A stroke of spirit


Jill Bolte Taylor, author of “My Stroke of Insight” and featured in a popular TED lecture, was this week’s guest on CBC Radio’s Tapestry program. I still get goose-bumps listening to her story, in which she “experienced that absence of experience which becomes one of bliss” as I shared about a year-and-a-half or so ago.

Whatever was going on with me during what I called, among other things, my “Uncle Albert” experience several years ago, I certainly identify with JBT’s descriptions of nirvana, euphoria and losing her mind. (Uncle Albert was a character in the movie “Mary Poppins” who, when he laughed, would float up to the ceiling which is what I experienced feeling – even without laughing.)

Here’s Jill Bolte Taylor’s twenty minute talk:

Although I do not know the year of my experience I know Jim was in the hospital at the time and it was June because I remember going in this state to the annual vigil at Toronto’s AIDS Memorial. It was in the hallway outside Jim’s room I first noticed myself floating above the friends I was leaving with.

Could this have been a form of mania long before my bipolar II diagnosis? I hope not. It felt different than any hypomanic episode I have experienced consciously.

I am absolutely certain that my friends at the hospital that day – and friends at the vigil – with pandemic-fuelled compassion which had become instinctive, must have thought that AIDS dementia had set in. I, like Jill Bolte Taylor describes, couldn’t care less and, while experiencing euphoria, was also aware that this sense of complete sense of ease was new to me (without being chemically-induced) and so I questioned it.

So, while I vividly remember getting some wondering looks from friends in the hours and days which followed during my experience, I also recall sitting with a friend who is a therapist, though not mine, and she just revelled in my descriptions of what I was experiencing, even a day or two later, and encouraged me to just “go with it”.

One of JBT’s take away messages/questions from her “Tapestry” appearance were:

“Would I come back, if I come back, what would it take for me to come back, what would it take to motivate me, to want to recover when recovery meant pure pain and the world was spinning a million miles an hour, much faster than my mind which has this enormous hole in it, to ever be able to contemplate and make sense of again?”

I forget the ingenuity of the brain, how the left and right hemispheres are physically separate, as if to emphasize their distinctiveness. She describes the left as “separate from, single, intellectual, worried” while the right is “enjoyment, the present moment, I am life-force”.

Jill Bolte Taylor’s experience, and now her life’s work, shows us that we get to choose, or train ourselves, which hemisphere of the brain we wish to be in. I need all the encouragement I can get to step out of the left side.

Calling Uncle Albert…