Monday, February 18, 2008

President Abraham Lincoln and Depression

In the United States, today is President's Day, in commemoration of the birthdays of George Washington, the first president (who was born February 22, 1732), and Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president (whose birthday was February 12, 1809). From what I've read, their temperaments and lives were at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Washington was happy, outgoing, friendly, stable, and energetic. (Actually I'm linking to a site whether they suggest that Washington would have been an ESFJ according to the Myers Briggs Personality Test. How amusing is this?)

But Lincoln's depressions were legion, and as far as I can tell, his behavior would seem to be bipolar. Robert L. Wilson, who served in the legislature with Lincoln, wrote in 1836, "In a conversation with him...he told me that although he appeared to enjoy life rapturously, still he was the victim of terrible melancholy. He sought company, and indulged in fun and hilarity without restraint, or stint as to time. Still when by himself, he told me that he was so overcome with mental depression, that he never dare carry a knife in his pocket."

The most famous quote attributed to Lincoln about his "melancholy" can be found in a letter he wrote in 1841 to John T. Stuart, his first law partner, describing his mood after he broke his engagement to Mary Todd, whom he later married.

"I am now the most miserable man living," he writes. "If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better I can not tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me."

And William Herndon, Lincoln's third law partner, wrote, "He was a sad-looking man; his melancholy dripped from him as he walked. His apparent gloom impressed his friends, and created sympathy for him - one means of his great success. He was gloomy, abstracted, and joyous - rather humorous - by turns; but I do not think he knew what real joy was for many years... The perpetual look of sadness was his most prominent feature."

What's interesting to me is that I can't imagine any presidential candidate today being elected should he or she have the melancholic personality that Lincoln embodied. And yet, when we think of President Lincoln's legacy, his accomplishments were quite extraordinary...either despite his illness or because of it.

[I found all the Lincoln quotes on the Abraham Lincoln Research site.]

6 comments:

Tony C. said...

Hi Susan (I hope you dont mind me using your first name) My myers briggs come as out at ISFJ. No american presidents in my family im afraid (as Im english) In my family tree I have the Duke of Marlborough and Winston Churchill - while the latter was known to have suffered from depression I dont know about the grand old duke.
I have now come off my meds as per doctors instruction and feel somehow "naked" its bizarre. I wonder, are the meds to protect me from the world or the world from me? Look out world, the safety net is gone!
I hope you are well at present, thanks for cheering up my world with your words.

Howard said...

I agree: today we won't allow a candidate to appear less than mediagenetically perfect. Remember how much grief Mike Dukakis took when everyone learned that Kitty suffered from depression...and we weren't even voting for her!

Sorina said...

You have a very nice blog, good post…keep up the good job

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Tony,
Absolutely, call me Susan. My mental state is such that I can't remember how I scored on the Myers Briggs test and when I look at the abbreviated version, I can't decide how I feel.

I don't know about the Duke of Marlborough but Churchill's battle with depression was well documented. Interesting question about your medication. It must feel scary walking around "naked," but I wish you all the best. And thanks for the kind words!

Susan

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Howard,
So true about Kitty Dukakis. I remember when Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri was removed from the Democratic ticket as the running mate to Senator George McGovern in 1972 because Eagleton had undergone electroshock therapy!

Susan
P.S. Hope you're okay without the Zyprexa. It was a terrible medication for me although I only took it briefly. And there have been a ton of law suits against the manufacturer. It always amazes me how differently we all respond to medication.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Thank you Sorina!