Rory Andes’s Review of “My Stroke Of Insight” by Jill Bolte Taylor, PhD

Rory Andes’s Review of “My Stroke Of Insight” by Jill Bolte Taylor, PhD

In her remarkable book, My Stroke Of Insight by neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor, PhD, I was taken on her profoundly objective tour of her own life trauma. As a neuroanatomist who taught and performed research at Harvard Medical School, when Taylor had an abrupt eruption of blood vessels in her brain, she witnessed her own brain deteriorate as she struggled through her stroke. This book is a journey of that event, and the eight years after, that brought her from an unsuspecting brain scientist with a congenital defect waiting to challenger her, to a stroke survivor who was able to document everything with a curious mind, and spread a brilliant message. She explains so much in factual science, what her conditions were, and how to recover, all while challenging the reader to objectively explore the subjective elements of living a wonderful life.

The power of her mother’s love is also a noted part of this book. G.G. as she’s known, pushes her daughter Jill through recovery and is always present to support both the successes and failures as caregivers often do. G.G. had to teach her things like reading and math again and a team of medical professionals helped her regain her life’s functionality. There’s a chapter where Taylor describes a list of things she needed most in her recovery and I found this to be an amazing chapter. The things she describes are the same things people need most to live a resilient and fulfilling life, and she showcases these needs in a straightforward way. She combines her personal philosophies and factual findings together to give the reader an outcome needed by all of us – hope and a roadmap to happiness.

This is an extremely well-crafted book, and Jill Bolte Taylor heroically embraces life on her terms and in the best of ways. There’s a lot to learn from this – about brain science, the human condition, recovery tactics – and is a wonderful package of determination to rise from the unthinkable. To read the impact and recovery of her stroke through the eyes of a brain scientist is truly a read worth remembering.


See here for Bolte Taylor’s TedTalk: “Jill Bolte Taylor got a research opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: She had a massive stroke, and watched as her brain functions — motion, speech, self-awareness — shut down one by one. An astonishing story.”

Counting My Blessings

Counting My Blessings

It’s not too often that we take time in our day to reflect on the many good things we have: a job, healthy kids, a home in a safe neighborhood, food on the table, and the list could obviously go on for pages. After all, we are so preoccupied with the hustle and bustle of day-to-day affairs, doing everything we can to stay on top of our responsibilities; who has time to stop what they’re doing, ponder life’s blessings, and truly be grateful for them without thinking about what we need to get done the next day — or even an hour from now? But doing this is actually as critical as taking care of all the obligations we give so much of our attention to.

I have indeed found myself contemplating, more and more, the many blessings I have, even in my current circumstance which is inherently negative. But this is not entirely voluntary; allow me to explain.

I work for an addictions treatment program. Every day we start the group session with a daily reflection read from a book, and each person says why or how it resonates with him, followed by what is called a Daily Moral Inventory (DMI). When we check in for the DMI, each person says how the previous day went, what they’re grateful for, what they regret (if anything), etc. This expectation can at times seems repetitive, but I’ve learned that it’s a healthy practice to get into because if I were not “required” to do it, I likely wouldn’t “have time” to reflect on what I’m grateful for, in spite of my physical circumstance. Instead, I’d either keep my head down and stay focused on my job, my next goal, or find myself complaining about what is not going well in my life. 

It’s entirely too easy to fall into a pattern of allowing good fortune in our lives to go unacknowledged as we focus our attention on the next goal or responsibility we want and/or need to carry out. This is a harmful practice, however, because it is essential to our psychological well-being that we take time to “pat ourselves on the back” for things we’ve accomplished, appreciate the things and people that make our lives more purposeful and fulfilling, and be grateful for opportunities that others have not had in life. Doing this has allowed me to refocus my efforts, while doing my part to “pay it forward.”

I intend to keep this practice of daily reflection and gratitude going even after I release from prison because it’s shown me how to ground myself on a daily basis. Life is entirely too short not to celebrate our good fortune and acknowledge how others have enriched our lives.

I take time to acknowledge and be appreciative that I can fulfill my dream of becoming a drug and alcohol counselor. I get to work for a successful treatment program in a prison setting, and teach groups and individuals about addiction and recovery, decreasing their likelihood to recidivate after they are released. I have had the rare opportunity to earn a Master’s degree in prison that, according to statistics, gives me a 0% chance to recidivate. Moreover, it enables me to go directly into my field with a level of credibility and respect that I never imagined coming into prison 14 years ago.

These are a few of the many things I take time to appreciate as often as I can. Life has enough struggles to complain about; therefore, I owe it to myself (as do you) to cast as much sunshine on my day as possible — by counting my blessings.

The Ripple Effect

The Ripple Effect

For too many years of my life I assumed my actions affected me and only me. So what if I chose to drink away my pain? So what if I messed up, got arrested, and got sentenced to many years in prison: I’m the one doing the time, or so I thought. I couldn’t see beyond myself and the consequences I’d reaped to see the pain in the faces others who love me — not to mention in all the victims I created while living my life of crime and addiction.

My parents did the very best they could to raise my brother, two sisters, and me. They worked hard, bought us presents for every birthday and Christmases and spent quality time with all of us on a daily basis. We were never considered middle class from a financial standpoint, but I never felt as though I lacked anything that my middle-class friends had.

I added this context to show how my actions were strictly of my own volition — my parents raised us with values. So, when I came to prison at 19, my parents should have felt no guilt for my predicament; but what do you think actually happened? Naturally, any parent is going to question why their son (or daughter) went wayward, what they think they could have done differently to change the path I’d taken. My decisions tortured them, kept them up many a night, and brought them to experience agony they did not deserve. 

They were now put in the unfortunate position of visiting their son in this god-forsaken place, often times being treated like a criminal themselves when they came to visit. They were compelled to now support me, not by giving me money for a birthday or Christmas but helping me buy commissary, hygiene products, and paying for phone calls. They did not deserve this — they never did. Now, they are both gone, and this is the last place they were able to hug their son.

My twin brother, sisters, nieces and nephew have likewise had to come into prison for 15 years (plus three more on a previous prison stint) if they wanted to see me. They are forced to celebrate my birthdays by sending a card — not taking me out to dinner or otherwise. If they want to talk, they have to pay $4.80 for 30 minutes. My nieces and nephew have not had their uncle at birthdays, Christmases, graduations, and so much more. I have been forced to watch them grow up through pictures. My family has been nothing but law-abiding citizens their entire lives and by no means deserve to be subjected to this situation. But because they love me, they would never abandon me. They do not deserve what my actions have put them through.

My victims and their families did not ask to have their lives shattered by the tragedy that I solely produced 15 years ago. Their lives were cut short, never able to reach the full potential they possessed. Future generations of their families will never meet them and come to know the beautiful souls they had. My addiction, recklessness, and complete selfishness severely altered their lives forever. They were doing everything right; I was doing everything wrong, and now they are not here but I am. How is that fair? I obviously cannot answer that, but what I can say with absolute certainty is they — none of them — deserved what I did to them.

For many of us in prison, because we are the ones physically secluded from society and deprived of any semblance of freedom, we equate this with the notion that we’re the only ones affected by our bad decisions. But as I have outlined here, this is simply a misguided, narrow-minded viewpoint. Not only our victims, but also our families, significant others, friends, and many others are affected by the costly decisions we made. Coming to prison is a burden to so many people who didn’t deserve it. The sooner I was able to realize this truth, the sooner I was able to start to rehabilitate. Cognitive classes, church, and educational courses are all positive ways to spend one’s time in prison, but without coming to terms with the massive ripple effect left in the wake of our crime and subsequent prison stay, true rehabilitation and accountability will be impeded.

Counting My Blessings

Counting My Blessings

It’s not too often that we take time in our day to reflect on the many good things we have: a job, healthy kids, a home in a safe neighborhood, food on the table, and the list could obviously go on for pages. After all, we are so preoccupied with the hustle and bustle of day-to-day affairs, doing everything we can to stay on top of our responsibilities; who has time to stop what they’re doing, ponder life’s blessings, and truly be grateful for them without thinking about what we need to get done the next day — or even an hour from now? But doing this is actually as critical as taking care of all the obligations we give so much of our attention to.

I have indeed found myself contemplating, more and more, the many blessings I have, even in my current circumstance which is inherently negative. But this is not entirely voluntary; allow me to explain.

I work for an addictions treatment program. Every day we start the group session with a daily reflection read from a book, and each person says why or how it resonates with him, followed by what is called a Daily Moral Inventory (DMI). When we check in for the DMI, each person says how the previous day went, what they’re grateful for, what they regret (if anything), etc. This expectation can at times seems repetitive, but I’ve learned that it’s a healthy practice to get into because if I were not “required” to do it, I likely wouldn’t “have time” to reflect on what I’m grateful for, in spite of my physical circumstance. Instead, I’d either keep my head down and stay focused on my job, my next goal, or find myself complaining about what is not going well in my life. 

It’s entirely too easy to fall into a pattern of allowing good fortune in our lives to go unacknowledged as we focus our attention on the next goal or responsibility we want and/or need to carry out. This is a harmful practice, however, because it is essential to our psychological well-being that we take time to “pat ourselves on the back” for things we’ve accomplished, appreciate the things and people that make our lives more purposeful and fulfilling, and be grateful for opportunities that others have not had in life. Doing this has allowed me to refocus my efforts, while doing my part to “pay it forward” in others’ lives when I’m given the opportunity to do so.

I intend to keep this practice of daily reflection and gratitude going even after I release from prison because it’s shown me how to ground myself on a daily basis. Life is entirely too short not to celebrate our good fortune and acknowledge how others have enriched our lives.

I take time to acknowledge and be appreciative that I can fulfill my dream of becoming a drug and alcohol counselor. I get to work for a successful treatment program in a prison setting, and teach groups and individuals about addiction and recovery, decreasing their likelihood to recidivate after they are released. I have had the rare opportunity to earn a Master’s degree in prison that, according to statistics, gives me a 0% chance to recidivate. Moreover, it enables me to go directly into my field with a level of credibility and respect that I never imagined coming into prison 14 years ago.

These are a few of the many things I take time to appreciate as often as I can. Life has enough struggles to complain about; therefore, I owe it to myself (as do you) to cast as much sunshine on my day as possible — by counting my blessings.