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. MaEleanguire, David G. Gadian, Ingrid S. Johnsrude, Catriona D. Good, John Ashburner, Richard S. J. Frackowiak, and Christopher D. Frith
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2000 Apr 11; 97(8): 4398–4403.