Friday, June 11, 2010

The Heaven and Hell Inside Your Head

My brain injury, resulting from a pill popping suicide attempt, has actually been a blessing in disguise. I certainly did not think I would ever say such a thing. While the injury was global, my left side was more damaged than my right because I am physically right dominant and there was much more to damage on the left side of my brain.

Because a lot of my existing connections and pathways were wiped out, I got to start with a clean slate of sorts. I am not advocating this at all, but it has proven to be an amazingly good thing for me. Really.

Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain scientist, experienced a massive hemorrhage on the left side of her brain. In her book My Stroke of Insight, she uniquely and knowledgeably describes the process she experienced as her brain shut down, and she lost the functions of speech, motion, and self awareness.

She tells of living out of her right brain for a while after. She likens the right brain to a parallel processor. It is all about the right here and right now and interpreting our experience of ourselves in the world through the senses. It thinks in pictures and connects us to everything around us through its’ consciousness.

The left brain is a serial processor. It interprets the world linearly and methodically. It is all about the past and the future. It picks out details of present moment and categorizes them and gives them meaning based on associations it makes with past experiences. It thinks in words and defines us as separate entities. It is also responsible for that ongoing brain chatter which, in my case, was incessant and not very nice.

With her left brain quiet, she tells of experiencing a kind of nirvana when she awoke. I also lived in this kind of bliss for months as my left brain functions gradually came fully back on line. For the first time in my life, it was quiet in my head. I was not haunted by the past. It was there, but it was not constantly, drearily encroaching upon the present and the future.

I also was not terrified of the future. To me, it might as well have not even existed and was not a concern. I lived entirely in the present. I liken it to the Mad Magazine guy’s slogan “What me worry?”

I can remember laying on the trampoline (makes a great place for a nap BTW) in the sunshine just watching the puffy, white clouds float by against the backdrop of a brilliant, blue sky and being perfectly content even though I had a pretty serious brain injury and had lost custody of my kids, blah, blah, blah.

Jill Bolte Taylor says this proved to her that anyone can attain this same state and make the choice every moment of every day to exist and operate out of either of the two cognitive minds.

In my own life, it has been a deliberate process to develop and maintain the glimpse of nirvana and to not allow the left brain to bully the right brain and take over. I do this through such practices as meditation, mindfulness, and more. Anyone can also achieve this. Brain injury not required. Heaven or hell? It really is your choice and is all in your brain.

Jill Bolte Taylor:


  1. Great blog Debbie. While I didn't have a brain injury, I did come close to attempting suicide, after which I visited John of God. There, John, throught the entities that incorporate his body while he is in trance, they operated on my left brain. Later on the next evening they also worked on my heart. So in a sense I got to start over as well with a newly rewired brain and indestructible heart. I learned to choose heaven far more often that I choose hell after that experience.

  2. I know for me and for a lot of us, it takes something major like a brain injury or being suicidal to make some drastic changes. However, these can be made without all the drama and pain. How nice to be able to do so. It is a choice, but I had to hit rock bottom before I realized that. So glad I did. Happy for you that you did too.

  3. Hi Debbie,
    Here's to another beautiful piece of writing. Cheers!
    I was glued to every page when I read Dr. Taylor's memoir about her stoke and recovery. I'm pleased you've featured her findings here along side your own. I found my own insights reading her book regarding my (ongoing) brain injury. You know I have MS, and have multiple lesions (dead spots) at this point -- but the concepts in your post and Dr. Taylor's writing still ring true.

    I find that mind-body focus of my energy really helps a lot (e.g., stepping to the right) and also meditation, stillness, and visualization. It's pretty neat you got to experience the silencing of the left brain, actually. That must have been an interesting experience. More importantly, it's great to see you making all of these new connections (literally and figuratively). Your words are important, Debbie, and they're communicated with such beauty.
    Keep up the great work!

  4. Lori, thank you so much for the wonderful words and encouragement. Your MS has very different manifestations than my brain injury and some striking similarities. We can learn from each other as can any one even without any specific brain challenge as well. The point being that we can all better our brains and our lives as Jill Bolte Taylor discovered and pointed out.

    Her book was one of the first I read. It gave me so much hope. It is a fascinating read and so inspiring.