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Surviving Stroke: A Personal Story

Brain Scientist Jill Bolte Taylor on Her Stroke, Recovery, and the Warning Signs Everyone Needs to Know

Stroke Recovery: What Helped, What Didn't continued...

And during her waking hours, Taylor needed people around her who believed in her ability to recover, no matter how long it took.

Before she had her language skills back, Taylor relied on nonverbal cues her doctors and visitors displayed -- their facial expressions, their body language, whether they were in a hurry or in a bad mood.

It took effort, energy, and time for her to try to listen and communicate. And she would try to gauge who was worth it, or, as she puts it, who "showed up" and slowed down and cared.

"If you do show up for me, then maybe I'm willing to show up for you. But if you don't show up for me, I'm certainly not going to show up for you, and I'm going to disconnect. And the more time I choose to disconnect, the more disconnected I am from even trying," Taylor says.

Recovered, but Changed

Taylor now says she considers herself "110% functional" but different than before her stroke.

"In every way, I have recovered, but I have not returned to being the same person I was before," she says.

What's changed? Her priorities.

Before the stroke, "I was much more 'me' oriented, much more career oriented," Taylor says.  "And now, I'm not like that. Now, I'm much more about 'we.' How do I use the time that I have here to use my gifts to make a positive contribution to how we live our lives and for the health and well-being for other people who are in the place that I have been?"

Stepping to the Right

The morning of Taylor's stroke, when her brain's left hemisphere -- the chatty taskmaster side of the brain -- fell silent, Taylor felt a deep sense of peace.

Today, she fosters that sense of peace when anger and fear start to rile her emotional circuitry.

She notices those angry or scared feelings, asks herself if she wants to feel that way, and shifts her attention to the present moment -- often, to the weather.

"I look outside if I can. I look at trees that are blowing. I look at colors. I look at big pictures. I soften my eyes so I'm not focused on detail. I shift my mind consciously into the present moment and pay attention to the information coming in through my sensory system," says Taylor, who calls the process "stepping to the right," or shifting to her brain's right hemisphere.

It's a legacy from her stroke that Taylor says can work for anyone.

"It can make all the difference in the world," she says.

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Reviewed on May 14, 2009

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