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My interview with “My Stroke of Insight” author Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor!

May 20, 2015 11:44 pm

Dr. Taylor shares her compelling thoughts on young adult stroke survivors and caregivers – based on her stroke bible and full recovery

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor

There’s a gift often given when someone has a stroke. It’s Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, “My Stroke of Insight.”

Dr. Taylor is a neuroscientist and a stroke survivor. She realized she had a ringside seat to her own brain hemorrhage at 37, and so recounted the feelings and earth-shattering life lessons from her eight years of recovery.

Dr. Taylor not only explains what it feels like to have a stroke and all of the miracles occurring in the brain while it’s healing, but she breaks down the way our brains operate – in terms that each of us brings energy to the world with our thoughts and beings.

I’ve read her bible. It was so powerful and familiar that I had to put it down for a couple of  months until I was ready to face the rest of what Dr. Taylor had to say. I can surely say “My Stroke of Insight” can be life changing for stroke survivors, caregivers and human beings in general. It changed the way I think about my mind and even gave me tools to help quell my anxiety from everyday life stresses and in healing from caregiver PTSD.

Here’s a blog post I wrote about Dr. Taylor’s TED Talk, which is the second-most viewed ever. During the talk, Dr. Taylor discusses how through her stroke, she discovered the meaning of this precious life.

I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Dr. Taylor. Nearly everything you need to know about strokes and the brain is in her book. But I wanted to hear more from her, specifically on the young adult community of stroke survivors and caregivers. It was wonderful to hear her voice, especially speaking to this community!

Here’s what Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor shared with me:

Q. What is your insight on young stroke survivors and their recovery?

A. Every ability we have is because we have brain cells that perform that function. When you look at the brain’s as a collection of cells performing, then any inability you have, you realize it’s simply because those cells have gone off line. The young  brain does nothing better than connect and learn, so there’s a natural advantage in that the brain is eager for more information. And that’s what it’s going through and it’s natural state of being. This ability to learn and recover decreases as we age. The brain has neuroplasticity, which means the cells can rearrange who they’re communicating with in any period of time. I do believe the young brain has a distinct advantage for recovery.

Q. Doctors will often tell stroke survivors that they have up to two to five years to recover. I don’t believe that’s true, due to neuroplasticity. Do you also believe recovery time is indefinite for young stroke survivors?

A. The greatest misconception and disservice that professionals can communicate to anyone with any kind of brain trauma is to place a timetable on the ability for that person to get something back. The bottom line is neuroplasticity enables the body to heal indefinitely if you put the work in. It’s more important to always try.

Q. Your mother was an integral part of your recovery. The way she cared for you was incredible. But what about survivors who don’t have such a caregiver, or may even be lacking support?

A. It’s important for anyone who has any kind of wound to have somebody to help create a caregiving team. Let’s say we’re 30 years old and my boyfriend has a stroke and has aphasia. I, his friend, come in and I’m not familiar with stroke and I try to talk to him and he doesn’t talk back. And he squirms in his bed because he’s uncomfortable, and he grunts and drools. And I’m uncomfortable and so I’m not going to come back. I don’t know how to do this and I feel pity and I don’t want to go.

It’s really healthy for someone to organize a team to visit/care one time a week for 20 minutes and you can actually work with his arm and become part of his rehab team. How lovely is that? Get all of his friends who are now freaking out to do  something reconstructive.

I’m a real advocate for letting people sleep. If he is sleeping, I’m not going to bother him. I’m going to bless him and love him and honor the healing power of sleep.

Have people come in for short amounts of time.

That team can include anybody and all who want to visit. But none of this coming in spewing at him your day and being unconscious and loud. Also no talking behind his back like he’s not in the room and being loud.

Q. Can you please speak to me about your thoughts on being responsible for our own energy as you discussed with Oprah, especially in terms of visiting and caring for young stroke survivors?

A. All of us should pay attention to how we feel in our brain and how we feel in our body. If I’m going to visit anybody, I need to go in as a ball of love. Period. So all the stressors, the garbage in my life… I stand at the door and I let it all go. I breathe and come to the present moment. I stand at the door and I walk in calmly and with love on my sleeve.

If I come in with love and positive energy, I bring that person a gift. It’s a matter of being conscious about who we are and what were doing in life in general, much less with people who are wounded. You can post a sign on the outside of the door:

“Take responsibility for energy you bring into this space and the only acceptable energy is love and hope.”

Q. What is your top recommendation for recovery?

A. Read my book. The point is to bring hope and give real information. And if people want a different way of really understanding what’s going on inside of their brains and the brain of someone who is injured, that book is a masterpiece. As soon as there’s trauma, a lot of people give (the survivors and caregivers) my books. It helps with No. 1, don’t freak out and No, 2, how can I help this person I love?

Here is Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s Book: “My Stroke of Insight.”

Q. What do you think the young adult stroke community needs?

A. I think they need education and resources. They need options. Traditional and nontraditional rehab. Traditional rehab actually teaches the brain and the body to function up to its limitations. Other forms that can take you beyond those limitations and open up more recovery and activity in the brain. When you experience a blood clot, what happens is the communication between the brain and the body cells are shuts down. There are strategies for that. What’s the difference between should I be putting on a foot brace which limits movement, or should I be doing other forms of activities that will actually allow me to have normal range of movement?

We have alternative options. Everything ranging from other than traditional rehab to what we now teach in schools: occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech and hearing.

One of my favorite therapists is Anat Baniel. She does for other people what I did for my own recovery. I sent my mother to Anat and she excels in the ability to help people recover by waking up  the brain up to the body, and it’s beautiful. She’s my favorite resource.

People need to understand the downside of robotics. As soon as you’re hooked up to a robot you’re training the brain to a limitation and saying now the robotic has to do it for you. There are all kinds of different options for rehab, and that’s your job to share the options.

Q. Any projects you’re working on that you’d like to note?

A. I’m working on the development of a movie. Hopefully my book will be on the big screen, and wow, that will that make an impact on the awareness and understanding of the brain and everything “My Stroke of Insight” brings to the world.

Q. From my own experience, I notice doctors inquiring about drug use as a cause of stroke in young people. I’ve read a lot about young adults being misdiagnosed for stroke because doctors mistake it as a drug overdose. I see this as problematic, yet I’ve yet to find more resources on the issue. What is your take?

A. When you look at stroke, it’s listed as a product of cardiovascular disease and you don’t generally find cardiovascular disease in people in their teens, twenties, or thirties. So if stroke is associated as a byproduct, then if you have a young person come in, you have to ask the question. The automatic go-to is always going to be drugs and some form of abuse, because drugs and abuse can wear down the health and well-being of the cardiovascular system and may result in problems.

This question is reasonable, especially since stroke has been mistakenly communicated and publicized as something that happens to people over age 60. At the same time, it’s not all that uncommon for the heart to create little pockets and then form little clots form in those pockets and that then get thrown into the body. And if ends up in the brain, it produces a stroke.

Q. How do you feel about the resources out there for young stroke survivors and caregivers?

A. I get emails on a daily basis, especially from younger survivors. And the resources are lacking. I thank you for what you’re doing, because we need more of a community for the young survivors. The level of hope is higher for young stroke survivors because their brain is interested in recovering function.

But it’s also a matter of the obstacles. First of all, there may be professionals telling me I’m not going to recover or that I only have a specific amount of time. There also may be professionals or visitors people depriving me of sleep. And there may not be a strong educational resources available to help me recover. You need to know what helps and what hinders.

I thank you for what you’re doing for this community.


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