Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Minding the Ship

I’ve been struggling with the idea of a mind-body connection since my mother-in-law was diagnosed with Leukemia.

Some people believe we can control our bodies with our minds. What do you think?

Here’s what I know:

My mom-in-law didn’t think her way into sickness and she couldn’t think her way out. I know for sure because she was a god damned inspiration to other cancer patients in the hospital. She was out of bed every day, carting her IV pole around the halls, encouraging others to hold on through the really rough days and to get out of bed on the not-so-bad days.

The cancer went into remission, but then it came back and it never went away. She didn’t do anything to bring the Leukemia back, or to get it in the first place. She didn’t control her body with her thoughts.

I also didn’t think my way into cardiomyopathy. I did live with a heavy heart for years. I was depressed. But I don’t believe my negative thoughts brought on my illness. It was purely a coincidence – something I spent too much time thinking about because I wanted to have some illusion of control over my situation.

The atoms in my body were not rallied into good or bad health by my thoughts, fears or desires.

I didn’t get better by thinking positive thoughts; I took drugs and I got lucky. I was just as depressed when I was diagnosed as when I was taken off the pills. Happiness came after the good news.

What do you think? Am I bitter or missing something? Am I on the right track? Do you think you can control your body with your mind? Did good thoughts bring you health? Bad thoughts bring you sickness?


  1. Wow, huge topic. Honestly I don't think there is an easy answer. I think our thought life does have an impact on your bodies. I know how easily I get run down when I am battling depression, but I also think there is a limit to what the mind can do for the body. I don't know what that limit is, but if we could make our bodies do anything then we would, right?

  2. I don't believe we can totally control our bodies by our thoughts, but I do believe our thoughts and attitudes affect our health. I recovered to a much greater extent from a stroke than many other patients in rehab with me whose strokes were much less severe than mine. The therapists pointed out that I worked harder at therapy because I was determined to get well. Many of the other patients were elderly (I was in my mid-40s) and had no family and little incentive to improve. Perhaps my improvement can be attributed to the effort I put forth in therapy, but the effort I put forth can be at least partially attributed to my attitude.

  3. Tabitha, I agree there is no easy answer. I also agree it's so easy to get run down when we're depressed. It's hard to get out of bed in the morning when I'm depressed, so putting energy toward getting healthy seems impossible... I like what you said about making our bodies do stuff if we could. Good point.

  4. Lillie, good for you! I imagine working through the impact of a stroke would be incredibly tough and probably seem insurmountable at times. You're a strong woman :)

    I agree attitude affects our level of determination, and our level of commitment (or determination) effects our results when recovering from something big like a stroke.

    If we just lay down, we might just die.

    But is that because we stopped working to get better? Or because our thoughts of hopelessness keep us sick?

    On the other hand, some people who fight to the end die anyway.

    Tricky stuff.

  5. Jenn,

    It is a tricky question, and I don't think we'll ever know the answer while we're still in this life. But we have a choice, and I think if we make the choice to fight our chances are better. And even if we don't succeed, I would rather be doing all I could rather than just lying on the bed dying.

  6. I agree, Lillie, that we should do everything we can to get better, even if we don't know it will work.