Recognized as one of our country’s greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln is well known for his impressive accomplishments, including preserving the union during the Civil War and signing The Emancipation Proclamation into law to end slavery. But he is less known for his ability to overcome a significant and ever-present obstacle in his life—clinical depression.
An observer called Lincoln“one of the most diffident and worst plagued men I ever saw.” He had spells that his friends described as “melancholy,” sometimes spoke of suicide and described the world as “hard and grim.”
Finding a Purpose
Since Lincoln’s depression included frequent thoughts of suicide, he was always aware of his mortality. It became important to him that he accomplish something of importance before he died. He found that focusing on a higher purpose gave him a reason to live even when he felt as if he wanted to die. “Adhere to your purpose,” Lincoln wrote to Quintin Campbell in 1862, “and you will soon feel as well as you ever did.” Lincoln’s goal to end slavery and preserve the union eventually became his central goal and purpose. Lincoln defeated depression by focusing intently on this goal.
Finding Happiness and peace
Lincoln had a love of learning and reading, which he used as a distraction from his melancholy. He especially loved Shakespeare and poetry. Though Lincoln had very little formal education, he always enjoyed reading and was said to have walked miles as a young man just to borrow a book. William Lee Miller described him an avid reader, “reading while walking down the street, reading under a tree, reading while others went to dances…reading between customers in the post office, reading snatched at length on the counter of the store.” His retreat into books likely boosted his literary and remarkable writing skills, leading to his composition of The Gettysburg Address, one of the most famous and critically acclaimed speeches in history.
Cultivating Humility and Faith
Despite attaining the country’s highest office, Abraham Lincoln had a sense of humility and did not have a problem with ego. His humility allowed him to accept his own failures and not be threatened by the success of others.
Lincoln also used his faith to bolster him in times of hardship and depression. His belief in a higher power gave him the ability to let go when his sense of responsibility became too great. “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go,” Lincoln once said. “My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”
Lincoln is one of many public figures who are now believed to have battled mental disorders, including Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy (depression), Ludwig Von Beethoven, Winston Churchill and Vincent van Gogh (bipolar disorder), and Michelangelo (autism).
Abraham Lincoln’s great and varied accomplishments are even more impressive in light of the fact that he had to overcome the obstacle of severe depression. “I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position one has reached in life as by the obstacles which one has overcome while trying to succeed.” Said Lincoln
Lincoln had two business ventures fail, lost 8 different elections and had a complete nervous breakdown before becoming president in 1816? His story is inspirational in that he shows how if you just keep moving towards your dream, you’ll eventually make it.
Abraham Lincoln overcame great setbacks and obstacles on his journey. Take a look at the synopsis of his life and you will come to embrace the fact that the human mind and spirit can overcome anything, if one is committed to it.
1809 Born February 12
1816 Abraham Lincoln’s family was forced out of their home and he needed to work to support his family.
1818 His mother passed away
1828 His sister dies
1831 A business venture failed
1832 He ran for the State Legislature. He lost.
1832 In the same year, he also lost his job. He decided he wanted to go to law school but couldn’t get in.
1833 He borrowed money from a friend to start a business. By the end of the year, he was bankrupt.
1834 He ran for the State Legislature again. This time he won.
1835 The year was looking better as he was engaged to be married. Unfortunately, his fiancée died and he was grief stricken.
1836 This was the year he had a total nervous breakdown and for 6 months was bedridden.
1836 He sought to become Speaker of the State Legislature. He was defeated.
1840 He sought to become Elector. He was defeated.
1842 He gets married to a woman named Mary Todd. They have 4 boys but only one would live to maturity.
1843 He ran for Congress. He lost.
1846 He ran for Congress again. He won and moved to Washington.
1848 He ran for re-election to Congress. He lost.
1849 He sought the job of Land Officer in his home state. He didn’t get the job.
1850 His son, Edward, dies.
1854 He ran for the Senate of the United states. He lost.
1856 He sought the Vice Presidential nomination at a national convention. He got less than 100 votes.
1858 He ran for the Senate again. He lost again.
1860 Abraham Lincoln is elected President of the United States
1862 His son, Willie, dies at age 12.
1865 On April 14, Abraham Lincoln is assassinated.