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2nd April 2015

How does it feel to have a stroke?

Jill Bolte Taylor woke one morning with a pounding pain behind her left eye. It was like the pain you get when you bite into ice-cream. ‘It just gripped me and then released me; gripped me and released me.’

‘A blood vessel exploded in the left half of my brain. In the course of four hours I watched my brain completely deteriorate in its ability to process all information.’

She could not walk, talk, read, write or recall any of her life. ‘I essentially became an infant in a women’s body’.


Jill was having a stroke but, as a brain scientist she saw it as a unique opportunity to study, first hand, what it’s like to watch the brain go into meltdown. It was like an out-of-body experience.

She found herself slumped against the wall of the bathroom as half her brain went silent.

Oddly, without her left-hemisphere, she had a brief sense of an enormous and expansive peace – before her left brain switched back on again and reminded her she was in serious trouble.

Then her right arm fell limp by her side and Jill knew she needed help.

She wanted to call work but she couldn’t remember the number. So she pulled out a bunch of business cards – but couldn’t recognise her own.

45 minutes later Jill had identified the right card but by then numbers meant nothing to her. She matched the shapes of the numbers on the card to the shapes on her phone and eventually got in touch with a colleague.

However, her ability understand – or produce – speech was gone. The language centre of her brain was being squashed by a clotting blood. As her colleague called an ambulance, Jill remembers giving up and expecting to die.

‘When I woke later that afternoon, I was shocked to find I was still alive.’ Jill had a haemorrhage ‘the size of a golf ball’ surgically removed from her brain and spent eight years recovering. But when she finally regained full use of her brain, her outlook on life had changed dramatically.

In her starkly honest, often funny TED talk, which has been viewed more than 16 million times, Jill talks about her terrible but insightful experience. She says her brain catastrophe offered a glimpse of Nirvana that changed everything for her.

Her conclusion was that by deliberately leaning towards the right hemisphere of the brain where love lives – instead of living life in our left brains – we can live fuller, happier lives.

Watch Jill’s talk and enjoy the benefit of her insight, without having to endure the downside of her stroke.

Feature Image Credit: Flickr/Chris Brookes