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Sunday, April 17, 2011

An Insightful Read

MY STROKE OF INSIGHT: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.

I just finished reading this book.  I'd put off reading this book for almost a year.  I wish I hadn't.  I learned a lot from Dr. Taylor's journey.  In the book, Dr. Taylor first introduces herself, her career, and professional activities.  She is a nueroanatomist who also served on the board of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) with a specific interest in schizophrenia, which her brother suffers from.  On December 10, 1996 this brain scientist has as a serious stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain.

Dr. Taylor first takes us on a tour of the brain and it's workings before telling us the story of her stroke.  This information aids in the appreciation of the rest of her story.  I think part of the reason I put off reading this book was because I felt I already know about the brain because I'm fascinated by it and I didn't want to go through a prolonged lesson of brain anatomy.  However, this is not what Dr. Taylor gives us.  She gives us an interesting overview to help our understanding of what was going on in her brain/mind during her stroke and subsequent recovery. 

The details of what her brain was going through and what she could and could not do during her stroke was very interesting, as was the story of her recovery.  She talks about what she really needed immediately after her stroke and during her recovery.  She gives suggestion on how to treat and help stroke victims based on what she as experiencing.  This was very enlightening and I hope the medical community studies her story and insights.

The most powerful reason for Dr. Taylor to write this book was to show people how they could access the joy and peace residing in the circuitry of our brain's right-hemisphere.  Her stroke basically incapacitated her left-hemisphere for some time, so she was left with a deep feeling of peace and oneness with the universe while she resided nearly wholly in her right-hemisphere.  She gives us practical advice to help us limit the stories our left-hemisphere tells us that cause us to worry and relive emotional baggage and instead to tap into the peace of our right-hemisphere.

Even before I finished this book, I started to use some of her advice and found it really did help me.  I have depression and I get caught in my left-hemisphere loops of chastising and hopelessness so many times each day.  Sometimes I would recognize a negative thought loop, but I didn't know what to do about it.  I felt like there was nothing I could do.  Dr. Taylor guides us in many ways to end this left-sided brain chatter. 

Maybe sometimes this book was a little repetitive, but I found this book extremely interesting as an exploration of the purpose and power of our brains and inspirational as a guide to a more peaceful personal experience. 

I would be remiss not to mention two of Dr. Taylor's messages she works passionately to get out to the public.  They are the importance of helping individuals and their families who have a mental illness and the request that people donate their brains to Harvard's Brain Bank.  Advancement in treating those with mental illness can come more rapidly if scientists have brains to study.  For more information call 1-800-BrainBank.

I personally hope, the more information scientists call learn about the brain can also help those who have autism.  I found it extremely interesting when Dr. Taylor talked about what strengths or weakness she had with the different hemispheres of her brain.  I once saw a theory that an autistic brain was just an extreme "male" brain.  I think it would be an interesting line of investigation to look at the dominance/balance in autistic brains of the left and right hemispheres.  It's seems many people on the autism spectrum excel at activities associated with the left-hemisphere and lack abilities normally associated with the right-hemisphere.  I wonder if there is an imbalance of development or ability in the two hemispheres or problems with the corpus collasum  (the connection between the two hemispheres).

This is not a long book, so it will be well worth your time to read this remarkable story.  (BTW, you can get the hardcover of this book in Barnes and Noble stores for less than $6.00 right now.)

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