Finding the right mood

Fig 7 The illustrated MoodMap

MoodMapping is a navigation system for your mind. It helps you go from one mental state to another. This system works, it has been tried and tested over many years. The worst criticism it has faced is being called ‘Mental Pilates’ and that when you are tired and depressed, it is hard to do those very things that will help change your mood. I still use it. It comes from my personal experience of wanting to change the way I felt. Over the years, I have done numerous courses, including Tony Robbins, Chet Holmes, Transcendental Meditation, Yes group – which I chaired for a while. I have a BA and MSc in Psychology as well as enough soft skill medical courses to stop my patients complaining, ran training for the Doctors’ Support Line. All of which and more come together in MoodMapping.

Moods vary and they need to be variable. Someone with a rock solid unchanging mood may have great focus and unyielding concentration, but not be much fun at a party.  We need different moods for different times, it is OK to feel sad when someone dies. I was sad for more ten years when Adrian, my best friend for twenty-five years died suddenly. Not constantly sad, but I sufficiently sad to miss him almost every day. This does not mean I can’t be happy but that I loved him.

Different activities require different moods, quiet concentration, action sports, while there is nothing like the stress of an important deadline to get us going in the morning and keeping us going into the wee small hours! And from time to time, staring into the abyss of failure helps re_focus quieten the mind and move forward in a different and hopefully more successful direction. The danger is being stuck in a mood too long and letting or seeing it spiral out of control in whatever direction.

Successful people have more positive moods than negative moods. It does take energy to stay positive and MoodMapping is also about generating the energy you need to stay positive.

Since writing MoodMapping I have become more aware of the links between mind and body and how important it is to have a healthy body in order to have a healthy mind, as well as how much a healthy body depends on a healthy mind.

Getting back to work

Fig 6. Sinclair Miller

During the 1990s, I struggled. To begin with, I had lost a “glass ceiling breaking” career as a neurosurgeon and what was worse I had lost my mind. I had always prided myself on having a good brain. It did what I wanted, solved problems, came up with new ideas, remembered facts and figures, kept going when everyone else was exhausted. It was reliable, almost never made mistakes and on balance, I was proud of my mental performance. Ten years later, after three mental health sections, large amounts of psychiatric medication, weight gain, physically unfit, with a serious back problem, I was completely disheartened. I mourned the loss of that bright young thing with a with glittering life ahead of them.

I married. My husband was kind, tolerant, generous and appreciative – and fulfilled his part of the holy bargain of matrimony but I had places to go and things to do. After a few years, I moved on.

Getting back to work as a doctor was not easy, but it was lucrative and I knew enough about the system to avoid the worst excesses of a profession who believe that once a doctor has a mental health problem, they should never work again. I do not believe that ill people should work. It is important to get the wounded off the pitch. My grandfather in WW1 – see photo, was awarded the DSO for the work he and his stretcher bearers did in keeping the trenches clear of the wounded and in treating them in their field hospital.

Equally, if you are well enough to work, then the opportunities must be there to allow you to contribute. With this in mind, myself, Soames Michelson and a group of doctors including Binks – Sarah Brewer, Janet Prentice, Gillian Robinson and many others, set up and ran the Doctors’ Support Network, for doctors with mental health problems. It continues to this day as a thriving charity dedicated to the well being of doctors who have mental health problems and concerns.

I eventually  got back to work, and settled down as a part-time  General Practitioner and Occupational Health Physician. Nowadays, I am largely retired working a few days month to keep the wolves from the door.


If you have bipolar or mood disorder

Figure 5 – London taxi cabs

Accepting I had bipolar disorder was key to my recovery. It is hard to manage what you do not measure and this is the reason why the Mood Map was fundamental to my recovery. It gave me a way to measure my moods and because of this I was better able to my moods and become a more stable, predictable (and agreeable!) person.

Moods no longer ruled my life – I could see them for what they are – moods. They are not who I am. Even now, thirty years down the line, I have good days, good moods and bad days with bad moods. However moods do not rule my life – bad days will get better and a good mood won’t last forever.

I was a qualified doctor when I first became ill, I have made a better than full recovery because now a§I have an insight into myself and others that I would never have reached without these problems. I am a more compassionate person, both towards myself and others.

The first stage in my recovery was accepting I had a problem.

The second stage was realising that I could do something about it. Despite psychiatrists who believe mental health problems are fixed and can only deteriorate, it is essential to know change is possible.

There is a big difference between now and when I was ill. It has now been established beyond all doubt that the brain can change, depending on what you do, learn and behave. These facts are now part of mainstream neuroscience. Before these studies, doctors and psychiatrists were certain that after adolescence the structure of the brain was fixed and that after the age of two gray matter was steadily lost. Only New Age gurus believed differently. The taxi driver study and subsequent studies showed that the change in the brain was real and hard-wired

*Taxi driver study – London Black Cab taxi drivers learn ‘The knowledge’. This is a gruelling test of their knowledge and ability to navigate around London streets. The structure of their brains was significantly different. Specifically, the posterior hippocampi, an area of the brain thought to be important in spatial representation of the environment, was larger than in people who did not have ‘The knowledge’. Equally important, the longer time spent as a taxi driver, the greater the change. This study showed beyond all reasonable doubt that the human brain changed according to the demands placed on it.

In many ways, we have not absorbed the implications of this study into the way we educate ourselves and our children.
1) What we do and learn is critically important to our well-being and deeply affects the way our minds work
2) Leaving the education of our children to anonymous governments, schools and teachers is far too trusting. These are our children and we must get involved
3) There is almost always hope, and we can actively monitor that hope through the changes we see in the brain.
4) Different changes are seen in the brains for people with poor mental health. Therefore “Yes, it is possible to end mental health in a generation, providing we have the will and determination to do so”.


*Navigation-related structural change in the hippocampi of taxi drivers
A. MaEleanguireDavid G. GadianIngrid S. JohnsrudeCatriona D. GoodJohn Ashburner, Richard S. J. Frackowiak, and  Christopher D. Frith
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2000 Apr 11; 97(8): 4398–4403.


How I came to be interested in Mood

Fig 4 Edinburgh Royal Infirmary – Gormenghast

As with so many people in life, who research specific topics, their interest comes from personal experience

I qualified as a medical doctor in 1980, just before my 23rd birthday. I had raced through A’levels, med school, and the age of 25 was only the third woman to practice as a neurosurgeon in the UK. At the time, British neurosurgeons prided themselves as the last bastion of male supremacy, firmly holding the line against appointing women trainees. No pressure!

By the time I was 28, I had published a dozen research papers, and was on my way to be the first woman appointed in neurosurgery since the 1950s. It was not to be, I developed bipolar disorder and crashed ingloriously out of neurosurgery and any chance of a career in medicine – such was the stigma and prejudice surrounding mental health problems.

After two further episodes, spending more than a year in various hospitals, three mental health sections and having wasted my thirties trying to stay well enough to work, I finally admitted to myself that maybe I had to deal with my problems.

What is mood?

Fig 3 – Moody skies

Our Mood is our internal background. It influences everything we say and do –  a good mood helps towards a wonderful and exciting day,, a bad mood contributes makes us gloomy and encourages negative emotions,  such as frustration, anger and jealousy

By contrast, we use emotions to express how we feel. Unlike mood, emotions have both an internal and external side to them. Internally they affect our mood, how we think and how we behave. On the outside, they show the world how we feel. As with moods,  emotions also influence other peoples’ feelings and behaviours, towards us and to those around. No one likes to work with someone who is constantly in a bad mood, spreading negative emotions.

If someone is in a happy calm mood, it is harder for them to become angry and impatient. This allows everyone around them to feel safer and calmer.

Children are very good at judging their parents’ mood, always waiting until everyone is comfortably settled before dropping their little bombshells or making those undeserving, little requests. On the other hand, if you are in a bad mood already, they might equally take the opportunity to wind you up further, increase your frustration, exasperation in order to press home their demands. If a parent thinks their little darlings are not born with the innate knowledge of how to play their parents for all they are worth, they have been given children straight from heaven!

Mood comes from deep inside ourselves. It is where the mind and body come together and where our inner world meets the material world.

  1. Surroundings,
  2. Physical and mental health,
  3. Friends and social networks,
  4. Self-expression,  and
  5. Strategies we have to influence the world around us.These five areas are fundamental to mood management. I use them to organise my life. Everything I have and do, can fit into one of those five categories! I organise my filing system, my diary, my to-do lists around those five areas They form the basis of the Keystar, which is a framework for managing your moods