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While I certainly didn’t think I would ever say such a thing, my brain injury, resulting from a pill popping suicide attempt (Read full story here), turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Really.

The injury, medically called encepalopathy, was global, but I experienced more evidence of damage to the left side of my brain because I’m physically right dominant.  So, while the destruction was probably similar on both sides, the damage to the left side was more physically evident.

Because many of the existing neuronal connections and pathways in my brain were wiped out in the suicide attempt, I got to start over with a clean slate, so to speak. While I’m not advocating this approach at all, it turned out to be a pretty good way to start over for me.

A Brain Scientist’s Brain Injury

Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain scientist, experienced a massive hemorrhage on the left side of her brain. In her book, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey she knowledgeably describes her experience, from the perspective of a neuroanatomist, as her brain shut down, and she successively lost the functions of speech, motion, and self awareness.  Taylor tells of living out of her right brain, which she likens to a parallel processor, for months after the stroke because her left brain was so damaged.

While your brain operates as a whole, some functionality is more centered on one side.  According to Taylor, the right brain hemisphere is all about the present and interpreting our experience of ourselves in the world through the senses. The right brain thinks in pictures and connects us to everything around us through its awareness.

Your left brain is more like a serial processor, interpreting the world linearly and methodically, and is concerned with the past and the future. The left brain picks out details of the present moment, categorizes them, and assigns meaning based on associations it makes with past experiences. This side of the brain thinks in words and defines us as separate entities while also being responsible for that ongoing chatter which, in my case, was incessant and not very nice.

With her left brain shut down, Taylor experienced a kind of nirvana. I also lived in this blissful state for months after my brain injury as my left brain functions gradually came back online. For the first time in my life, it was quiet inside of my head, and I wasn’t haunted by wounds and painful images from the past. While I knew they existed,  these hurts weren’t constantly, rudely intruding on my present anymore.

Thankfully, I also was no longer gripped by paralyzing anxiety about the future as I had been. To me, the future might as well have not even existed and wasn’t a concern because I lived entirely in the present. My crippled mind wasn’t capable of going there. The here and now required all of my attention and effort.

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, I can remember being perfectly content, joyous even, despite having a serious brain injury, having lost custody of my kids, having no significant other, blah, blah, blah. I know this is going to sound crazy, but I actually miss that feeling.

Through her experience, Jill Bolte Taylor became convinced that anyone is capable of attaining this peaceful state by consciously choosing every moment of every day which of their two cognitive minds they exist in and operate out of.

In my own life, I have deliberately developed and maintained my glimpse of nirvana, by not allowing my left brain to bully the right brain and seize control again, through such practices as meditation, mindfulness, visualization, yoga, and other mental health tools.  Anyone can also achieve this quiet mind. Brain injury not required.

Heaven or hell? It really is your choice and is in your brain.

image source:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/arruda_mario/

10 Comments

  1. Tony Piparo Reply

    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. Debbie Hampton Reply

    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. Debbie Hampton Reply

    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.

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  6. Great blog, Debbie! Very clear, insightful writing, easy to read, in fact, I couldn’t stop reading! I, too, was injured on the left side. Brain-spect imaging shows low blood flow to several mood parts of my brain, thalamus, basal ganglia, cingulate and insula. So unfortunately, I can’t always control that my brain swings with moods, not very fun. Also, PTSD is evident. I learned that the brain is sure not as simple as left and right, but I sure wish it was. I liked reading Jill’s book and found some small comfort in knowing that my right side was alive and healthy and really prefers to meditate all day long. Brain Wave Optimization has helped a lot, though I have a ‘hard to train’ brain. I know more about my brain than I planned on knowing in this life! Anyway, great blog you have going here. I look forward to more entries!!

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thank you, Louise. I really appreciate the endorsement of my writing. I just hope people find my book as easy to and interesting to read!:) I have finished writing it, and am editing now.

      Brainwave Optimization proved very instrumental in my recovery. It brought me back fully the last little bit. In fact, you were the one who told me about it. For that, I am forever grateful

  7. I love your writing Debbie and your journey. It occurs to ask you is the path you describe from one dominance to another, or to a newfound kind of unified wholeness? Is one side of the brain evil and needing to be wiped-out, or is a matter of bring things into balance and harmony?

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Lawrence, thank you for commenting and your kind words. I think mine has been a journey of bringing my brain into balance. It was out of harmony before the injury, and I did not know it. That, I believe, contributed heavily to my depressive and anxious state. Before the injury, I let my left brain over power the gifts of the right brain. At first, after the suicide attempt, my left side was shut down. My recovery has been a process of developing the functions of the right brain while bringing back out, with awareness and intention, the attributes of the left brain which has given me a greater appreciation for both.

  8. Pingback: 12 Inspiring Articles You Can Read Today To Help You Start Practicing Mindfulness | Life's Too Good

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