On the 10th of December, 1996, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard-trained neuroanatomist, experienced a rare form of stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. Within four hours, she watched her mind lose its ability to process information.
“By the end of that morning,” she writes, “I could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of my life. Curled up into a little fetal ball, I felt my spirit surrender to death, and it certainly never dawned on me that I would ever be capable of sharing my story with anyone.”
Amazingly, Dr. Taylor survived her encounter with death, and over the next eight years completely recovered from her hemorrhage. “My Stroke of Insight” is the story of what happened—the first documented account of a stroke and its aftermath by a trained brain scientist.
Dr. Taylor’s story falls naturally into four divisions. “Jill’s Pre-Stroke Life” introduces the reader to the author and some of the reasons she chose to become a student of the human brain.
“Morning of the Stroke” presents, in minute detail, what it felt like to have a stroke, and relates the cognitive defects she experienced to the underlying biology of the brain. “As a neuroanatomist, I must say that I learned as much about my brain and how it functions during that stroke, as I had in all my years of academia.” Dr. Taylor was 37 at the time.
The third, and largest, portion of the book deals with the many facets of her recovery, and should prove an invaluable resource for stroke victims and their loved ones. At the end of the book she presents an extensive list of “Recommendations For Recovery.” Several of these ought to be required reading for us all, whether sick or well.
The final section of the book, “My Stroke of Insight” defines some of the important things Dr. Taylor learned from the long struggle to regain her capabilities in the aftermath of her trauma. Chief among these was her growing awareness of the peacefulness available to her as she learned to access the right hemisphere of her own brain; a source of harmony and joy that, she claims, is readily available to us all if we make the effort to seek it out.
“Based upon my experience with losing my left mind, I wholeheartedly believe that the feeling of deep inner peace is neurological circuitry located in our right brain. This circuit is constantly running and always available for us to hook into. The feeling of peace is something that happens in the present moment. It’s not something that we bring with us from the past or project into the future. Step one to experiencing inner peace is the willingness to be present in the right here, right now.”
As we become better acquainted with the miraculous, trillion-celled organ we call the brain, many intriguing possibilities present themselves. As Dr. Taylor commenced the work of recovery, she began experimenting with ridding herself of reflexive responses such as anger, jealousy, fear, and negativity that had rooted themselves in her brain as a child. To her amazement, she found herself able to jettison much of her unwanted baggage, and says she looks forward to getting rid of more in the future.
I strongly recommend you take the time to read Taylor’s account of losing—and regaining—her mind. It’s a work of uncommon insight and wisdom.