My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey
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A brain scientist¡¯s personal experience with a stroke and her journey to a full recovery.
A brain scientist's journey from a debilitating stroke to full recovery becomes an inspiring exploration of human consciousness and its possibilities
On the morning of December 10, 1996, Jill Bolte Taylor, a thirty-seven-year-old Harvard-trained brain scientist, experienced a massive stroke when a blood vessel exploded in the left side of her brain. A neuroanatomist by profession, she observed her own mind completely deteriorate to the point that she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life, all within the space of four brief hours. As the damaged left side of her brain--the rational, grounded, detail- and time-oriented side--swung in and out of function, Taylor alternated between two distinct and opposite realties: the euphoric nirvana of the intuitive and kinesthetic right brain, in which she felt a sense of complete well-being and peace; and the logical, sequential left brain, which recognized Jill was having a stroke, and enabled her to seek help before she was lost completely.
In My Stroke of Insight, Taylor shares her unique perspective on the brain and its capacity for recovery, and the sense of omniscient understanding she gained from this unusual and inspiring voyage out of the abyss of a wounded brain. It would take eight years for Taylor to heal completely. Because of her knowledge of how the brain works, her respect for the cells composing her human form, and most of all an amazing mother, Taylor completely repaired her mind and recalibrated her understanding of the world according to the insights gained from her right brain that morning of December 10th.
Today Taylor is convinced that the stroke was the best thing that could have happened to her. It has taught her that the feeling of nirvana is never more than a mere thought away. By stepping to the right of our left brains, we can all uncover the feelings of well-being and peace that are so often sidelined by our own brain chatter. A fascinating journey into the mechanics of the human mind, My Stroke of Insight is both a valuable recovery guide for anyone touched by a brain injury, and an emotionally stirring testimony that deep internal peace truly is accessible to anyone, at any time.
Questions for Jill Bolte Taylor
Amazon.com: Your first reaction when you realized what was happening to your body was one you would expect: "Oh my gosh, I'm having a stroke!" Your second, though, was a little more surprising: "Wow, this is so cool!" What could be cool about a stroke?
Taylor: I grew up to study the brain because I have a brother who is only 18 months older than I am. He was very different in the way he perceived experiences and then chose to behave. As a result, I became fascinated with the human brain and how it creates our perception of reality. He was eventually diagnosed with the brain disorder schizophrenia, and I dedicated my career to the postmortem investigation of the human brain in an attempt to understand, at a biological level, what are the differences between my brain and my brother¡¯s brain. On the morning of the stroke, I realized that my brain was no longer functioning like a "normal" brain and this insight into my brother's reality excited me. I was fascinated to intimately understand what it might be like on the inside for someone who would not be diagnosed as normal. Through the eyes of a curious scientist, this was an absolutely rare and fascinating experience for me to witness the breakdown of my own mind.
Amazon.com: What did you learn about the brain from your stroke and your recovery that your scientific training hadn't prepared you for?
Taylor: My scientific training did not teach me anything about the human spirit and the value of compassion. I had been trained as a scientist, not as a clinician. I can only hope that we are teaching our future physicians about compassion in medicine, and I know that some medical schools, including the Indiana University School of Medicine, have created a curriculum with this intention.
My training as a scientist, however, did provide me with a roadmap to how the body and brain work. And although I lost my left cognitive mind that thinks in language, I retained my right hemisphere that thinks in pictures. As a result, although I could not communicate with the external world, I had an intuitive understanding about what I needed to do in order to create an environment in which the cells in my brain could be happy and healthy enough that they could regain their function. In addition, because of my training, I had an innate trust in the ability of my brain to be able to recover itself and my mother and I respected the organ by listening to it. For example, when I was tired, I allowed my brain to sleep, and when I was fresh and capable of focusing my attention, we gave me age-appropriate toys and tools with which to work.
Amazon.com: Your stroke affected functions in your left brain, leaving you to what you call the "la-la land" of your right hemisphere. What was it like to live in your right brain, and then to rebuild your left?
Taylor: When the cells in my left brain became nonfunctional because they were swimming in a pool of blood, they lost their ability to inhibit the cells in my right hemisphere. In my right brain, I shifted into the consciousness of the present moment. I was in the right here, right now awareness, with no memories of my past and no perception of the future. The beauty of La-la land (my right hemisphere experience of the present moment) was that everything was an explosion of magnificent stimulation and I dwelled in a space of euphoria. This is great way to exist if you don't have to communicate with the external world or care whether or not you have the capacity to learn. I found that in order for me to be able to learn anything, however, I had to take information from the last moment and apply it to the present moment. When my left hemisphere was completely nonfunctional early on, it was impossible for me to learn, which was okay with me, but I am sure it was frustrating for those around me. A simple example of this was trying to put on my shoes and socks. I eventually became physically capable of putting my shoes and socks on, but I had no ability to understand why I would have to put my socks on before my shoes. To me they were simply independent actions that were not related and I did not have the cognitive ability to figure out the appropriate sequencing of the events. Over time, I regained the ability to weave moments back together to create an expanse of time, and with this ability came the ability to learn methodically again. Life in La-la land will always be just a thought away, but I am truly grateful for the ability to think with linearity once again.
Amazon.com: What can we learn about our brains and ourselves from your experience, even if we haven't lived through the kind of brain trauma you have?
Taylor: I learned that I have much more say about what goes on between my ears than I was ever taught and I believe that this is true for all of us. I used to understand that I had the ability to stop thinking about one thing by consciously choosing to preoccupy my mind with thinking about something else. But I had no idea that it only took 90 seconds for me to have an emotional circuit triggered, flush a physiological response through my body and then flush completely out of me. We can all learn that we can take full responsibility for what thoughts we are thinking and what emotional circuitry we are feeling. Knowing this and acting on this can lead us into feeling a wonderful sense of well-being and peacefulness.
Amazon.com: You are the "Singin' Scientist" for Harvard's Brain Bank (just as you were before your stroke). Could you tell us about the Brain Bank (in song or not)?
Taylor: There is a long-term shortage of brain tissue donated for research into the severe mental illnesses. Most people don¡¯t realize that when you sign the back of your license as an organ donor, the brain is not included. If you would like to donate your brain for research, you must contact a brain bank directly. There is also a shortage of "normal control" tissue for research. The bottom line reality is that if there were more tissue available for research, then more scientists would be dedicating their careers to the study of the severe mental illnesses and we would have more answers about what is going on with these disorders. The numbers of mentally ill individuals in our society are staggering. The most serious and disabling conditions affect about 6 percent--or one in 17--adults and 9-13 percent of children in the United States. Half of all lifetime conditions of mental illness start by age 14 years, and three-fourths by age 24 years.
For more information about brain donation to the Harvard brain bank, please call 1-800-BRAINBANK or visit them at: www.brainbank.mclean.org
If you would like to hear me sing the brain bank jingle, please visit www.drjilltaylor.com!
A must read! Dr. Jill is amazing. She's taken what most of us might see as a terrible experience and is changing the world in a positive way. In addition to wriring, she is also a wonderful speaker--because she does both from the heart. This book is especially important for anyone entering the medical field or those who are involved in the heatlhcare of others in any way. This book is a great complement to Pearls of Wellness (Pearls of Wellness 52 Inspirations to Achieve a Peaceful Body, Mind, and Spirit). ...more info
Tedious and melodramatic I was really looking forward to reading this, and the first part, when Taylor talked about her life pre-stroke, went well. The second part, about the anatomy of the brain, was somewhat dry but necessary. But then, talking about her treatment and recovery, she segued time and time again into melodramatic overload: "My head pulsed with a tormenting pain..." "I couldn't hear anything beyond the pounding rhythm of my heart..." as well as silly philosophizing: "In silent prayer,I reflected, I am not supposed to be here anymore!" I'm glad others enjoyed it, but after p. 70 or so I gave up....more info
My Grandmother had a stroke My grandmother had a stroke when I was a baby and all I ever knew was her being in a wheel chair. This book was so enlightening and makes respect her even more....more info
Worth Reading I found the author's detailed accounting of her experience of having the stroke and the initial few days in the hospital, mesmerizing. Couldn't put the book down! Various parts, such as her description of her right brain taking over when she couldn't understand language and instead interpreting the "energy" she felt from her various visitors, were especially intriguing to me. However, in my view, the last one-third of the book, being her "lessons learned about life" from the stroke, was an exhausting repeat of common sense and the obvious; skimming those pages was all that was required....more info
Stroke of Insight This is a fascinating book, which I was eager to read after seeing an article by the author in Scientific American. However, around chapter 15 it begins to sound repetitive and as if she is trying to fill extra pages with...whatever. The tone turns preachy and leaves science behind. However, still worth it up to that point....more info
Tedious, fascinating, and weird I would give the author herself 5 stars for her journey and her perseverance and being able to overcome severe deficits.
For the book, however, 3 stars is generous, in my opinion. As the daughter of a recent stroke survivor, I found very useful information about how to deal with my mother and how to encourage her, and it also gave me great hope for her continued improvement and recovery. BUT......way too much right-brain writing going on here. "I love my cells" is an actual quote and perfectly illustrates how much of the last third of the book is written. I am glad I read this book and will recommend it to my sisters, but with the suggestion to just to read the middle section.
The first third is tedious, the middle third is fascinating, and the final third is weird....more info
Disappointing! I was very disappointed in this book. It seemed childish in many ways. Also a bit euphoric and unrealistic, as if the author was indeed still suffering from the effects of her stroke....more info
Great book at the right time Father-in-law just had a massive stroke on the left side of his brain. This book provided valuable insight as to what he was going through and how to help....more info
Fascinating! This is the most fascinating book I have ever read! I have already read it twice. Everyone in the world should read this. Amazing!...more info
My Stroke of Insight This was a spiritually profound read for me. I have studied brain hemispheres as an artist and an educator but nothing I have ever read clarified the significant differences between our two hemispheres as did this story. Jill Bolte Taylor's incredible journey into and out of her stroke and her ability to observe it as a scientist provides an unbelievable insight into our humanness in its totality. It was a page turner for me and I will be forever enriched by it.
Insight into Stroke: Left Brain and the Right Brain I purchased a number of these books for people related to stroke victims; The writing is clear and the story compelling. The author forewarns readers that Chap. 2 & 3 can be dense (indeed) but she feeds anatomical and physiological information as she describes her individual experience of stroke ( her recovery extended over years, --and she had a "good" one.!!) I moved on to another book stimulated by her references to the role of the left brain, and the role of the right brain and the communication between the two. She describes the ramifications of an injured brain and what symptoms could be manifested. Sometimes her "right brain" and "being at one with the Universe" was too "touchy-feely" for me; my next book, however, was a Buddhist's understanding of Western neurology. Go figure! She had given me a shove......more info
Reality about strokes The author captured both the medical and personal side of having a stroke. Also, the way to heal, and the possibilities of healing with the corect stimulation was most insightful. Everyone should read this book to gain "insight" should they ever need to use it! It would provide much guidance and encouragement. I'm thinking more and more often how to use the right side of my brain. . . ....more info
In the end you will have knowledge and empathy. Dr Bolte Taylor paints a picture with words about the horrors and bliss associated with having her stroke. Through this, she inspires us to look beyond the physical body that is beset with limitations and instead seek out the mental, feeling, emotional side of not just stroke victims but of all patients and of all humanity. Through that she reveals we can shape our inner self to focus on what really matters. I cannot imagine many people reading her book or seeing her lecture at TED.com walking away without having been greatly impacted by the beauty and truth of her story. I, for one, have been greatly touched on so many levels by listening to and reading about her experiences. And, I dare say, my patients have benefited as a result....more info
Recommended Reading Received in minimum time and excellent condition. Recommend for anyone with stroke indicators or family members who have had a stroke....more info
Unique Perspective This book provides a unique description of the differences between the left and right sides of the brain, because she experienced about as big a decrease in the functioning of her left hemisphere as anyone who has recovered enough to write about it. It's a very quick read, but didn't have as much information as I'd hoped.
She makes plausible claims (with minimal mysticism) that her stroke helped her experience nirvana and continues to help her choose to have the best parts of her brain dominate her personality. It makes me wish there were something better than the Wada test that would enable the rest of us to more safely experiment with such experiences.
It helps me understand what I'm not accomplishing when I try (with little success) to meditate, but it appears that her advice for how to do better only works for people who are starting with a mind that is less strongly dominated by the left brain than mine.
It's important to remember that the parts of her brain that are reporting the benefits of her experience are the ones that survived. We have little information about how the parts of her brain that died would have evaluated the experience.
Valuable spiritual awakening I would agree with other reviewers that the value of this book is in the author's "spiritual awakening." While I also find her descriptions too New Agey for my taste, I found myself envious of her new-found ability to turn off her inner critical and judgmental voices and stay in the moment with joy and gratefulness. Christians (and adherents to other faiths, I imagine) are forever trying to get to that place. I, for one, find it nearly impossible.
I have to commend the author for taking away valuable life lessons from her medical emergency, unlike Amy Silverstein in her book Sick Girl. I, too, had a medical emergency this past year and was surprised and relieved to find that feeling close to death was not the entirely terrifying experience I expected. I had feelings of regret, but found I was not afraid of what was to come. The memory of it has provided me with courage to face the future, knowing the end may be more bearable than I ever imagined. In my way of thinking about it, which may differ from this author's, no matter how dreadful our end-of-life experiences may be, God is merciful. ...more info
Amazing Book My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor is a story about a woman who is a Harvard-trained brain scientist and suffered a massive stroke. A blood vessel exploded in the left side of her brain which is the coherent, rational, grounded, detail- and time-oriented side. The right side functioned fine. She discovered that the right side of her brain housed all those feelings of well-being and peace. She never felt those feelings before because the left side was so busy with everyday chatter. She experienced deep internal peace for the first time. Her message is that this internal peace is accessible is anyone.
If you would like to experience inner peace and Spiritual Enlightenment about God in a seemingly hopeless world, May I suggest you read My book as well. (See Above)
For my Friend The author was a guest on WPR and I listened with great interest. My friend had a very damaging stroke. His rehab has hit a plateau and he needed a lift. The book was perfect and inspired him to take the bull by the horns. He is now working harder on his own and not waiting for a miracle. I will be more confident in six months to a year and perhaps will revise my review....more info
Not useful and a waste of time. I am writing this review for my father, who suffered his first major ischemic stroke in the right hemisphere of his brain in October, 1995. More than one doctor told me they didn't understand how he'd survived that amount of damage, by all accounts he should have died. But he didn't. Since then, he's had two more, less major, ischemic strokes.
He heard about this book and immediately purchased it. He's always been interested in learning about how others have dealt with the devastating and debilitating aftermath often encountered following a stroke.
He was fully unimpressed and completely disappointed with this book. He had high hopes because the author is a well-educated brain scientist who, unfortunately, also suffered a stroke, albeit a different kind of stroke from my father because she had a hemorrhagic stroke.
According to my father, this book seemed to focus more on her spirituality. He also had the impression that she was, in some respects, almost touting stroke's praises...almost as if she was recommending having a stroke so that one could be closer with their spirituality.
If you are looking for help dealing with your own stroke, or that of another, this is NOT the book to purchase. If you do, you, too, will be disappointed in its lack of assistance.
If you are looking for a guide to get closer to your own spiritualness, then this is a good one to read....more info
Read the book--skip the audiobook CDs I checked this audiobook out of the library; it's one of several about the brain that I've "read" lately in the car. This is a very valuable book, primarily for the insights it provides into what having a stroke can be like and what sorts of caregiving can be especially helpful. Unfortunately, the book is also quite repetitive; at times I thought I might have stuck in the wrong CD by mistake, because I was sure I'd heard the same thing before--but no. The worst thing about this particular version of the book, though, is the reader, who is also the author. I don't know why the publisher allowed someone who wasn't an actor or a particularly skilled reader to do the audiobook--perhaps to show how much the author had recovered from her stroke. But listening to her relatively emotionless, flat delivery hour after hour really grated on me. True, I could have returned the audiobook and put a hold on the regular copy--but I would have had to wait a lot longer. In retrospect, though, that's what I should have done, because the reading bothered me the entire time, and this really is a good, worthwhile book. If it weren't for the reader and the repetitiousness, I'd give it 5 stars--very absorbing (and inspiring) reading for anyone interested in the brain, strokes, or caregiving. ...more info
Well worth reading for an understanding of certain types of stroke I found this to be a very useful text in helping me understand a little more brain science. and on how certain types of stroke affect the brain. This technical aspect of the book was well balanced with the moving account of her recovery and her personal, emotional experience as a patient.
The writing style is a little labored, but this didn't detract too much from my overall enjoyment.
As well as reading the book I also watched the four episodes of Oprah's Spirit Channel with Jill Bolte Taylor and I found that these helped me understand the book a little better. These are available at www.oprah.com, and are in the second season of her free Spirit Channel webcasts.
Overall, I'd recommend this to anyone interested in learning more about strokes, especially if someone in your family has had a stroke and needs care....more info
Useful if you have a person suffering from a stroke My father had a stroke in 2001. It was so severe that left him for a long time now in a vegetative state. Its a unique book in the way the author discusses her personal experience with useful observation to her own state of mind and thinking at the time of a stroke. Very easy read it gets emotional on some occasions and gives you a different angle toward dealing with your own injured person if you have one. ...more info
SOOOO INFORMATIVE!! Everyone should read this book, not only for all the incredible info about the brain, but also as an insight into family illnesses. Jill Bolte is a real survivor. Thank you....more info
My Stroke of Insight Very engaging and an eye opener. I view my own health in a different vein and appreciate every day!...more info
I relate to Taylor's insightful experience I lived thru a very damaging brain injury. I recovered most of my brain functions, except one; Executive function. If we don't fully understand the science part info. regarding how the brain works. The inner self input that she provided is very important to people that survived strokes and all those close to us,family and friends...more info
Boring I had high hopes for this book, but it was boring. After the stroke, it was all dull, the narrative didn't flow and I lost interest. There were no real revelations in this book. if you're really interested in strokes, borrow it from the library instead of spending your money on it....more info
Brain aneurism recovery manual Four years ago when I was still in a fog after a six-week hospitalization, with memory loss beginning the day before my full fledged rupture, my brain surgeon asked if I had any questions. I asked if there was a book about it I could read. I had no idea what was going on in my brain/mind/body and knew things were happening that I did not understand. Dr. Taylor knows the questions I could not put into words. Thank you Dr. Taylor. I hope everyone understands the importance of what she has put into writing. ...more info
"Okay" But, not great... My Stroke of Insight is a first person account of a neuroscientist's left hemisphere stroke. The opening chapters of the book are devoted to initiating the non-scientist reader into the basics of brain science so that they may fully appreciate the proceeding story. I found the introductory chapters and the narrative to be entertaining and interesting although together they only constituted roughly half of the book.
The following half quickly changed gears into more of a "self-help" book about finding your inner peace, being one with the universe and the like. Truthfully, after reading this book I would be hard pressed to shelf it as either medical lit. or science. Instead, I would probably put it over in the new age / self-help category.
Notwithstanding, its a well written book. I find the first half entertaining but, I don't entirely buy it. My education is in both psychology and chemistry and I find it hard to believe that this first-person minute-by-minute account of her experiencing the stroke is completely accurate. However, I do acknowledge that the book is insightful and could be a real inspiration for stroke survivors, their families and loved ones. ...more info
Fabulous! A Must Read for Everyone! This is a FABULOUS book.
If you are human.
If you know a human.
You have to read this book!...more info
Very useful insights but a bit academic reading Very useful insights but a bit academic reading. Very useful insights for folks having a stroke and those who care for them....more info
Not to Be Confused with Being a Spiritual Leader or Theological Expert Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. provides a phenomenal account of her stroke and her recovery. For patients, families, and health care providers, the best parts of "My Stroke of Insight" are certainly Dr. Bolte Taylor's two appendices: "Ten Assessment Questions" and "Forty Things I Needed the Most." It would be a mistake, however, to confuse Dr. Bolte Taylor with being a spiritual leader or a theological expert.
In regard to religion and spirituality, Dr. Bolte Taylor places an extremely strong emphasis on altered states of consciousness:
* "Swathed in an enfolding sense of liberation and transformation, the essence of my consciousness shifted....I think the Buddhists would say I entered the mode of existence they call Nirvana" (p. 49). * "My entire self-concept shifted as I no longer perceived myself as a single, a solid, an entity with boundaries....at the most elementary level I am a fluid....My soul was as big as the universe and frolicked with glee in a boundless sea" (p. 69).
Rather than aiming to unite ourselves with the will of God, Dr. Bolte Taylor seems to simply associate the aim of prayer with the experience of intense feelings:
* "I believe the experience of Nirvana exists in the consciousness of our right hemisphere, and that at any moment, we can choose to hook into that part of our brain" (p. 111).
* "brain research performed by Drs. Andrew Newberg and the late Eugene D'Aquili earlier this decade have helped me understand....Using SPECT technology (single photon emission computed tomography), these scientists identified the neuroanatomy underlying our ability to have a religious or spiritual (mystical experience)....Tibetan monks and Franciscan nuns were invited to pray inside the SPECT machine. They were instructed to tug on a cotton twine when they reached their meditative climax or felt united with God. These experiments identified shifts in neurological activity in very specific regions of the brain....when my left language centers were silenced and my left orientation association area was interrupted from its normal sensory input, my consciousness shifted away from feeling like a solid, to a perception of myself as a fluid - at one with the universe" (pp. 135, 136).
How would Dr. Bolte Taylor account for arid experiences of prayer, such as what has been famously described of Mother Theresa of Calcutta?
While offering a very wide perspective, Dr. Bolte Taylor does not seem able to adequately explain evil. Hints about HER perspective on the life hereafter are very unsatisfying:
* "In the consciousness of my right mind, we are all good and we are all beautiful - just the way we are" (p.140).
* "My right mind realizes that the essence of my being has eternal life. Although I may lose these cells and my ability to perceive this three-dimensional world, my energy will absorb back into the tranquil sea of euphoria" (p. 160)....more info
My Stroke of Insight A fabulous book! Gives a very detailed and intimate look at stroke and the experience of the patient going through stroke symptoms. Good for learning about the brain as well as being able to understand the frustrations and challenges facing the stroke victim. It is absolutely amazing in the details of patient experience in relation to what is happening in the brain. ...more info
stroke victim Every health professional who comes in contact with a brain wounded person should read this book. ...more info
excellent I can honestly say I have not enjoyed a book this good in a long while. This book is not only informative but it is entertaining, you will not be able to set it down. It's a book everyone should read....more info
great information - full of hope ASIN:0670020745 My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey
As a friend of a young woman who suffered a stroke last fall, I found this book to be a valuable resource. It helped me understand the process of recovery and my part in it. ...more info