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My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey (2006)

by Jill Bolte Taylor

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2,4921285,641 (3.74)1 / 101
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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“Stroke is the number one disabler in our society and four times more strokes occur in the left hemisphere, impairing language.”

This neuroscientist had a massive stroke in her left hemisphere, wiping out much of her ability to speak and understand language and math, or think in our normal linear fashion. Reading this profound and insightful book, it’s apparent she managed to make an impressive recovery. Because of her brain scientist background, she is able to colorfully take us through the experience of that stroke (including post-stroke surgery to remove a large blood clot) and her patient, difficult recovery that took eight years. It’s like having a trail guide with knowledge of the local terrain and flora and fauna so extensive that she can comfortably and entertainingly give you highlights you can understand.

Her stroke shutting down her left hemisphere had a huge silver lining. Our left hemisphere is the one that chatters all the time, making observations and judgments and telling us stories - not all of them true. It’s the one that in meditation we try to calm, quiet and eventually silence. In her case, it left her right hemisphere for the first time (in adulthood) unfettered and free.

“My consciousness no longer retained the discriminatory functions of my dominant analytical left brain. Without those inhibiting thoughts, I had stepped beyond my perception of myself as an individual. Wihout my left brain . . . My consciousness ventured unfettered into the peaceful bliss of my divine right mind.”

The right brain gives us gestalt, “big picture” thinking, and normally the two halves work together to create and understand our experience. The stroke left her with an oceanic feeling of tranquil connection with everything in the universe - a tempting place to stay and live. She felt “fluid” rather than solid and separate in the normal way.

“AlthoughI rejoiced in my perception of connection to all that is, I shuddered at the awareness that I was no longer a normal human being. How on earth would I exist as a member of the human race with this heightened perception that we are each a part of it all, and that the life force energy within each of us contains the power of the universe? How could I fit into our society when I walk the earth with no fear? I was, by anyone’s standard, no longer normal. In my own unique way, I had become severely mentally ill.”

This desire to connect with others in a normal, human way motivated her to take on the arduous, humbling work of recovery. At the beginning, she could barely speak, barely (and not often) understand others, and could engage in linear thinking only briefly, after which she’d need a lot of sleep. Speaking loudly to her didn’t help - she wasn’t deaf! She humorously identifies some of her pet peeves with doctors, nurses and visitors. She credits her mother with incredible, patient care (the author had actually been somewhat neglected as a young child with older siblings). Her mother realized she needed slow, step by step learning, akin to a toddler. The ultimate result was this book (she’s also a frequent speaker, urging people to donate their post-death brains to Harvard for study).

How she learns to balance the two sides of her brain, and change the negative left side loops that had impeded her enjoyment of life is a fascinating story.

“My stroke of insight would be: Peace is only a thought away, and all we have to do to access it is to silence the voice of our dominating left mind.”

Her ordeal left her with the enviable ability to experience “Nirvana” (which she describes as filled with “compassion and joy”) whenever she likes, and adeptly bring balance and joy to her experience of life. The abrupt smashing of her life and her arduous journey back to “normal” make for an exhilarating journey for the reader, full of life lessons to think about. All this in a slim, 180+ page volume. We just started February, but this may well end up my favorite book of the year.

P.S. My stroke happened in my right hemisphere, so none of this cool stuff for me, just re-educating the left side of my body in particular to move in a normal way. ( )
2 vote jnwelch | Feb 1, 2023 |
This book is a personal account of what happened to the author, a neuroanatomist, when she had a stroke at age 37. It covers a bit of brain science in an accessible manner, as well as offering a hopeful and optimistic outlook on recovery. She provides valuable information about how to interact with those who have experienced a stroke. It is a bit repetitive at times but was an interesting insight into the adaptability of the human brain. I appreciated the tips on how to quiet our "inner chatter" and redirect unwanted neurocircuits. ( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
Answered some questions that I had such as why do we have egos? ( )
  Chris.Wolak | Oct 13, 2022 |
This was a very interesting read. It is a rare observation of stroke from the victim's perspective, as experienced by someone who is knowledgeable in the workings of the brain. There are some fascinating insights to be found here. The last half of the book, however, leaves the science behind and has more of a new age feel to it. ( )
  DreadedBunny | Aug 10, 2022 |
This book blew me away. For the first time, a stroke victim was able to describe in detail what it was like to rapidly lose function in the left brain hemisphere AS THE STROKE WAS HAPPENING, and then she was able to describe what it was like during the short- and long-term recovery process. And when the stroke victim is a brain scientist, the insight revealed is truly staggering. That Dr. Taylor was able to retain her memories of the stroke - before, during, and after - and regain the use of her left brain hemisphere to be able to WRITE about it in great detail years later, well, this was nothing short of a miracle.

My father suffered a hemorrhagic stroke - similar to, but not the same as, Dr. Taylor's - three years ago. I picked up this book, hoping it would give me some insight into what might have been going through his head at the time. I read the book, hoping it would give me reassurance that my mother - his full-time caregiver - was doing the right thing. I devoured the book, looking for pointers on how best to help him continue his healing process. This book did all of this and more: it gave me hope. I cannot wait to share with my father what I learned from this book and to hear from him whether he experienced some of the same thoughts and sensations that Dr. Taylor did. I cannot wait to share with my mother that she has been doing the right thing, to reassure her.

Dr. Taylor wrote this book in hopes that it would help caregivers and the medical community to better understand how to help stroke victims. I am forever grateful. ( )
1 vote niaomiya | Aug 8, 2022 |
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This book is dedicated to G.G. Thank you, Mama, for helping me heal my mind. Being your daughter has been my first and greatest blessing. And to memory of Nia. There is no love like puppy love.
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Every brain has a story and this is mine.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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An edition of this book was published by Plume.

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