What is it like to have a stroke?

How the two sides of the brain function so differently

Jill Bolte Taylor is a Harvard-trained neuroanatomist who experienced a severe bleed in the left hemisphere of her brain in 1996. By the afternoon she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life. It took eight years for her to completely recover all of her physical function and thinking ability. This 18 minute talk from 2008 was given twelve years after her experience. Such was the impression she made it was the first TED talk to go viral on the Internet:

This is a deeply personal account of what it is like to experience a sudden stroke. As the left side of her brain became increasingly affected she suddenly lost the familiar 'brain chatter' we all experience and she was plunged into inner silence. She writes:.....

'Those little voices, that brain chatter, that customarily kept me abreast of myself in relation to the world outside of me, were delightfully silent.'

Simultaneously she began to feel, 'A growing sense of peace within. As the blood poured in over my brain my consciousness slowed to a soothing and satisfying awareness that embraced the vast and wondrous world within.'

She was unable to speak and lost the ability to understand the normal sequencing of events, experiencing the disappearance of time as everything stood still in an 'eternal now moment.'

Her account of taking 45 minutes to work out how to telephone her work and finding herself unable to coherently communicate is moving to hear. But what is also most striking is the profound change in personality and self-perception that emerged during the loss of her left brain function:

"My perception of my physical boundaries was no longer limited to where my skin met air....this absence of physical boundary was one of glorious bliss... Without a language centre telling me: 'I am Dr Jill Bolte Taylor. I am a neuroanatomist...' I felt no obligation to being her anymore..... I didn't think like her anymore.... She was passionate about her work..... She was intensely committed to living a dynamic life. But despite her likeable and perhaps even admirable characteristics in my present form I had not inherited her fundamental hostility ....... I had spent a lifetime of 37 years being enthusiastically committed to 'do-do-doing' lots of stuff at a very fast pace. On this special day I learnt the meaning of simply 'being'."

There was a profound shift from the 'doing' of the left brain to the 'being' of the right brain . Along with this there was a feeling of being no longer single and solid, but of being 'fluid'. She was not now separate from others or the world, not isolated and alone, but connected to all that is. Everything around her to be connected to everything else.

What is also so interesting is how Bolte Taylor's experience so closely parallels the writings of Ian McGilchrist and the different functions of the two sides of the brain.

In  a future blog post we will seek to bring this together, but for now what questions and comments does Bolte Taylor's experiences raise for you?

(Although this is Bolte Taylor's experience of a stroke there will also be a wide variety of other experiences that people can go through).

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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4 thoughts on “What is it like to have a stroke?

  1. Wow! Strange – I have never heard of anything like this. That a stroke in “silencing” part of our brain can bring us in touch with the reminder …. I am really enjoying your right brain / left brain series!

  2. I Sunil, I only just got around to watching this video. I found it quite amazing. Really interesting stuff. My only question was, I wondered why for someone who looked quite young and healthy did it take 8 years to recover. But I did find the content brilliant and am wondering how I can use this information.

    • Glad you enjoyed the video Kim! My only guess would be because of the extent of the brain damage caused along with her perseverance in gaining back all of her thinking as well as motor functions.