thoughts when I am satiated.
When my brain runs loops that feel harshly judgmental, counterproductive, or out of control, I wait ninety seconds for the emotional/physiological response to dissipate and then I speak to my brain as though it is a group of children. I say with sincerity, “I appreciate your ability to think thoughts and feel emotions, but I am really not interested in thinking these thoughts or feeling these emotions anymore. Please stop bringing this stuff up.” Essentially, I am consciously asking my brain to stop hooking into specific thought patterns. Different people do it differently of course. Some folks just use the phrase, ”Cancel! Cancel!” or they exclaim to their brain, “Busy! I’m too busy!” Or they say, “Enough, enough, enough already! Knock it off!”
Intuitively, I don’t question why I am subconsciously attracted to some people and situations, and yet repelled by others. I simply listen to my body and implicitly trust my instincts.
I love knowing that I am simultaneously (depending on which hemisphere you ask) as big as the universe and yet merely a heap of star dust.
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