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  • I grew up to study the brain

  • because I have a brother who has been diagnosed with a brain disorder:

  • schizophrenia. And as a sister

  • and later, as a scientist, I wanted to understand, why

  • is it that I can take my dreams, I can connect

  • them to my reality, and I can make my dreams come true?

  • What is it about my brother's brain and

  • his schizophrenia that he cannot connect his

  • dreams to a common and shared reality, so they

  • instead become delusion?

  • So I dedicated my career to research into the

  • severe mental illnesses. And I moved from my home state

  • of Indiana to Boston, where I was working in

  • the lab of Dr. Francine Benes, in the Harvard

  • Department of Psychiatry. And in the lab, we were asking the question,

  • "What are the biological differences between the brains of individuals

  • who would be diagnosed as normal control,

  • as compared with the brains of individuals diagnosed with

  • schizophrenia, schizoaffective or bipolar disorder?"

  • So we were essentially mapping the microcircuitry

  • of the brain: which cells are communicating with

  • which cells, with which chemicals, and then in

  • what quantities of those chemicals?

  • So there was a lot of meaning in my life because I was performing

  • this type of research during the day.

  • But then in the evenings and on the weekends,

  • I traveled as an advocate for NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

  • But on the morning of December 10, 1996, I woke up

  • to discover that I had a brain disorder of my own.

  • A blood vessel exploded in the left half of my brain.

  • And in the course of four hours,

  • I watched my brain completely deteriorate in its ability to

  • process all information. On the morning of the hemorrhage,

  • I could not walk, talk, read, write or recall any of my life.

  • I essentially became an infant in a woman's body.

  • If you've ever seen a human brain,

  • it's obvious that the two hemispheres are completely separate from one another.

  • And I have brought for you a real human brain.

  • So this is a real human brain.

  • This is the front of the brain,

  • the back of brain with the spinal cord hanging down,

  • and this is how it would be positioned inside of my head.

  • And when you look at the brain, it's obvious that

  • the two cerebral cortices are completely separate from one another.

  • For those of you who understand computers,

  • our right hemisphere functions like a parallel processor,

  • while our left hemisphere functions like a serial processor.

  • The two hemispheres do communicate with one another

  • through the corpus collosum,

  • which is made up of some 300 million axonal fibers.

  • But other than that,

  • the two hemispheres are completely separate.

  • Because they process information differently,

  • each of our hemispheres think about different things,

  • they care about different things, and, dare I say,

  • they have very different personalities.

  • Excuse me. Thank you. It's been a joy. Assistant: It has been.

  • Our right human hemisphere is all about this present moment.

  • It's all about "right here, right now."

  • Our right hemisphere, it thinks in pictures

  • and it learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies.

  • Information, in the form of energy, streams in simultaneously

  • through all of our sensory systems

  • and then it explodes into this enormous collage

  • of what this present moment looks like,

  • what this present moment smells like and tastes like,

  • what it feels like and what it sounds like.

  • I am an energy-being connected to the energy all around me

  • through the consciousness of my right hemisphere.

  • We are energy-beings connected to one another

  • through the consciousness of our right hemispheres as one human family.

  • And right here,

  • right now, we are brothers and sisters on this planet,

  • here to make the world a better place.

  • And in this moment we are perfect, we are whole and we are beautiful.

  • My left hemisphere -- our left hemisphere -- is a very different place.

  • Our left hemisphere thinks linearly and methodically.

  • Our left hemisphere

  • is all about the past and it's all about the future.

  • Our left hemisphere is designed to take that

  • enormous collage of the present moment and start

  • picking out details, details and more details about those details.

  • It then categorizes and

  • organizes all that information, associates it

  • with everything in the past we've ever learned, and

  • projects into the future all of our possibilities.

  • And our left hemisphere thinks in language.

  • It's that ongoing brain chatter that connects me and my

  • internal world to my external world.

  • It's that little voice that says to me, "Hey, you gotta remember

  • to pick up bananas on your way home.

  • I need them in the morning."

  • It's that calculating intelligence that reminds me

  • when I have to do my laundry. But perhaps most important,

  • it's that little voice that says to me,

  • "I am. I am." And as soon as my left hemisphere says to me "I am,"

  • I become separate.

  • I become a single solid individual, separate from the energy flow

  • around me and separate from you.

  • And this was the portion of my brain that I lost

  • on the morning of my stroke.

  • On the morning of the stroke, I woke up to a

  • pounding pain behind my left eye. And it was the kind of pain --

  • caustic pain -- that you get when you

  • bite into ice cream. And it just gripped me --

  • and then it released me. And then it just gripped me --

  • and then it released me. And it was very unusual

  • for me to ever experience any kind of pain,

  • so I thought, "OK, I'll just start my normal routine."

  • So I got up and I jumped onto my cardio glider,

  • which is a full-body, full-exercise machine.

  • And I'm jamming away on this thing, and I'm realizing

  • that my hands look like primitive claws grasping

  • onto the bar. And I thought, "That's very peculiar."

  • And I looked down at my body and I thought, "Whoa,

  • I'm a weird-looking thing." And it was as though

  • my consciousness had shifted away from my normal

  • perception of reality, where I'm the person on the

  • machine having the experience, to some esoteric space

  • where I'm witnessing myself having this experience.

  • And it was all very peculiar, and my headache was

  • just getting worse. So I get off the machine,

  • and I'm walking across my living room floor, and I

  • realize that everything inside of my body has

  • slowed way down. And every step is very rigid and

  • very deliberate. There's no fluidity to my pace,

  • and there's this constriction in my area of perceptions,

  • so I'm just focused on internal systems.

  • And I'm standing in my bathroom getting ready to

  • step into the shower, and I could actually hear the

  • dialogue inside of my body. I heard a little voice

  • saying, "OK. You muscles, you gotta contract.

  • You muscles, you relax."

  • And then I lost my balance, and I'm propped up against the wall.

  • And I look down at my arm and I realize

  • that I can no longer define the boundaries of my body.

  • I can't define where I begin and where I end,

  • because the atoms and the molecules of my arm

  • blended with the atoms and molecules of the wall.

  • And all I could detect was this energy -- energy.

  • And I'm asking myself, "What is wrong with me?

  • What is going on?" And in that moment, my brain chatter --

  • my left hemisphere brain chatter -- went totally silent.

  • Just like someone took a remote control

  • and pushed the mute button. Total silence.

  • And at first I was shocked to find myself

  • inside of a silent mind. But then I was immediately

  • captivated by the magnificence of the energy around me.

  • And because I could no longer identify

  • the boundaries of my body, I felt enormous and expansive.

  • I felt at one with all the energy that was,

  • and it was beautiful there.

  • Then all of a sudden my left hemisphere comes back

  • online, and it says to me, "Hey! We got a problem!

  • We got a problem! We gotta get some help."

  • And I'm going, "Ahh! I got a problem.

  • I got a problem." So it's like, "OK. OK. I got a problem."

  • But then I immediately drifted right back

  • out into the consciousness -- and I affectionately

  • refer to this space as La La Land.

  • But it was beautiful there. Imagine what it would

  • be like to be totally disconnected from your brain

  • chatter that connects you to the external world.

  • So here I am in this space, and my job -- and any

  • stress related to my job -- it was gone.

  • And I felt lighter in my body. And imagine

  • all of the relationships in the external world and any

  • stressors related to any of those -- they were gone.

  • And I felt this sense of peacefulness.

  • And imagine what it would feel like to lose 37 years of emotional baggage!

  • (Laughter) Oh! I felt euphoria --

  • euphoria. It was beautiful.

  • And then, again, my left hemisphere comes online and it says,

  • "Hey! You've got to pay attention.

  • We've got to get help." And I'm thinking, "I got to get help.

  • I gotta focus."

  • So I get out of the shower and I mechanically

  • dress and I'm walking around my apartment,

  • and I'm thinking, "I gotta get to work. I gotta get to work.

  • Can I drive? Can I drive?"

  • And in that moment my right arm went totally

  • paralyzed by my side. Then I realized,

  • "Oh my gosh! I'm having a stroke! I'm having a stroke!"

  • And the next thing my brain says to me is, "Wow!

  • This is so cool." (Laughter) "This is so cool!

  • How many brain scientists have the opportunity

  • to study their own brain from the inside out?"

  • (Laughter)

  • And then it crosses my mind, "But I'm a very busy woman!"

  • (Laughter) "I don't have time for a stroke!"

  • So I'm like, "OK, I can't stop the stroke from happening,

  • so I'll do this for a week or two, and

  • then I'll get back to my routine. OK.

  • So I gotta call help. I gotta call work."

  • I couldn't remember the number at work,

  • so I remembered, in my office I had a business card

  • with my number on it. So I go into my business room,

  • I pull out a three-inch stack of business cards.

  • And I'm looking at the card on top and even though

  • I could see clearly in my mind's eye what my business card looked like,

  • I couldn't tell if this

  • was my card or not, because all I could see were pixels.

  • And the pixels of the words blended

  • with the pixels of the background and the pixels of the symbols,

  • and I just couldn't tell.

  • And then I would wait for what I call a wave of clarity.

  • And in that moment, I would be able to

  • reattach to normal reality and I could tell

  • that's not the card ... that's not the card ... that's not the card.

  • It took me 45 minutes to get one inch down

  • inside of that stack of cards.

  • In the meantime, for 45 minutes, the hemorrhage is

  • getting bigger in my left hemisphere.

  • I do not understand numbers, I do not understand the telephone,

  • but it's the only plan I have.

  • So I take the phone pad and I put it right here. I take the business card,

  • I put it right here, and

  • I'm matching the shape of the squiggles on the card

  • to the shape of the squiggles on the phone pad.

  • But then I would drift back out into La La Land,

  • and not remember when I came back if I'd already

  • dialed those numbers.

  • So I had to wield my paralyzed arm like a stump

  • and cover the numbers as I went along and pushed

  • them, so that as I would come back to normal

  • reality, I'd be able to tell, "Yes, I've already dialed that number."

  • Eventually, the whole number gets dialed

  • and I'm listening to the phone, and

  • my colleague picks up the phone and he says to me,

  • "Woo woo woo woo." (Laughter) And I think to myself,

  • "Oh my gosh, he sounds like a Golden Retriever!"

  • And so I say to him -- clear in my mind, I say to him:

  • "This is Jill! I need help!"

  • And what comes out of my voice is, "Woo woo woo woo woo."

  • I'm thinking, "Oh my gosh, I sound like a Golden Retriever."

  • So I couldn't know -- I didn't know that

  • I couldn't speak or understand language until I tried.

  • So he recognizes that I need help and he gets me help.

  • And a little while later, I am riding in an

  • ambulance from one hospital across Boston to [Massachusetts] General Hospital.

  • And I curl up into a little fetal ball.

  • And just like a balloon with the last bit of air,

  • just, just right out of the balloon,

  • I just felt my energy lift and just -- I felt my spirit surrender.

  • And in that moment, I knew that I

  • was no longer the choreographer of my life.

  • And either the doctors rescue my body and give me a

  • second chance at life, or this was perhaps

  • my moment of transition.

  • When I woke later that afternoon, I was shocked