The other day I finished what has become one of my favourite books about Abraham Lincoln. “Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged A President and Fueled His Greatness” by Joshua Wolf Shenk is an amazing book. It’s a stunning portrayal of the 16th President and his struggle with depression, how it shaped him as a person, what coping mechanisms he used and how having depressive insight helped him find the strength to help see America through its greatest crisis: the Civil War.
I was intrigued to read this book for a number of reasons. Obviously, one reason is because it’s about Abraham Lincoln, and if there’s one thing I can’t get enough of, it’s learning more about him. The second reason is more personal. For my entire life, I have struggled with having anxiety disorder. I don’t recall a time in my life where I wasn’t anxious or worrying about something, usually the littlest things (but, for those of us the have anxiety disorder, those can actually seem like very big things). I’ve also tended to have a more melancholy personality. In my late teens, depression hit me. I’m now in my early 30s and yes, I still struggle with it, anxiety and mild ADD. When I found out this book existed, I knew I had to read it. I had a feeling in some way it might help. Plus: LINCOLN!
“Lincoln’s Melancholy” helped me to understand my own depression as well as depression as an illness. It’s helped me come up with a couple more coping mechanisms (like to keep laughing, which I do a lot of to begin with, but this book reaffirmed for me how important laughter is and how it’s often used by people who suffer from depression as a coping mechcanism).It also showed me what Lincoln went through, which just makes him even more amazing as a person to me. I’ve come away having an even greater love, appreciation and respect for him (I didn’t think that was possible). To know that he struggled too and managed to achieve all he did is just so inspiring and hopeful. Reading the book was also like hearing “Hey, you’re not alone” and “you can get through this”. It also reiterated to me yet again those of us who suffer from depression see the world differently than those that do not. And that’s okay.
Shenk did an incredible amount of research for this book. While the book is shorter when compared to some of the other books about Lincoln I’ve read, I feel like I learned more about Lincoln as a person in these 243 pages than I have in reading other biographies about him. This was more the personal side of Lincoln that was presented but seeing this more personal side helps us in understanding why he was such amazing President and how he managed to accomplish the things he did in his life. Learning that he suffered from depression, that he recognized it and did not let it hold him back, is not only amazing, it’s also inspirational. And, most of all, it gives those of us that suffer from it too a hope that we can persevere, that we don’t have to be held back. Yes, we have dark days and go through depressive episodes. Abraham Lincoln certainly did. But we can come through it, just as he did. We can become stronger than we were before, we can push through what holds us back and sure, we might see the world differently at the end of it, but that is okay. Seeing the world differently than others can make certain things become apparent to us that perhaps we didn’t see before. Most of all, it shows us again, what an amazing, timeless person Abraham Lincoln is and that in our society today, he is still relevant. The other important thing that “Lincoln’s Melancholy” shows us is this – it lets those of us that sufferer from depression know that we are not alone.