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

My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey - Jill Bolte Taylor 37 year old research scientist experiences an AVM-type stroke and lives to recover (over the course of 8 years) and write about. Fascinating first-person account, and rather heavy on the right-brain preference after the stroke.The most interesting chapters to me were about her experience of the stroke and the years of recovery. "Imagine, if you will, what it would feel like to have each of your natural faculties systematically peeled away from your consciousness. First, imagine you lose your ability to make sense of sound coming in through your ears. You are not deaf, you simply hear all sound as chaos and noise. Second, remove your ability to see the defined forms of any objects in your space. You are not blind, you simply cannot see 3-dimensionally, or identify color. You have no ability to track an object in motion or distinguish clear boundaries between objects. In addition, common smells become so amplified that they overwhelm you, making it difficult for you to catch your breath. No longer capable of perceiving temperature, vibration, pain or proprioception (position of your limbs), your awareness of your physical boundaries shift. The essence of your energy expands as it blends with the energy around you, and you sense that you are as big as the universe. Those little voices inside your head, reminding you of who you are and where you live, remain silent. You lose memory connection of your old emotional self and the richness of this moment, right here, right now, captivates your perception." p.78-79"On and off throughout the day, the energy in my body waxed and waned from a little bit of energy to a completely empty tank. With sleep, my reservoir filled a little and then I spent that energy trying to do or think something. Once my reserve was used up, I had to go back to sleep. I learned immediately that I had no staying power and once my energy was shot, I felt limp. I realized I had to pay very close attention to my energy gauge. I would have to learn how to conserve it and be willing to sleep to restore it." p.85"To celebrate, Mama and I would talk about my abilities. She was superb about reminding me about what I could not accomplish yesterday and how far I had come today. She had an eagle eye for understanding what I could do and what obstacle was in my way for attaining the next level toward my goal. We celebrated all my accomplishments. She helped me clearly define what was next and helped me understand what I needed to do to get there. She kept me on track by paying attention to my details. A lot of stroke survivors complain that they are no longer recovering. I often wonder if the real problem is that no one is paying attention to the little accomplishments that are being made. If the boundary between what you can do and what you cannot do is not clearly defined, then you don't know what to try next. Recovery can be derailed by hopelessness." p.95"[My mother] recognized that social exchange used up my energy reserve and left me totally drained and not interested in working. She made the executive decision that getting my mind back was more important than visitation, so she stood guard at my door and strictly limited my social time. TV was also a terrible energy drain, and I couldn't speak on the phone because I was completely dependent on the visual cues of lip reading." p.96"It still blows my mind (so to speak) that I could not see color until I was told that color was a tool that I could use. Who would have guessed that my left hemisphere needed to be told about color in order to register? I found the same to be true for seeing in three dimensions. ... I had to be taught that items, which are positioned behind other items, may have some of their parts hidden, and I could make assumptions about the shapes of things that I could not see in their entirety." p.99"Learning to read again was by far the hardest thing I had to do. I don't know if those cells in my brain had died or what, but I had no recollection that reading was something I had ever done before, and I thought the concept was ridiculous. ...My brain remained in pain over the task of learning to read for some time. I had a real problem concentrating on something that complicated. Thinking literally was hard enough for my brain at this early stage, but jumping to something abstract was beyond me. Learning to read took a long time and a lot of coaxing." p.101"On really cold days and the days of fresh snow, GG took me to the local grocery store for my daily exercise She would go in and do her shopping and I would start walking up and down the aisles. This was a painful environment for me for several reasons. First, the intensity of the fluorescent lights was so powerful I had to constantly look down. GG encouraged me to wear sunglasses to block out the glare but this did little for the overpowering enormity of the room. Second, there was so much written information coming at me from all of the food items that I felt totally bombarded with stimuli. Third, the exposure to strangers was difficult for me emotionally. It was easy for others to see that I was a woman with some sort of problem. My face had that glazed over book, and my movements were deliberate and in slow motion compared to the normal shopper. Many people rushed their baskets past me. Some even snarled and grumbled at me with what I interpreted as contempt. It was hard to shield myself from the negative vibrations in the environment. Occasionally, a kind spirit offered me assistance or a smile. I found facing the busy world to be intimidating and frightening." p.104"Although I failed miserably at reading and writing with a pen (left hemisphere/right hand), I could sit at my computer and type a simple letter (both hemispheres, both hands) that followed my stream of thought. It took me a very long time as I hunt-and-pecked at the keyboard, but somehow my body/mind connection made it happen. The most interesting thing about this experience was that after I finished typing the letter, I was not capable of reading what I had just written (left hemisphere)! ... Since my recovery, I have heard of many stroke survivors who, although they could not speak (left hemisphere), they were capable of singing their messages (both hemispheres). I'm amazed at the resiliency and resourcefulness of this beautiful brain to find a way to communicate!" p.106What I needed the most-- people around me to believe in the plasticity of my brain and its ability to grow, learn, and recover. -- honor the healing power of sleep-- people to love me -- not the person I had been, but for who I might now become. -- those around me to be encouraging. I needed to know that I still had value. I needed to have dreams to work toward. -- to challenge my brain systems immediately. -- offer me multiple-choice questions and never yes/no questions. -- I had to define my priorities for what I wanted to get back the most and not waste energy on other things. -- to focus on my ability, not my disability.-- to celebrate the triumphs I made everyday because my successes, no matter how small, inspired me. -- I needed to welcome support, love and help from others.-- My successful recovery was completely dependent on my ability to break every task down into smaller and simpler steps of action. -- I needed my caregivers to teach me with patience. -- I needed people to come close and not be afraid of me. -- I needed my visitors to bring me their positive energy. "To complicate matters, following surgery my doctors insisted that I take Dilantin as a prophylactic to prevent my brain from having seizures. .. Like a typical patient, I hated my medication because it made me feel tired and lethargic. My biggest complaint, however, was that it masked my ability to know what it was like to be me anymore. ... Because of this experience, I find that I am much more sensitive why some people would choose insanity over the side effects of their antipsychotic medications. I was fortunate that my doctors agreed that I could take my entire dose at night before I went to bed, so by morning my mind felt much clearer. I took Dilantin for almost 2 full years following surgery." p.124"To give you some idea of the chronology of my recovery, here is a brief summary of the highlights of my progress year by year. Prior to the stroke, I had been an avid Free Cell player (solitaire) but it was 3 years before I could wrap my mind around that card game again. On the physical plane, it took 4 years of walking with my hand weights, 3 miles a day, several times a week, before I could walk with a smooth rhythm. During the 4th year, my mind became capable of multitasking -- even simple things like talking on the phone while boiling pasta. Up to that point, I had to do just one thing at a time, which meant everything required my full attention. ...The one thing I thought I had lost forever was the ability to understand anything mathematical. To my amazement, however, by the 4th post-stroke year, my brain was ready to tackle addition again. Subtraction and multiplication came online around post-stroke year 4.5, but division eluded me until well into year 5. ..By the end of the 5th year, I could jump from rock to rock along the beaches in Cancun without looking at where my feet were landing. ... The highlight of my 6th post-stroke year was the fulfillment of my dream of having enough oomph in my body to climb steps 2 at a time. .. I dreamed of skipping up steps every day since the stroke. ... By replaying the scene over and over in my mind, I kept the circuitry alive until I could get my body and mind coordinated enough to make it reality." p.127-128