When I lost my left hemisphere and its ability to organize and think linearly as well as understand language, I shifted into focusing on the present moment and the information streaming in through my sensory systems. I had a much more holistic or big picture experience of the present moment where information was processed relatively rather than judgmentally or sequentially. In the absence of being able to process information with my left hemisphere, I was no longer distracted from the information processing skills of my right hemisphere which was all about the energy streaming in through my sensory systems and how those systems integrated that information into my experience of the present moment.
I perceived people in my environment as balls of energy and I realized early on that some people brought me energy and fed me positive energy that helped me refuel my reservoirs, while other people came into my space and took energy away from me. I learned early on that it was necessary for me to protect myself from those who did not bring me positive energy and I learned to ignore their requests. This was very important in how I defined those around me as either a safe place for healing, or a dangerous drain of my energy resources.
In addition, it was necessary for me to pay attention to my environment. Because my sensory systems were hyper-sensitive and no longer processing information in normal way, I was desperate for the lights to be turned down low as light felt like fire burning my brain. My auditory system cells were also not functioning well such that I could not pick a voice out from the background noise, so I used earplugs to block out sound that I perceived as painful. I found the TV and radio to be constant blaring noise that I wanted to escape from and it was important that people take responsibility for the energy they brought into my space. I needed people to come in and bring me soft encouraging energy and then leave before I was exhausted. And then I needed them to come back again and consciously decide to help me refuel my energy rather than drain me.
How has your book been received so far?
Extremely positively by lots of different people for lots of different reasons. The stroke survivors are finding hope that their brains can continue to recover beyond the six-month or one-year mark. The caregivers of people with any type of brain trauma are grateful that they now have a manual of what to do to help set their loved ones up for success and recovery. The medical community has been excited to have a first hand experience with stroke described by someone who understands how the brain organizes information and the spiritual seekers have been thrilled to have some insight into how to find their own deep inner peace. It has been a wonderful experience for me.
How has the medical profession viewed your recommendations for the care of stroke survivors? Have they welcomed your perspective and incorporated your ideas into rehab?
The book has only been in the national/international market for about a year but it has already had a profound impact on many medical professionals. The hard-cover is coming out in 26 languages and has had the ability to shift the medical consciousness of smaller countries including France and the Netherlands. Because these countries are smaller, it was relatively easy to educate the medical professionals as well as the general public about my recommendations for recovery. The paperback version of the book has just hit the US market and is now being used as mandatory reading in many medical and nursing schools as well as schools of Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy. In addition, I am maintaining full-time employment by keynoting to various professional organizations throughout the US. I look forward to seeing the impact of the book on the US medical system a few years down the road.
That’s a really big effect in a relatively short time. How gratifying! I saw for myself what a gifted public speaker you are. [TED lecture] But it’s also clear that talking about this topic takes a lot out of you. Do you ever get tired of talking about your stroke?
I love talking to large groups of people. One on one can be very draining for me, but large groups stimulate me! When I talk about the stroke to an audience, there is this palpable silence as they travel with me along that journey. It’s an amazing exchange of energy and information.
What do you advise those who have loved ones who have suffered from a stroke?
First and foremost, I focus on language and attitude. In my mind, anyone who has survived a stroke is a survivor rather than a victim. I encourage them to focus on the fact that the person has already done something really wonderful – they survived. Also, I encourage them to pay attention to the language they use – I did not suffer a stroke, I had or experienced a stroke. Next, I encourage them to not freak out for the first six weeks following a trauma. When the brain is in a state of trauma the brain cells will not be able to process information in a normal way. By not freaking out the family members can be supportive of what their loved one is going through and they can take responsibility for the kind of energy they are bringing into that person’s room. A visitors fear can drain the stroke survivor of their precious energy and I’m sure this is never their intention.
After your stroke, you had to re-learn how to read. Was that the hardest skill to retrieve?
Yes it was. I thought the mere concept of reading was absolutely absurd and could not imagine why anyone would have come up with it!
What have I missed?
There is a long term shortage of brain tissue donated by individuals who have been diagnosed with a severe mental illness or those who would be diagnosed as normal control. If anyone would like to consider brain donation for research, they can find more information at 1-800-Brainbank. It is important to note that the brain bank does not collect brain tissue from stroke survivors.
You used to travel around with your guitar singing your Brain Bank Jingle. For those of us who missed out on hearing it, it’s not too late! Listen here.
I highly recommend this book as both a record of Jill’s fascinating journey and a useful resource for anyone who has had a stroke or cares about someone who has. Thank you so much for spending this time with me, Jill. You’re doing a great job spreading the word about your important insights in this field.
Thank you to Bob Koehler for recommending My Stroke of Insight far too long ago.
Part one of this interview Link to other part of series
How to get a copy of My Stroke of Insight - A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey
National Alliance on Mental Illness
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