How do people make decisions after stroke?

Worry about how I would make decisions after stroke was something that my family experienced,  after the first two brain haemorrhage’s back in Feb 2012, and then brain surgery in 2014.

I personally didn’t ask that question at the time, mostly because my brain wasn’t working properly. Looking back now I still managed to make decisions, but found myself being guided by something else. In hindsight what was guiding me was obvious!

Some of the decisions I made then were about some very serious choices, potentially life altering, like should I agree with my Neurosurgeon to operate and remove the cause of my brain hemorrhages near the cerebellum around 4 cm toward the middle of my brain from my right ear. Risky!

decisions after stroke

decisions after stroke

Some of the not so serious decisions I had to make but with potentially dramatic outcomes, were more about things that I would get a lot of satisfaction or joy from. Like going camping in remote locations even though I was told that I may suffer a seizure but  deciding to go anyway.

Somehow I was being guided to push through the fear of the unknown and the fact the nearest medical help may be hours away didn’t bother me.

Furthermore, have you ever wondered were the terms we need to have a “heart to heart” or “have a heart”, “follow your gut” or “I was gutted” come from? What about “this guy is a head case” or “I have to get my head around this

It turns out that these sayings are used in many different cultures throughout the world and when you investigate closer, seem to have their origins somewhere from within us, rather than having been concocted to put a label to something for the sake of describing it or identifying it, like calling a specific fruit an apple to differentiate it from another fruit.

Recently Neuroscience has started to prove what ancient wisdom traditions have been saying for thousands of years.

Comparative studies show it is more the norm than the exception for most spiritual and religious practices to reference three souls or forms of “intelligence’. Here is an example of a few.

Esoteric Teachings and Practices

  • Enneagram (head, heart and gut/instinctive/moving centres)
  • Taoism: 3 Tan Tiens (upper, middle, lower)
  • Yoga: 3 yogas of Karma Yoga (the Path of Action), Bhakti Yoga (the Path of Devotion), Raja and Jnana Yoga (the Path of Intellect and Knowledge, respectively)

Spiritual Traditions – 3 Souls

  • Christianity: spirit, soul and body, or the intellect, the will, and the heart
  • Judaism / Kabbalah: Nefesh, Ruach, Neshama
  • Buddhism: Theravada, Zen/Dogzchen (train the mind to eliminate suffering), Mahayana (compassion), Tibetan (tantric)
  • Sufi (mystical Islam): head, heart and gut/instinctive/moving centres

While somewhat difficult to convince some people of the validity of these wisdom traditions or practices, especially westerners, we still have some type of understanding of the fact that things like gut instincts do exist, even though we can’t explain them.

For many centuries humans have tried to unpack what it is that makes us who we are, how we go about our daily lives and why we respond the way we do to the things we experience in life.

Recent advancements in technology has allowed researches to uncover things about us that some of us have always know but not been able to prove.

Making Decisions after stroke.

It turns out that we have three brains!

Can you imagine the relief when I found out that not only do we have a brain in our head but also in our heart and in our gut.

Yep you read correctly!

Seems strange right?

Well it was strange to me too, but who was I to argue? I was on the look out for more brain capacity and now that my own head brain was suffering from the side effects of the hemorrhage it was about as useful as a smart phone without an internet connection.

The term brain is used quite loosely in the paragraphs to follow but I don’t use the word lightly. The consequences of what you are about to read are quite profound.

So what constitutes a brain? I hear you ask. Good question!

If we are going to make such a bold statement we should explain ourselves a little first.

The following dot points albeit a bit technical outline the characteristics of a Brain in the head.

  • Large numbers of neurons and ganglia, including sensory neurons and motor neurons
  • Neural cells with inter-neurons; neurons interconnecting in complex ways with other neurons
  • Support cells and components such as glial cells, astrocytes, proteins, etc.
  • A chemical warehouse of neurotransmitters (those found in the head brain are also found in the gut and heart brains)
  • Able to mediate complex reflexes via an intrinsic nervous system (i.e. it doesn’t need the head brain to direct it, it functions even in the complete absence of the head brain)
  • Functional attributes: perceiving/assimilating information, processing information, memory storage and access, neural plasticity and adaptiveness (i.e. the ability to ‘learn’)

The head brain has between 50 – 100 billion neurons and shares all the above features with the heart, which has between 30-120 thousand neurons, and the gut, which has between 200-500 million neurons.

A cat’s brain has about the same amount of neurons as the human gut, and we all know how intelligent cats can be! This suggests to that our gut has an intelligence all of its own.

Think back for a moment at a time where you made a “gutsy decision”. What do you notice about that type of decision and the difference between one where the numbers added up and you knew in your “head” that it made sense to take action. And what is different from those and a decision that you might describe as “my heart was telling me to call her/him”?

Not only do we have three Brains or intelligence’s the heart and gut have completely different role from the head and a specific set of prime functions.
The Head Brain is responsible for

  • Cognitive Perception
  • Thinking
  • Making meaning

The Heart Brain is responsible for

  • Emoting
  • Values/Valuing
  • Relational Affect

]The Gut Brain is responsible for

  • Identity
  • Self Preservation
  • Mobilisation

Now that I understand that the gut is responsible for decisions around things like self preservation it does not surprise me that, I was still able to make decisions about my future and what was good for me when discussing the benefits and downsides of operating on my brain with the Neurosurgeon.

I also began to notice that I was making heart based decisions, like telling my family and friends things that I would not have shared with them in the past, which allowed me to make a deep heartfelt connections with my children and wife, something I was not good at doing in the past because my head had never allowed it to happen.

When I discovered that that there is a way for us to align our head, heart and gut by using a sequence of self inquiry called the foundational sequence (which was specifically developed to bring greater wisdom to our daily life, and create alignment of our three brains so they work together) I was able to make the most meaningful changes in my life and now find myself wondering how was I even able to get by in the past without this knowledge.

From all my brains wishing you all greater wisdom and better decision making!

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