Choosing to be happy

Pain is as omnipresent as breathing. No human life exists without it.  The capacity for pain is hardwired into the most ancient, reptilian region of our brains. As an evolutionary mechanism this is highly effective: if we are bitten by a snake, our brain remembers that snake bites hurt and this association causes us to…

Angels and demons: why do we need the labels?

I saw this tonight while I was waiting for a train. The juxtaposition of these two faces, both dead, made me think about the way we perceive and portray personalities that act outside of (for want of a better word) the norm. One will be remembered forever as “people’s princess”, the other as a “monster”….

What you can’t say about travel

We all know that travel is about finding yourself. It is a profound journey of spiritual and personal growth that leads to a deeper understanding of global cultures. That is the backpackers’ party line anyway. I am no different. If you let me, I’ll cheerfully reel off a dozen stories about the time I climbed…

Where the wild things are: overnight in the Cambodian jungle

You can tell you’re off the beaten track when your motortaxi driver asks you to dismount half way through the journey. He needs to navigate an unmarked path which is entirely submerged in murky water. It’s rainy season in Cambodia, and after two long bus rides from Sihanoukville, a questionable bike ride to the ferry…

Vietnam: rocket fuel for the soul

Vietnam doesn’t greet you. It attacks your soul. From the moment you step off the plane you are hurled into the fast lane of a nation that doesn’t comprehend the concept of slowing down. The weight of the sun bears down on you, sticking your clothing to your back. As you try to break through the…

A day in the life of a dolphin volunteer

I’m writing this from Bunbury in Western Australia, where I’m having the adventure of my life. A few weeks ago I packed a backpack and jumped on a plane from England to the other side of the world. I am now volunteering at the Dolphin Discovery Centre, which supports the research and conservation of the…

Can we rebuild our brains?

Until about twenty years ago, the prevailing theory was that the brain stops generating new neurons once it reaches maturity. Now neurologists believe that the brain has some ability to create new neurons, in a process called neurogenesis, throughout our adult lives. This is exciting because it opens up the possibility that our adult brains, and…

Shackles and flow

Have you ever been so engrossed in something that you completely lost track of time? In psychological  terms, this is known as a flow state. When you are in flow, or “in the zone”, the only thing in your mind is what you are doing in that moment. This single-minded focus allows you to block out the…

It’s not happening now

In honour of Mental Health Awareness Month, which started in America as long ago as 1949, I wanted to write something pertinent to this year’s theme: “Life with a mental illness”. Although we tend to think of neurology, psychiatry and psychology as fields that are still in their infancy, I find it staggering that there is…

Reiki healing

Reiki is an alternative therapy or medicine, developed by Japanese Buddhist Mikao Usui, which involves the practitioner channelling universal life force energy or ‘qi’ to promote healing and emotional well-being. The healer will usually place their hands on the patient’s body, using this energy to remove physical or emotional blockages. Reiki is often regarded with scepticism – which is…

Thinking errors and depression

“he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow” Ecclesiastes I owe a great deal of the content of this blog to Neel Burton’s “Psychiatry” (2nd edition), which I cannot recommend highly enough to anyone looking for a grounding in the aetiology, diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses. The interesting thing about depression is that when you compare…