My Stroke of Insight

my stroke of insightOne of the perks of having a mother who works at the library is that her house always has a surplus of books in it. She checks out anything interesting that passes across her desk, and she brings home plenty of donated or extra books for visitors to peruse.

I was leafing through a stack of books in her room the other day, looking for something to read while both children napped (an almost unheard of event!), when I came across a book that caught my attention.

Titled My Stroke of Insight, and stamped with a bold image of a colorful brain, it was written by a neuroanatomist, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, who had a stroke at the age of 37. As a brain scientist, the author had the ability to recognize what was happening to her as she experienced the stroke, and was in the unique position to, once recovered, write about her experience in working towards recovery.

The book has no doubt served as an excellent insight for medical professionals (and others) into the experience of stroke patients, but what was most fascinating to me was the documented struggle of the author to return to her left brain (the damaged area) after experiencing what it was like to experience the world through the lens of the right.

Her left brain, like most of ours, contained the joys of numbers, language, the visual perception of shapes and other things we consider critical for getting by in our world, but it also contained other stuff – like the author’s stubbornness, pride and temper. She writes about how she had to reteach herself how to let go of anger, in order to stay connected to the euphoric, ‘all is one feeling’ she experienced when relying mainly on the right side of her brain.

Our Emotions Are A Choice

A truly fascinating fact she learned in her recovery was that the brain and body’s reaction to anger washes through the body in 90 seconds. For a minute and a half, all of us feel the intense emotion of anger as a neuro-chemicals washes through us… and then it’s gone. It is 100% our choice to hook into that anger and decide to continue it – our physical body has already experienced it and let it go.

The author acknowledges that feelings need to be validated, so for that 90 seconds when she is becoming aware of her anger, she validates it by acknowledging the emotion – and then she moves on. She is quick to admit how difficult this is, but also to express how learning this has utterly changed her recovery and life after stroke.

Her story, which could easily be one of tragedy and defeat, is one of joy and triumph. Her experience with tapping into the universal present marked her profoundly, and she strives every day to live in a positive and loving way.

We all don’t need something as dramatic and life-threatening as a stroke to remind us of this. We all have the power inside of us to choose to hook into that 90 seconds of anger (just 90 seconds folks!) or to take a deep breath, acknowledge our feeling – and then let it go. Think of something beautiful. Recite a poem to calm down. Do a few jumping jacks. Sing. Meditate. We can choose to retrain our healthy brains to be even healthier, to make positive connections and hook into the things in life worth thinking about.

[Photo Credit: TZA]

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1 thought on “My Stroke of Insight”

  1. I love this post. It’s funny, my daughter recently told me about this author’s story and I was so fascinated by it. And you mentioning it here makes me think I need to read the book now. I love the idea of acknowledging the emotion and then letting it go. I feel like this is what babies do. They can be screaming their heads off one moment and happy the next. I’ve noticed in myself, that it’s my pride that has the hardest time recovering. Like to admit I was fine would somehow shame me because I was just upset? I don’t know. But I feel like having this knowledge could open up a greater thinking on the matter, so I can live more fully in the moment. Thanks you for sharing!!

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