Wounded people are exactly that – they are wounded and if we treat them as though they are stupid then we are the ones being stupid.
Dr Jill Bolte Taylor is a Harvard-trained brain researcher, who in 1996, at the age of 37, had the chance to explore what a brain stroke is from a personal experience after having a severe haemorrhage in the left hemisphere of her brain. On the morning of the incident, she lost her ability to walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life. It took eight years for Dr Jill to completely recover all of her physical function and thinking ability.
Today Dr Taylor is a neuroanatomist, author, and inspirational public speaker. Her experience naturally had a strong impact on her work and talks . Dr Taylor gave the first TED talk that ever went viral on the Internet, with nearly 20 million views at present. She explores the subject in detail in her 2006 book My Stroke of Insight, A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, which became a NY Times bestseller and was published in 30 languages.
My stroke of Insight – TED talk
Can the brain fully recover after a neurological damage and what is considered a recovery – is it the ability to retain new information, the recovery of information that has been lost, or both?
When the brain is traumatised and function is lost, it is because cells have been traumatised (or killed) and are no longer available in their network to result in a normal function. Some cells may recover and find their way back to normal function. Other times, other cells may take over the function and regain ability. Sometimes there is no recovery at the level of the cells and the function does not return.
Who’s brain are you carrying around at talks and presentations?
What are the important factors to recover psychologically after a stroke?
I believe being grateful for what we did not lose helps encourage the brain cells that are still functioning. Getting angry about loss is like telling the cells that are working still that they have no value, so recovery is impaired. There also needs to be a willingness to pay attention to the brain cells, encourage them and respect their need for sleep. Rehab must be balanced with sleep or the cells will not be able to perform.
What is the right attitude towards someone who has had a neurological damage? ( referring to the doctor for whom you say in your book “She recognised I was wounded and not stupid”)
It is always important to be encouraging. Wounded people are exactly that – they are wounded and if we treat them as though they are stupid then we are the ones being stupid.
Cells are not in a hurry to recover, people are. It takes time for trauma to dissipate and then recovery to happen
– again, we must consider what is going on at the level of the cells.
Your reaction to the experience of having a stroke seems panic-less? Was there a moment of fear and if not, how would you explain its lack of your experience
I was curious instead of fearful, I was a brain scientist and through that filter the experience was fascinating.
How would you explain the fear’s presence within people who have never had a stroke, yet the thought of a stroke would freak them out (for instance, the fear of having a stroke is one of the most common fears related to panic attacks?)
Of course, it is terrifying to think that we are losing cells in our brain as many of us define our existence and individuality by what we think and do.
What level of consciousness do people keep after a brain damage?
Every brain is different so this becomes unpredictable. Some people are conscious through it, some pass out and everything is dependent on where the trauma is and how that person is wired.
What kind of consciousness would that be depending on the hemisphere in which the damage occurs? (referring to an interview with Oprah in which you are saying that should the haemorrhage had occurred in your right hemisphere you would have been all ego, no intuition)
Our two hemispheres organise information in different ways. Our right brain looks at the big picture, the collective whole, the energy of everything interdependent and interconnected, so trauma to the right brain will interfere with our bigger picture of who we are and how we fit into the bigger picture of humanity and life in general, as we are in relationship with the energy around us – and our perception of and relationship with being in the flow of the universe. Our left brain is all about defining boundaries and we become an individual separate from the whole – we have likes and dislikes, we define what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad – we have an ego and those who are similar to us tend to feel more safe than those who are different. If cells in one hemisphere or the other go off-line, then the cells that remain healthy and strong will dominate and I will predictably become ‘more of that character’.
A growing body of research suggests that meditation is beneficial for the brain and the overall wellbeing. What is your take on that?
Meditation allows the brain to shift from our normal stress circuitry (left brain) to one that is relaxed and explorative (right brain). I think it is generally a good thing for the brain cells to have a chance to be stimulated in different ways.
In reference to the previous questions, would it be fair to say that the results suggest that we, humans, have the capacity to self-heal, grow and have control over much more than we know of?
Slightly off topic, is there a neurological difference between left and right-handed people?
NO, handedness is not about cerebral dominance and most left-handed people’s brains are organised the same way
as right-handed people.
How long did it take you to recover?
What did it take and what were the main phases of recovery you went, though?
There were no phases, just circuits and cells that needed to be healed.
How did your personality change, are you a different person from who you used to be (or who you remember being if you do) and if so – did you grief your old persona?
The person I was before the stroke died that morning and we grieved her death. This allowed the new cells supporting the new me with new interests and ideas to emerge.
Do you remember a specific moment when you realised that you are getting better?
The moment that I woke up after the stroke – I was alive and that was a step above being dead!
Which hemisphere do you choose – the right or the left?
I choose whole brain living, it’s why we have two of them.