Y’ALL. I DID IT. MY 52ND BOOK! MY CANNONBALL IS COMPLEEEEEEEETE. Hip hooray! Fist bumps! High fiving angels!! Last year I didn’t quite make it, and the year before I think I squeaked across the finish line or just missed the CBR deadline but this year I’m in with weeks to spare. WOOOOOOOOOO!
(Soft violins begin) Wait! Before I get off the stage, I would like to give some thank yous. Big hugs to everyone participating in CBR for serving as an inspiration to read and write. Thanks to Jim Butcher for The Dresden Files, a dozen of those fluffy fun books were on this year’s journey. Shout out to N.K. Jemisin for the very cerebral The Broken Earth trilogy. Respect to Stephen Graham Jones for scaring the bejeebers out of me and props to Glennon Doyle and Jill Bolte Taylor (which I will review shortly) for breaking my brain.
On to my review! I first read My Stroke of Insight about 12 ish years ago when I was living in Tennessee as a selection of a public library book club. At the time, I wasn’t much of a non-fiction reader, so this is not anything I ever would have picked up. This has become a highly recommended favorite of mind as it completely changed the way I thought about my brain and my own capacity for change. It’s short and sweet (under 200 pages) and the audio is just about 6 hours or so, and read by Taylor. She also has a Ted Talk you could check out for context.
In a nutshell, Taylor is a brain scientist who experienced a stroke and recovered from it, and this book is a distillation of that experience and what she learned about the function of her brain and the deliberate choices she made (and continues to make) to be the person she wants to be. The example that really changed things for me was when she discussed getting a speeding ticket, post-stroke. She goes into detail about how upsetting and frustrating that can be and explains that in the time immediately following the experience there are natural emotional pathways your brain will take, as a response to negative stimuli. And that is a pattern you can’t immediately disrupt. HOWEVER. After that initial period of time, if she was choosing to be upset or frustrated about the ticket, that was her brain CHOOSING to focus on that, and thus SHE could choose differently. “On an intellectual level, I realized that I could monitor and shift my cognitive thoughts, but it never dawned on me that I had some say in how I perceived my emotions. No one told me that it only took ninety seconds for my biochemistry to capture, and then release me.”
Only. Ninety. Seconds. And beyond that, you can CHOOSE differently! This was such valuable insight to me and has stuck with me all these years. Now, this isn’t easy. She details in that example that she had to redirect her brain 100 times in order to NOT feel those negative emotions. But essentially, you train your brain to react certain ways by the repeated behaviors and actions you emphasize. So if you can work to deliberately choose a positive response, then positive circuitry gets reinforced and becomes easier to choose. WOWEE WOW.
The first half is very science-heavy as she gives necessary context for how the brain works leading up to explaining the day she had her stroke so if like me science language can get a little tedious you might have to power through a bit, but it’s worth it for the insights. If you end up reading it and would like to talk about it further, I’m your girl!