The sesquicentennial anniversary of the American Civil War is apparently reviving interest in our sixteenth President. Thirteen new books about Lincoln were published in 2012. In spite of the achievements that made him the most intriguing President in U.S. history, all of his biographers agree that Lincoln suffered from periodic bouts with depression. His law partner, William Herndon observed, “His melancholy dripped from him as he walked.”
Depression is widespread. It can be debilitating and, in its most severe form, can even lead to suicide. For most of us it is temporary and seldom. For some, it is a lifelong and constant companion. For a few, like Lincoln, it is so devastating that life seems no longer worth living.
According to Mayo Clinic, “Depression is a medical illness that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.” We all know it when we feel it: the heavy weight that seems to bear down upon us, sapping our energy, dragging us down, emotional shackles that reduce our steps to a shuffle, the thief that robs us of creativity and destroys our dreams.
Here are a few proven steps to combat depression, some from Lincoln himself.
Make conscious decisions that refuse to surrender to depression’s emotions. Lincoln learned this discipline and encouraged others to follow it. In 1842, he wrote, “Remember in the depth and even the agony of despondency, that very shortly you are to feel well again.” Later, in his famous letter to Fanny McCollough, he said, “You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say.” Get up, and get out. Exercise, walk, run, play. Exercise of the body somehow releases a wind within that can blow away the dark clouds that close in on us.
Get with people. Loneliness is depression’s partner. When I was a teenager I read a little known book by a Christian psychiatrist named Henry C. Link entitled Return to Religion. Basically the book said that church is good for the human psyche. After reading the book, I started singing in the youth choir at church and started attending the Sunday evening youth group. It was one small step that led me toward a lifetime in Christian ministry. Going to church is good for us.
Do something good. Guilt and depression are common companions. The acts that make us feel guilty often become the seeds of depression. Acts of altruism will punch holes in the darkness and let in the liberating light. Look for someone you can help. Accept God’s forgiveness for you sins, and then go out of your way to do something for others. Do it privately without seeking any credit. Jesus said, “Your Father who sees in secret, will reward you.”
If the depression persists, seek professional medical assistance. We are complex creatures with a complex chemical balance that affects our moods. Proper medication, administered under the careful supervision of a doctor can help. Speaking of his own depression, Lincoln said, “Melancholy is a misfortune. It is not a fault.”
Trust in God who cares for you. When his father was dying, Lincoln sent him this message, “Tell him to remember to call upon and confide in our great and good and merciful Maker, who will not turn away from him in any extremity. He notes the fall of a sparrow and numbers the hairs of our heads …”