Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Mind Over Broken Leg?

Okay. I get all of it. The scientific evidence that we can, in fact, change our brain with our thoughts.

But this very study almost killed me last year.

I tried for months and months and more months to stop thinking about death and how to get there–to turn my thoughts instead to the pink rosebush outside my front door, to my son’s dimples, to my daughter’s chunky legs. I tried to laugh at Eric’s jokes and smile at his sarcastic (hilarious) gestures instead of mentally matching him up with a suitable partner and mother for my kids (for once I was gone).

“You won’t need medication as soon as you learn how to master your thoughts and control your emotions,” my friend Eileen told me over lunch in the midst of my battle with the demons of darkness. “If you train your thinking, you will achieve mental health on your own, without all those toxic drugs.”


I knew the studies supported her statement. In “The Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, I read this:

“Neuroscientists have documented the fact that the brain can design new patterns, new combinations of nerve cells and neurotransmitters in response to new input. In fact, our brains are malleable, ever changing, reconfiguring their wiring according to new thoughts and experiences…. By mobilizing our thoughts and practicing new ways of thinking, we can reshape our nerve cells and change the ways our brains work.”

But why wasn’t it working with me? Why, after an hour of stretching in yoga–releasing my toxic energy and peering out to the world with my “third eye”–was I as anxious as before class? Why didn’t praying with scripture and practicing Tibetan meditation calm me as it was supposed to?


The research on mindful meditation, Eileen’s comment, and all my attempts to rewire my brain worsened my depression.

Because not only had I failed as a mother (who couldn’t get a spoonful of Cheerios into her own mouth let alone feed the two little ones), and a wife (who couldn’t accompany her husband to an office dinner without breaking down in front of his co-workers), and a writer (who couldn’t concentrate long enough to compose a sentence).

Now I had failed as a person. Because I couldn’t think myself to health, I felt like the earth’s most pathetic creature, a moronic weakling.


Thankfully my doctor salvaged the last crumb of my self-esteem with this compassionate statement: “Mindful meditation, yoga, and cognitive-behavioral therapy are extremely helpful for people with mild to moderate depression. But, Therese, they don’t work for people such as yourself who are suicidal or severely depressed.”

And then she asked me this: if I had been in a terrible automobile accident would I be so hard on myself?

“If you were in a wheelchair with casts on each of your limbs,” she said, “would you beat yourself up for not healing yourself with your thoughts? For not thinking yourself into perfect condition?”

Of course not.

When I injured my knee while training for a marathon, I didn’t expect myself to visualize my tendonitis away so that I could run. I dropped out of the race to rest my joints and muscles so I wouldn’t further damage them.


Yet I expected myself to think away my mood disorder, which involved a disease in my brain, an organ just like my heart, lungs, and kidneys.

I know people like Eileen who have healed themselves with mindful meditation will never understand this, but severe depression is like wearing four casts on your limbs. It’s that disabling.

It’s possible to rewire our brains, yes. But it takes a little more to heal a broken leg, or an organic disease like major depression and bipolar disorder.

  • T

    This article came to me at the perfect time. Thanks to Ms. Borchard for her vulnerability and sharing, and thanks to God for the perfect timing. blessings

  • http://HASH(0xd09b42c) April

    How can I achieve Mind Over Matter when everyone around me are so toxic & negative?

  • RichE Polin

    Carolyn Myss is an eduated quack;I stopped believing in these self-riteous charletons and start taking responsibility for myself!! I also give kudos to the author; everything in divine order..

  • http://HASH(0xd09cfe8) Beyond Blue

    Oh, Therese, you’ve done it again! “Mind over matter,” is not only erroneous, but stupid. Well-meaning friends will try to convince even bi-polars, with their mood swings, that it can be “cured” if we just “get our thinking in order.” I have a very good friend (of another generation), who, when she first met me, had a “vision” that one day I would not need my medications! I tried to explain to her that, although I might one day get over the chronic back pain I have (that I’m taking both morphine and Percocet for), and not need opiates, I could NEVER live a “normal” life without my psychotropic meds. The chemical imbalance in my brain needs the SSRIs to operate at an efficient manner. “Take up your mat and walk,” although spoken by our Lord, absolutely cannot work with mental illness. Miracles do happen – but with depression, there’s never a “quick fix.” Clinical depresion cannot be “cured” by wishful thinking; I was in one for a year, but finally summoned up courage to go to our community Mental Health center, and got chemical HELP. Within six weeks, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. So, keep “poppin'” those pills, and I guarantee you WILL feel better…

  • http://HASH(0xd09d974) Kate

    I have to say that this came in my email with perfect timing. Just a little over an hour ago, I was thinking about just this! Now, I do believe that “mind over matter” has it’s rightful place but as the author states, essentially, that it certainly is not a cure-all. How much more depression does a person need: “My mind can’t take care of the matter, despite giving all my effort towards it and so, I must really be a “reject!” Again, while it has it’s place: for those suffering from severe disabilities oft times need more help, than thought alone.

  • http://HASH(0xd09eb48) DC

    I am so grateful to see this on the wake of an awful year wrestling daily with depression threatening to do me in. I have finally accepted that I may need chemical asisstance to move forward, as my inability to hold down a deal when my professional life depends on it has awakened me to the serious issue that I want to die. I’ve said it to yogic ‘healers’ a number of times. I wouldn’t take my own life, but sure wouldn’t mind if it happened ONCE I actually got my life insurance sorted for my son (single mom). The despair is so great, so pervasive, so beyond my control… I am so sick of painting on a happy face and holding my breath til I can get away to cry. I cry all the time – in the car mostly, having usually escaped just in time… Thanks Therese for bravely standing up to the new Age set convinced that you can master anything on your own. I just can’t & am sick of being shamed for it.

  • http://HASH(0xd09ee6c) Avery

    I’ve lived with bi-polar disorder for almost 50 years. . .I came to medication 15 years ago, and only recently have found a combination that works for me. While it’s true that certain mind can control certain things, it cannot control my rapid cycling, or relieve me of the grueling despair of black depression. Only recently have my friends and family come to understand that it isn’t an issue of mind over matter, but an issue of illness as real and dangerous as uncontrolled diabetes, or undetected heart disease.

  • http://HASH(0xd09fd84) balance

    What a strane culture we live in that tells us we are wrong to be as we are, however we are. What a strange culture we live in that tells us we must be “fixed” before we have worth, to ourselves and to our communities around us. I use every tool available to me, Rx, exercise, friends, professionals, meditation, spirituality, arts, reading good books, etc. just to keep waking up each day to find another day worth living. Life can be extremely challenging and we need a lot of help to get through all that is around us, no matter how we see others suffering. Go easy on yourself, accept all help around you, help yourself wisely and often and keep faith and hope alive when possible. Call someone when nothing works and blackness surrounds you. Each time it surrounds you. To think we’ve ever finally finished with our challenges is only a short reprieve. Health requires mainentance, perseverence and acceptance at whatever gains or “setbacks” we achieve. Love yourself and others well. Maybe it is together that we find our way through the difficult times. And by all means, don’t reject a method that helps some people just because it’s not “kosher” enough for someone’s value system. If it works, even a little, it works! Be well.

  • http://HASH(0xd0a0fb4) Ken

    As I read your article, I was impressed with the logic your Doctor used to help you see the difference in the thoughts associated with the healing of the mind, and with the healing of the body. A famous author, in a very powerful book, once said, “to every thing there’s a season, a time to weep, a time to heal”. I believe this also applies when we are dealing with the effects of time and circumstances that affect our bodies and our lives. The analogies the Doctor used relative to the healing of our physical ailments, i.e., the broken arm, leg, etc, is referring to this when they said that we had to let time and method heal the injuried part of the body, and that our thoughts, as powerful as they are, would not in and of themselves provide the healing we are looking for. Good article, and a great job of relating your personal endeavor with coming to grips with the issue of ‘mind over matter’, from a humanistic perspective.

  • http://HASH(0xd0a22b8) amy

    what a wonderful article. i have so often struggled with the same feelings of added despair because i cannot rid myself of depression by all the methods that you mentioned. i have many well-meaning friends who insist that if my spirituality were stronger, i would not get depressed or if i retrained my thinking to not be so negative i would feel better. i believe there is a place for meditation and other spiritual practices in aiding the depression problem but they aren’t a cure-all. it has taken me a long time to accept that i have certain issues that a mantra just can’t resolve. i use all of the tools that are available to me and try very hard to accept myself as i am, limitations and all! thank you for your honesty and perspective.

  • http://HASH(0xd0a2670) Maria

    I had many mixed feelings as I read this article and all of the comments about it. I have battled with this same issue myself for many years now. I have sat on the very edge of life and the brink of death, many times. I do not believe that there is a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to deal with any health problem, whether it be cancer, a broken limb, or mental illness. I know for certain that many health conditions take time to ‘show up’, making themselves known to us. A diabetic that has adult onset does not become one overnight, nor does a person with cancer develop this disease in one week. Rather it is often over the course of many months, or years that these conditions take hold of us. I think it is the same with mental illness, that it develops over time, with the physical inbalances that contribute, and with all the toxic patterns and thoughts have been with us and had lots of time to breed. So why is it that one would expect them to go away quickly? I do not believe that because something does not work instantly, or even over the course of several months, that it should be discredited. I realize that we all live in a ‘fast food culture’ and are used to instant gratification. But we are all individuals and what works for one person may not work for another. It does not make either one ‘wrong’. Many times it is a combination of things that helps someone to heal. Complete wellness can only be achieved through complete, well rounded nurturing. This is a very individual thing, for one person may thrive and become healthier eating peanuts, where for another it would kill them. Many people have succeeded in healing themselves completely from serious disorders, often ones that were ‘terminal’, and deemed hopeless using traditional methods alone. Yet many of these terminal individuals live, as testiment to the rest of us as to the power of will. Limited thinking can only serve to keep us confined, prisoners of our own selves. So if a terminal illness can be ‘cured’ through healthy diet, re-training the mind, exercise, meditation and other various complimentary treatments,then why cannot a person with a mental illness do the same? Harshness has no place in healing. Thinking of ourself as a ‘failure’ is part of the pattern that made us ill in the first place and so also has no place in healing. I do not believe in failure. I believe that each one of us is in the perfect place that is right for what we need to experience individually, right now. No one needs to be fixed to have worth. All of us are worthy just as we are. It took time to become ill, it takes time to heal. Having patience, especially with ourselves is a challenge for many of us, myself included. Know that miricles happen every day, and each one of us is worthy of recieving, but first we do have to be open to it. Loving ourself, just as we are today, is essential to well being. Blessings to all, maria

  • http://HASH(0xd0a2994) shane jensen

    Thank you so very much for this down to earth and realistic post. I am imbarking on a series of visits( 3 days a week, it will be a miricle if I can get out of bed for 3 appointments a week!) to a alternitive pain clinic. Treatment involves physical therapy, bio-feedback training, meditation and weekly visits with a MD to ween me off my vocodin that I use up to 4 times a day for a serious back injury and chronic pancretitus. When I visited the MD last week to discuss the program my final word (with tears) was “I CAN”T deal with failing with this process!. Hence the guilt of even the idea of failing again, just like so many other attempts. I was not sure what this statement in his office really ment but I do now. I am sick of denial in my life. I hurt and it is much relieved with the medication, not totally but much. I am so discusted and hurt at being labeled “narcodic dependent” I could use some scream therapy! LOL I will give this program a good ol’ all in try but now i am ok with the idea that if it doesn’t work enough for me to get off the meds than so be it.The MD was sure to mention on 2 occasions that PEOPLE (much better than me?) were able to undergo major surgery without any madication because of the way their brain was trained to cope with the pain.Well, I am not PEOPLE,,,I am a person and I will have an open mind BUT I will not start this program until I KNOW that I CAN commit myself to the 3 days a week visits.( Like practicing for a week or 2 by going somewhere at a set time) I will not set myself up for failure again by believing that I have the answers to my depression and pain, but am just not using them properly.Thank you again for all your help.peace

  • http://HASH(0xd0a3d8c) linda

    bravo! depression is not a sign of weakness!

  • bike

    good share!!keep go on!!!nice post!!

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