In honor of President’s Day, I direct you toward the following posts about past presidents and other leaders I respect for having carried the weight of the world on their heads while suffering from varying degrees of depression and other byproducts of mental illness.
It’s all the more impressive because they did this long before there were anti-depressants and modern therapy to fall back on.
I’ve always been something of a history nerd and am especially drawn to stories about those who have achieved greatness despite the crippling impact of mental illness. Winston Churchill was a sufferer (he called it his Black Dog). Theodore Roosevelt suffered from bipolar disorder. And Abraham Lincoln’s depression is well documented.
I recently read an excellent book on the latter: “Lincoln’s Melancholy” by Joshua Wolf Shenk. For anyone who has struggled with mental illness, it’s a must read because Shenk goes beyond simply detailing Lincoln’s episodes of depression and outlines the coping mechanisms he developed to get through the fog. In fact, the author argues, those very coping mechanisms fueled Lincoln’s greatness.
The historical figures I revere all had to overcome disease, mental illness and personal tragedy through the course of their lives. I look up to them because they dealt with challenges greater than anything I will probably come across in my own lifetime. And they achieved what they achieved despite crippling personal setbacks. I’ll stick with six examples, though there are many more…
For all of my professional life, I’ve had a habit of littering my desk with trinkets. It’s a very organized form of clutter. I do have OCD, after all. What might surprise folks is that all this junk serves a very specific purpose. It is, in fact, one of my coping tools.