Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Mindful Monday: You Must Do That Which You Think You Cannot Do

winter olympics 2010.jpg
“You must do that which you think you cannot do.”


Those are words by Eleanor Roosevelt.

I remember the first time I read them.

David was about four years old, sitting in a level-eight karate pose as his instructor, a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, was telling the group of small boys that they must control their mouths, bodies, and minds. I was in the midst of one of my more severe panic attacks, trying like hell to stabilize my breath and think about everything I had to be grateful for as Katherine, two years old, was busy filling paper Dixie cups with water from the water cooler and dumping them into the trash. After getting the “get it together lady” glare from a few of the other karate moms, I picked up Katherine and walked to the restroom. I was shaking with anxiety at this point, and crying. I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore.


On the way to my secret hideout in the bathroom stall, I saw a framed print with the word DETERMINATION stretched across the top. There was an image of runners crossing the finish line with Eleanor’s quote: “You must do that which you think you cannot do.”

I suppose an Olympic athlete tells himself that daily throughout his training. He must go beyond his threshold, beyond any of his calculations. As I watched ice-skater Evan Lysacek and snowboarder Shawn White this year in Vancouver, I was inspired and awed by their courage, strength and perseverance.

It’s the same dogged determination that those of us with mood disorders use to get through our bad days.


Some might disagree, but I believe that getting through the ugly moments of a disabling illness–and especially a serious mood disorder that has your limbic system (the brain’s emotional center) shrink wrapped in pain–takes the stamina and fortitude of an Olympic athlete. 

So does getting through a life chock-full of tragedy and heartache, like Eleanor Roosevelt’s. For starters, she lost her mom at age eight to diphtheria, an illness that claimed the life of her brother, as well. Two years later, the young Eleanor lost her dad, an alcoholic confined to a sanitarium, and as a young mother, she lost her third child, Franklin, as an infant. Her husband (Franklin) had an affair with a woman that Eleanor hired, and her mother-in-law was extremely overbearing and downright cruel to her at times. All that fun plus she was caretaker to Franklin when he became ill with polio.


In short, the woman was a saint. She was a living testimony to her mantra: “You must do that which you think you cannot do.”

Unlike the Olympic athletes, I have no dream of obtaining a tangible goal–of holding with five fingers a medal or Pulitzer Prize or New York Times bestseller or any kind of an evaluation that says I have arrived and need not feel insecure anymore. I’ve said this before, and I know it sounds morose to some ears, but my only intention here on Earth is to simply get to the finish line in a somewhat recognizable condition … to not truncate my life by a few decades because I’ve run out of hope … and to hopefully help a few other people on the way. But that requires the same type of training that the athletes undergo. I must constantly and consistently do the thing I think I cannot do.


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  • Theresa Brett

    This post immediately reminded me of “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith…”. Even as a little girl when I struggled with my unnamed demons of mood disorder, Eleanor Roosevelt was a larger than life role model for me once I had read her biography.
    Thank you for the uplifting reminder that our struggles are on some days Olympian in nature.

  • Sheryl

    I have also struggled with depression for a lifetime it seems. I like what Eleanor said it is the doing of it that leaves me stranded. I want to but the motivation is another thing. I hope like Teresa to run the race and make it to Gods purpose for me. At times I am so low I cannot see the point. Not that I would harm myself but this state of mind is very harmful to the person. I do not understand how Eleanor so persevered.

  • Elizabeth

    It’s true, with depression, panic, anxiety, and any other mood disorder, you have to reach inside of yourself and find the courage to exist, strive, and even hope against a consuming pain.
    My roommate has OCD and is fond of remarking that people with severe mental illnesses have to live with a pain that some people don’t even believe exists it is so beyond expression at times. I’ve come to realize how much courage and strength that takes. It is indeed an Olympic task.

  • roshen

    Thank you. I really like this post.

  • Lorianne

    It is a wise mantra for any new mother to recite daily, especially at 2, 4 and 6 a.m. and your child calls out for you.

  • Abby

    Thank you for this post, as even though it’s not a “unicorns and rainbows” thought, I often feel that things are so day-to-day. Although I am not going for the gold, getting through seemingly “normal” days takes a large amount of both courage and determination on a regular basis. It takes training, perseverance and dedication to overcome both mental and physical hurdles.
    With both, you have to want something more to succeed.

  • Alondria

    This entire story was inspiring to me..thanks for the motivation!!

  • Taneca

    Thank You, so much. This is really and inspiration to me.
    At this particular time in my life when I am working and doing part-time studies, it seems that I can’t even make it but this quote really, have me motivated. I will make this one of my favorite quotes.

  • Diana

    Thank you for this…it’s very true. Those of us living with a mental illness must do that that we think we can’t. I have lived with bi-polar disorder for almost 20 years. In the begining I wouldn’t see where the meds worked and would stop them often. Today I take them faithly, but that only came with lots of learning but my illness. Eleanor Roosevelt was a very smart lady and if we could remember that we having things easier in many ways then she did. She made it we can too.

  • Your Name

    To strive with the last ounce of courage.
    To right the unrightable wrong.
    Dream the impossible dream.

  • monia

    yes oh s true just when i need a word of encouragment and a writen example of a paragraph i found you thank you and may all life be well

  • Jen

    I have also received the “get it together lady” stare. I wonder if the women who do that never had children?? The next time I see a struggling mom (and for some crazy reason she’s not me) I will ask if I can help. You never know what someone else is trying to overcome from day to day.

  • Big Al

    Look I totally understand what your getting at, pull yourself up by your boot straps. But what if you have no straps to pull? I lay here immobilized in bed wanting not to be here i.e. death. I get told so many times the nike slogan ‘just do it’ and I’m tired of it. What don’t you understand? It’s not that I don’t think that I cannot it’s that I simply can’t. There is nothing for me here.

  • Leslie

    Dear Big Al,
    I agree with you … forget the bootstrapping crap and try to take just one tiny, tiny, tiny little step … like a baby. Honest to God, sometimes that’s all I can manage. Anyone who tells you to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, while you’re suffering with acute depression, is clueless … but most likely, not because they’re unkind. It’s because they’ve never had to experience truly debilitating depression. Even if it’s simply finding a hotline number, online, for a suicide prevention center. Look, if I can’t opt for eternal rest yet, neither can you. Deal? Love and blessings.

  • eileen

    Thank you. To get to the finish line in a somewhat recognizable state and not a few decades early is a noble goal and just what I needed to hear today as I sit here beating myself up for not doing enough and doing it bigger, faster, and better than everybody else.

  • Tresa

    I will be saving this link! I work at a community no-profit mental health center. My job is to help the clients in pursuing and maintaining their working lives. I have been following you post for awhile and they have helped me personally. I intend to share this one with my co-workers and family!! This is some very good insight!!! THANK YOU!

  • Tresa

    Big AL,
    Listen to Leslie. take small steps and small goals! Celebrate the small(tiny) Victories!

  • Falle’n Angel

    I have read the comment you posted online and it totally scared me.
    I myself have believed for way to long time that I didn’t belong here too. I’m not just another patient though I do have bi-ploar and manic depression with panic attacks that happen even if I’m laughing. I truly feel for you. You aren’t alone and you are here for a reaon. Believe me, reading your post just made me feel that I’m not alone in my thoughts. My thoughts are interperated by most people as weak… It takes a lot of stregth to go on and not give in to what we feel is our only way out. No where to run and nobody to run to. I hope you continue to progress as you did by just simply writing that little message and it did help me. I want to thank you for helping me feel a bit normal. I would like to chat with you more so I will watch the postings. I really do thank you and now I would like to give back
    and help you as you did me.

  • Cail Coleman

    Loved this article-it’s waht I needed right now!

  • Falle’n Angel

    Big Al,
    The post I just sent was intended for you. Please post back I would like to chat with you.

  • Your Name

    Well, its all good advice I guess, but when you are living in hell and cannot figure out a way out, this seems a mute point. I live alone, and am struggling so bad financially that I do not even have a dollar to my name. I also have a college degree and am a licensed professional; so its not like I dropped out of school and sit and watch TV all day long. I work 2 jobs, one of which I did not have to go to today because of the snow; my boss and 2 fellow co-workers have a long commute and could not get to work so I got the day off. My son left home 5 years ago to join the service and I went downhill from there. I have no family–I mostly grew up in foster homes. I have my dog and thats all. I cannot quite figure out why I cannot seem to make it; I do not drink nor smoke nor spend money on new clothes, etc., I work to pay bills to survive, and this is not working. I am very depressed and feel hopeless. I have prayed and just keep feeling stuck. This life is not enjoyable at all. I feel like I am being punished in life–I know that I have made some bad mistakes and choices in life; but this is ridiculous.

  • Falle’n Angel

    Was that from you Al?????Money stinks really bad I know. I am on ssi and have 4 kids. I feel like a failure cuz I can’t work I have physical health problems on top of my depression. I to feel like I’m being punished in life. I don’t know why though I am in no way a perfect angel but at only 4 my life was all about hiding from an older man who invaded my private life. Funny at 4 who has a private life maybe I should say he invaded my “private”…The greatest man I knew was killed by a drunk driver on Valentines Day, my Papa, when I was 7 and I miss him everyday. I’m 40 now and it still feels like just yesterday. I love my kids dearly they are my life I just don’t feel I have much to offer them. Like I was born a true failure. I had problems growing up I guess, (I am 1 outta 3 kids) I was my parents outlet. And, I used to think it was ok cuz I was so close with them they needed someway to get it out. I took alot of bruises I still love them to death but do have some resentment. It’s weird though my resentment isn’t over the hitting it’s over things that happened in my adult life in marriage. I thought I even failed at that.. He cheated became abusive and was demanding on bedroom things. You couldn’t say no to him or he took it anyway. He believed that when we got married we became one and i belonged to him. Took me a long time, I think I had to see him hurt the kids first, then finally out the door. I guess in my head you can hurt me all you want but DO NOT touch my children. My parents were disappointed in my choice to end it. I believe their feelings were do to money. I guess they would rather see green and except the colors black&blue than see me safe. I don’t get it…

  • Leslie

    Dear Your Name (Big Al?),
    I think you’d be surprised at how many people are in the same situation -not that the information necessarily will make you feel better. But what you just described to me could have been a page from my daily diary (if I kept one, which I don’t). I also have a college degree, and 35 years of solid work experience. I’ve been out of work since October of 2009, which is nowhere near as long as some of the people I know. I’m not telling you this to bum you out further, but to assure you that it’s not a matter of punishment for you, me, or anyone else who struggles from day-to-day.
    You’re doing all the right things, believe it or not. What we are all up against is an enormous juggernaut known as a depressed economy ( recession, my foot – I’ve lived through recessions, and they were NOTHING like the current conditions). And it may seem as if God is on some nice, tropical island, enjoying a prolonged vacation and blowing off the desparate prayers of His children, whom He supposedly loves.
    He isn’t, though. You know where He is? He’s in the people who respond to a plea for help. And he’s pretty darned busy in this regard – whispering into the ears of people who can help you. Whether it’s someone who might let you know that grant money is available for people who cannot currently meet their insurance copays for counseling (this happened to me just yesterday), or someone who just offers an ear to hear you and a shoulder to cry on. This can be done online, by the way – someone in person probably is best, but this is an okay substitute, right? For right now, anyway?
    As I have experienced God, yeah, He occasionally will put on a little dog-and-pony show, in the form of a small but unmistakable miracle that has His big ol’ fingerprints all over it. More often, though, He has always looked just like a human being – whether it was someone I knew, or a total stranger. And even though I consider myself a Christian – and my fellow Christians might get their knickers into a huge knot over what I’m about to say, and who knows, maybe I’m even risking a shot at hell (though I hope not!) – the human beings who come to your aid do not need to resemble Jesus Christ. In my experience, it’s just fine to go with the God of your understanding.
    I see God as the source of all love for all of us, not just a particular faith. And I believe that He’s in every one of us, including those of us who love and care for his non-human creatures: your dog, and my cats. Animals are a great, great blessing.
    Love and blessings, Leslie

  • Nancy Roberts

    I have done quite a bit in my younger years as a wife, mom and nurse. I never thought that I could do that but it was a the little things that lead to the bigger things. I was not as happy as I should have been even thought I did accomplish my goals. I even married and am still married for 41 years to a man that makes life bearable. It is how the adult kids turned out that makes me wonder what I may have done wrong. One is transgender, single and has this manic depressive personality that I have. The other adult is married to an overbearing wife and has 3 kids. I don’t know if life can be very productive now since I’ve retired from my profession. Of course, the older parents are needing to be watched for their problems. It is a situation which I have turned to my church for answers. I suppose my panic attacks, insominia and depression won’t end either. I do not take meds or therapy since I don’t think I can afford them. I am quite impressed with your web site. Thanks for having it. I do have hope even though I don’t have much money these days either…

  • Big Al

    Fallen Angel
    That wasnt me but I can empathise with that too. I was just in the shower trying to figure things out. Crying ofcourse and doing self harm. I cant explain it and I cant fight it. I just want it done with.

  • Leslie

    Dear Big Al,
    I don’t know what you mean by “self-harm”, but if you’re making even a half-hearted attempt at suicide, that’s extremely serious. Please follow this link – pronto!
    If you cannot do that, please call one of these numbers:
    1-800-784-2433 1-800-273-8255
    That’s all you need to do. Please don’t choose a permanent solution for temporary problems. I hope you will send a message that you have made a call.

  • Nancy Roberts

    Hey I like the comment that Leslie put on this page. I’ve not heard such honesty in a Christian before. I hope you get employment if that is what you want and need. It is a horrible economic situation right now. We worked so hard for 30+ years with the way things are, it is very depressing. I do think God is very much aware of what is going on though. Something is going to happen, I just don’t know what or when it’ll be.

  • Leslie

    Thanks very much, Nancy – well, if I’m honest, though, it’s because my good bud (caring, big brother, actually) Jesus will call me on it, otherwise. As in: “Les … give me a BREAK! Sheesh!” That’s how it seems to me, anyway. I’d be a terrible evangelist, and He knows it; I’m crappy at saying stuff like “This is IT!” And “There’s NO other way!”
    If someone asks me, that’s different. But I’d still couch it as: “This is how my relationship with Jesus works for me. It may not be at all the same for you, or anyone else.” I guess this is how I understand it to be a personal relationship, even though the principles are the same. I learned all this not from a bunch of fellow Christians, but from a bunch of fellow drunks who, like me, were doing a pretty good job of messing up their lives.
    Thanks again. I believe that God has a handle on things, too.

  • Big Al

    ‘self-harm’ is a way for me to try to be incontrole of the hurt and pain. by cutting or burning myself i can finally feel something and be in controle of what i cannot at the moment

  • Your Name

    To Big Ai,fallen angel and nancy roberts.Life does not always seem fair but we all have been equipped with God’s grace and power to overcome all of life’s obstacles.Many great men and women have gone through obstacles that are better imagined than experienced.People like nelson mandela,eleanor roosevelt(read her story by therese brochard above)and even Jesus christ the son of God.When i find myself in unpleasant situations i try to imagine what christ would do or did in a similar situations.The holy bible is replete with so many situations similar to the difficulties we face today.I read a book by the popular pastor Joyce Meyer and she says that you are your own best fan.When we truly,conciously acknowledge our strengths ,successes,things that are going right in our life,there is this warm glow that we feel right in our hearts.You need to make this a habit.One writer says that ,”as you think,so are you”.Of course there are times when we want to give up ,we feel drained of all our strength.At such times we need to rememeber who is in the driver’s seat-God.His plans for us are good and not evil to give us an expected end.God has a great plan for each and everyone of us no matter who we are,our past ,our fears etc.Let go today and let God.Always think positive ,positive ,postive.Put your faith out there.If God has kept you alive till date then He must have something up his sleeves.This of course does not mean we should sit down and wait for God to come and change our situations,No!By making efforts to better our lives ,get a better paying job,raise our kids to the best of our abilities ,we are honouring God.By so doing,we are letting him know that he’s got our back and will surely come through for us.It may take a day,a week ,a year ,several years but he will surely come through for you.His time is always the best.We should also beware of not thinking that God will take care of a problem in exactly the same way we desire.E.g we may want a child that is not doing so well in school to start excelling,God may not require you to ensure that he reads his books,does his assignments etc.God may require you to spend more quality non-academic time with that child and this would eventually reflect in the child’s performance in school.So no matter what you are going through,don’t keep God out of your life.The fulfilment of our dreams is the ultimate goal but i believe the journey could give you just as much joy.stay blessed

  • Big Al

    hey nancy,
    It is not ‘you fault’ as to how your children ‘turned out’. God doesn’t make mistakes. You did your best in giving them a strong foundation. Now you just have to let go and let them make there own decisions. Of course be there for them when they seek your advice, but leave judgement at the door. Gender is a hard thing to deal with as a parent. You raise a child one way and you get a different one. You are grieving the ‘loss’ of a child. But remember you are gaining a happier new one. Also remember god does not make mistakes. maybe that child’s life is a lesson of tolerance and teaching what the true meaning of love means. Did not Jesus walk and heal among the lepers destitutes and societies misfits. One of those misfits was his right hand man er…. woman, mary magdolin. My mother is still grieving the loss of her daughter and the thought of not having any grandchildren from her. I should know. I was that daughter. Now she has a son. We are still working on things but she seeing me as being more comfortable with myself. I would encourage you to go to PFLAG or counseling with that child to open lines of communication. Remember they are children of god too and he has a special plan for them.

  • Big Al

    to your name,
    you obviously have never been clinically depressed. if those were words of encouragement you failed horribly. you sound like another ‘pull yourself up by your bootstrap’ pushers. it is not your fault you have no clue what we are going through, just do me a favor and stop acting like you do and stop giving poor advice.

  • Terri

    This is so true………… that which you think you can not do. I also feel like you who has to deal with severe emotional pain and keep going when you feel that you can barely make it……….I am there right now and hope it will end soon………I try so hard to change my mood I’m at a real low point….I feel like I want to connect to someone but don’t know how I could with the way I feel……at least I can connect with others who have similar symptoms, I’m not alone

  • Weeble75

    Therese, I understand the point being made. What I would add is to keep in mind that sometimes “can’t” is a reality that dare not be ignored.
    Pushing myself beyond my limits over and over for several years was a major contributor to my breakdown. My body and being became less and less responsive to my “pushing”; I felt like I was driving myself with one foot on the brake and one foot on the accelerator. Finally I broke and my body said, “I ain’t doin’ NOTHIN’.” At that point, I learned that there are exceptions to that saying, “there’s no such thing as ‘can’t'”. I had to stop, even as my world was collapsing around me.
    There is a poem which has helped me over the years called “Don’t Quit”. I’ve appended it below. One line in it keeps me in balance; “Rest if you must, but do not quit.” A pastor of mine who had a short-term breakdown subsequently quipped, “it’s like the Bible says, ‘He MAKETH me lie down in green pastures.'” And from an entirely different approach, a famous “Dirty Harry” quote is “A man’s got to know his limitations.” There are times for resting, there are times for recognizing and working within our limitations, and times for pressing on. Wisdom comes from knowing which is which.
    Hope this helps somebody.
    “Don’t Quit,” Author Unknown
    When things go wrong as they sometimes will;
    When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill;
    When the funds are low, and the debts are high
    And you want to smile, but have to sigh;
    When care is pressing you down a bit-
    Rest if you must, but do not quit.
    Success is failure turned inside out;
    The silver tint of the clouds of doubt;
    And you can never tell how close you are
    It may be near when it seems so far;
    So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit-
    It’s when things go wrong that you must not quit.

  • falle’n angel

    Big Al,
    Are you there today?

  • kathy

    Sorry, but this was a pretty much worthless article other than you trying to tie something in with the Olympics so you pulled this together. Doesn’t help anyone with depression.

  • angelo

    they say you -should never judge a person, unless you walk a mile in thair shoes.we cant never know what another person is going threw evern if you been thair yourself.But always know that god loves us all, And we are closer to him whan we are at our worse. this has helped me get back on my feet. after my wife and mother passed

  • Your Name


  • Sandy M

    Sometimes we are dealt a cruel blow in life. This, I see as a challenge to over come. This I see as a strength. Something to be proud of. Over-coming that hurt, obstacle, or pain. Just never, ever, give up!. Most importantly have FAITH in yourself.

  • Ky CPA

    I, more often than I’m proud of, back down when I feel I’ll fail at a task. Fear has paralyzed me for years. I’m 32, I have 3 wonderful children and a great husband. I’ve been a stay at home mom for quite a long time. I just complete a Master program in Accounting by the grace of God adfraid and all.
    So I made the decision to DO THINGS AFRAID!!! I’m terrified at the thought of getting a job in the next couple of weeks, because I’ve been out of the workplace for such a LONG time. BUT I’m going to DO IT AFRAID!!
    “I’m going to do what I think I cannot do”
    -Eleanor Roosevelt-

  • CJ

    As someone who has struggled with depression off and on, mostly on, for just about 20 years, I always find the quotes of great people inspiring – especially when I know their background. I appreciate the knowledge Therese shared with us.
    I do not find negative comments from someone who failed to get the message supportive or a benefit to anyone other than themselves. Isn’t the world negative enough? Can’t we keep those thoughts to ourselves? Didn’t you ever hear “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything”?
    My mantra right now is “Successful people do what unsuccessful people won’t do.”

  • John A.

    I’ve had anxiety for most of my life, and I’m still not thrilled about having it. It’s like having a pebble in your shoe except it’s in your head. One way I deal with it is by going to this site and connecting with others who experience similar feelings and thoughts. Just knowing that others are out here with me comforts me. Thank you for helping me.

  • Dan

    Hi Terese,
    You’re doing a terrific service for the people with mental illnes. As one recovered 25 years now from dual diagnosis-schizo and substance abuse I know how hard one has to work to recover but it’s well worth it. When you work through it and come out the other side you are extremely strong-what doesn’t destroy you mades you stronger. One becomes stress hardy. Add an unshakeable faith and one becomes invincible. Keep up the great work Terese.
    Best to you,

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