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Lincoln, Abraham - Harnessing the black dog



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Matt Haig - Reasons to stay alive  

ABRAHAM LINCOLN, WHEN he was thirty-two, declared: 'I am now the most miserable man living.' He had, by that age, experienced two massive depressive breakdowns.

'If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better I cannot tell; I awfully forbode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible. I must die or be better.'

Yet, of course, while Lincoln openly declared he had no fear of suicide, he did not kill himself. He chose to live.  There is a great article on 'Lincoln's Great Depression' in The Atlantic by Joshua Wolf Shenk. In it, Shenk writes of how depression forced Lincoln into a deeper understanding of life:

He insisted on acknowledging his fears. Through his late twenties and early thirties he drove deeper and deeper into them, hovering over what, according to Albert Camus, is the only serious question human beings have to deal with. He asked whether he could live, whether he could face life's misery. Finally he decided that he must . . . He had an 'irrepressible desire' to accomplish something while he lived.

…..Maybe his knowledge of suffering led to the kind of empathy he showed when seeking to change the law on slavery.

'Wherever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally,' he said. 


…. the key thing to note is that the president always suffered with depression. He never fully overcame it, but he lived alongside it and achieved great things. 'Whatever greatness Lincoln achieved cannot be explained as a triumph over personal suffering,' says ]oshua Wolf Shenk ….. 'Rather, it must be accounted an outgrowth of the same system that produced that suffering.  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.'

The source of the experience

Lincoln, Abraham

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