February: Lincoln’s Month – in more ways than one

Posted by on Feb 18, 2011

Do you battle “Seasonal Affective Disorder” during these gray days of February? Many people do. I find myself counting down the days until the end of the month, knowing that March is usually more upbeat for me. It doesn’t help that “Seasonal Affective Disorder” is often abbreviated “SAD.”

I won’t attempt to address the complex and very important issue of depression here. If you need or want help with that, I highly recommend Ed Welch’s book, Depression: A Stubborn Darkness — Light for the Path.

(see: http://www.amazon.com/Depression-Stubborn-Darkness–Light-Edward-Welch/dp/0976230801/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1298039237&sr=8-3)

But you might also find encouragement from another source – Joshua Wolf Shenk’s study of how Abraham Lincoln managed and even benefited from his “melancholy.” His full length book on the subject is well written, thoroughly documented, and blends the perspectives of a good historian and a compassionate counselor. In an article length treatment, Shenk offers this insight that prompts both marvel and admiration for our sixteenth president, whose birthday we just celebrated a few days ago:

“Many popular philosophies propose that suffering can be beaten simply, quickly, and clearly. Popular biographies often express the same view. Many writers, faced with the unhappiness of a heroic figure, make sure to find some crucible in which that bad feeling is melted into something new. “Biographies tend conventionally to be structured as crisis-and-recovery narratives,” the critic Louis Menand writes, “in which the subject undergoes a period of disillusionment or adversity, and then has a ‘breakthrough’ or arrives at a ‘turning point’ before going on to achieve whatever sort of greatness obtains.” Lincoln’s melancholy doesn’t lend itself to such a narrative. No point exists after which the melancholy dissolved—not in January of 1841; not during his middle age; and not at his political resurgence, beginning in 1854. Whatever greatness Lincoln achieved cannot be explained as a triumph over personal suffering. Rather, it must be accounted an outgrowth of the same system that produced that suffering. This is a story not of transformation but of integration. Lincoln didn’t do great work because he solved the problem of his melancholy; the problem of his melancholy was all the more fuel for the fire of his great work.”

Shenk’s book can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Lincolns-Melancholy-Depression-Challenged-President/dp/0618773444/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1298039833&sr=1-1

His article can be found here: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2005/10/lincoln-apos-s-great-depression/4247/

Hang in there. Only 10 more days until March 1st.

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