The Mysterious Human Brain

Does anyone really understand the workings of the human brain?  

One of the things I enjoy about traveling to give speeches is that I get to hear other people’s stories. Some of the stories are inspirational. They are about recovery. But others are sad. Regardless of where I go, I meet someone in the audience who has endured much worse than my son and me. Yes, my son has been arrested. Yes, he’s been shot with a Taser by police. But he is not in jail, is not homeless, is not belligerent, is not missing, and is not dead.  Those situations are a grim reality for many parents.

Occasionally, I hear a story that surprises me and that happened during a recent trip. It’s a recovery story.

A man told me about his daughter. We’ll call her Susan. Like so many of our children, she became sick while she was attending college. A psychiatrist diagnosed her as having Bipolar Disorder. Susan was given a combination of medications. But she stopped taking them after she began packing on the pounds. She also complained that the pills slowed down her thinking.

Susan got a job but was fired when she shouted at a customer. She became promiscious and when her parents came home and found a stranger ransacking the house after having sex with Susan in their bedroom, they decided to practice  “tough love.”  They told her that she either had to take her medications or leave. Susan left.

She went to Los Angeles because she had written a screenplay and was sure it would become a blockbuster movie. She tried to see several movie studio executives but couldn’t get in. Next, she began pursuing stars and ended up getting arrested. Undeterred, she tried agents.

One afternoon, a driver sped through a red light and smashed into the car that Susan and a friend were riding in. Both the driver and Susan’s friend were killed, but Susan was rushed to an emergency room.

Her parents were called. When they arrived, they were told there was little chance that Susan would survive the night. Her injuries were too severe. In addition to broken bones and a punctured lung, she’d suffered a traumatic brain injury. An insensitive doctor told them that it probably would be better if their daughter died, given her injuries.

But Susan didn’t.  She lived, went through physical therapy and appeared to fully recover.  Except for two changes.

Susan showed no sign of having Bipolar Disorder.  None.  “It was as if her brain had been re-booted like a computer,” her father told me.  “There was no mania, no depression, no violent mood swings.”

She also couldn’t remember much about her past, including her mental illness. 

The accident was three years ago and Susan has remained symptom free. She is back in college. They have taken a “if she asks, we’ll answer” policy about her past. So far, she has never questioned them about her mental illness.  “It’s as if, none of it ever happened — at least to her. Not us. We remember all of it. How could we forget? Is it wrong for us to keep it that way?” the father asked.

He said he was worried. What if her mental disorder reappeared? Weren’t they obligated to warn her about it so that she could be prepared?

 When I asked a psychiatrist about this, he reminded me that doctors used to put patients into shock — either with drugs or with shock treatments — to ease their symptoms.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not prompting shock treatments or any other form of therapy. Rather, this story reminded me of how little we seem to know about our brains and how they function.

Do you know an unusual recovery story that you want to share? Do you know a story that can offer others hope?

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.


  1. Fascinating piece on Sixty Minutes last night about new studies of certain people whose brain structures allow them to “remember everything” !

  2. Fascinating piece on Sixty Minutes last night about new studies of certain people whose brain structures allow them to “remember everything” !

  3. How’s this one? Someone I know was an extremely high profile entertainment executive. He kept deteriorating and deteriorating due to ‘depression’. He was fired.His family wanted him out of house for his strange behavior. He couldn’t even hold down a job as a stock person at Home Depot. Doctors put him on oodles of different anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, etc. to no avail and told family to put him in group home since he had untreatable major depression. His family told me he took to urinating in his clothes. I told them that was not a symptom of any mental illness I ever heard of (I am not a doctor). They assured me doctors said it was. I told them to get a better doctor. They did. It turned out to be a brain tumor. The tumor was removed and today he is back on top in the entertainment biz. The doctors did not check for other illnesses that can present as mental illness. See here When I was doing direct advocacy for patients, one of the hardest problems I had was getting parents to understand that if their child was doing poorly, and had same doctor for years, to get a new one. They would always say, “he’s good”. If he’s good, why isn’t your child doing better. Great post. Keep it up.

  4. This is truely a miracle of god, spirit and science, for although we would rather it not been an accident that caused the illness to dissappear, what can we learn from this?