Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor: A Stroke of Genius
She’s been described as “exhilarating on complexities—of the brain and of life.” There’s so much we can learn from her.
Some live their lives like a dream, for others a fantasy, but too frequently there are those who live a nightmare. People who make the best of any circumstance, good or bad deserve admiration. But it is especially those who overcome extreme adversity that we applaud the most.
We have all had the opportunity to meet interesting people during our lives. Perhaps you know of someone whose vibrant life was abruptly interrupted by catastrophic illness. You may recall how you felt when you saw this person reduced to one who could no longer care for himself or herself. It may have been painful for you to see, unaware of how they must have felt inside, but incredibly uplifting to watch the love surrounding them, and family members who would never leave their side.
Journey to Neverland
Growing up, Jill Taylor’s brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and had episodes of psychosis. It was a struggle to confront his mental illness. Taylor experienced these frustrations along with her brother, and was curious as to why he was unable to process everyday events as she did. She soon realized that she had discovered what would be her life’s calling.
Taylor graduated college, earned her doctorate, pursued postdoctoral studies in neuroanatomy at Harvard Medical School, and went on to work in a research lab, determined to figure out the intricacies of how the brain functions. Then, one morning, at age 37, the unexpected occurred, she experienced a massive stroke that would alter every aspect of her life . . . including her work, forever.
It started one morning while preparing to get ready for work, an uncomfortable “pounding” behind her left eye. Figuring it was a headache, Taylor tried to fight off the feelings, but they would not go away. While attempting to call work, she realized her vision and comprehension were not functioning properly, her communication skills and memory were garbled. When she was unable to move her arm, reality set in, she had experienced a stroke.
After undergoing surgery to remove the hemorrhage, Taylor had to start from the beginning. She recalls she “was a baby in a woman’s body,” and had to learn everything all over again, from walking to talking. It would take her eight years to fully recover.
According to Dr. Oz, he says that Taylor’s stroke was atypical and that only 15% of stroke survivors have the same type as hers. Help came just in time to save what remained of the living cells in her brain. Although she fully recovered, most stroke survivors are left encumbered in some way.
Life has significantly changed for Taylor as she recounted, “We let her go. We mourned the death of who I had been.” But a new Taylor emerged, one content with simply living life independently. She has been transformed from analytical left brain to creative right brain. “I got a rich new world,” she says. “My art and my music have flourished.” After recovery, she taught a college course on anatomy so that she could learn it again. What the future held for her was just beginning to be revealed.
In the Spotlight
Taylor chillingly, yet brilliantly, describes her recollection of each moment of that day in a book she authored in 2008, twelve years after her stroke, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey. She discussed her feelings at a Technology, Entertainment and Design conference, better known as TED Talks. Overnight, the video of her speech spread like wildfire. Within a matter of weeks, her book became a New York Times best seller, she was chosen as one of TIME Magazine’s Most Influential People in the World, and she was asked by Oprah Winfrey to be her premiere guest on her Soul Series webcast. We at Throomers strongly suggest that you watch her 18-minute presentation and, like everyone in the live audience, you will be spellbound by every word she utters.
Her Brain Quest
When she isn’t writing a book, publishing articles, being interviewed, or speaking at events, Taylor helps guide others through their neurological trauma and founded the Jill Bolte Taylor BRAINS, a not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to advancing brain awareness and other activities supporting the cause.
Nothing seems to hold Taylor back on delivering her unique perspective on brain health to her peers and the public. She is the National Spokesperson for Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center (Harvard Brain Bank) informing the public of brain tissue donation shortages for mental health research. In 1993, she became an active member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and in later years, served as its president. Now, she is president-emeritus of NAMI Greater Bloomington Area affiliate in Bloomington, Indiana.
This impassioned woman who has accomplished so much post-stroke, more than most of us achieve in a lifetime, has an important message for us. Featured in O, The Oprah Magazine, she says, “Tell your brain, ‘I like football, I like art, I want to do music.’ Encourage yourself. Don’t be mean to yourself. And don’t let other people be mean to you. They don’t have the right. They can’t take you away from you. You are here to show up. Show up! It’s your life.” Profound words we can all live by.