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How 7 Historic Figure--Including Lincoln--Overcame Depression without Doctors

By       Message Bruce E. Levine     Permalink
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O'Keeffe's Antidotes: O'Keeffe's biographers do not report any great positive transformations due to her hospitalization. Instead, an essential part of her recovery was travel, first to Bermuda and then Lake George in New York where she ate and slept well. Later, she would also enjoy herself in Maine and Hawaii. O'Keeffe renewed her regular summer trips to New Mexico, and biographer Roxana Robinson concluded, "Warmth, languor and solitude were just what Georgia needed." In addition to travel, another antidote for O'Keeffe was her relationship with the poet and novelist Jean Toomer. Ultimately, O'Keeffe relocated and redefined herself in New Mexico, and her art was her best long-term antidote.

 

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

 

"For many years he suffered from periodic depression and fatigue or apathy, neurotic symptoms, including anxiety attacks," according to The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, authored by Ernest Jones, one of Freud's disciples. An early Freud attempt to assuage his depression was cocaine use. When he was 28, Freud said, "In my last severe depression, I took coca again and a small dose lifted me to the heights in wonderful fashion. I am just now busy collecting the literature for a song of praise to this magical substance. . . .I take very small does of it regularly against depression and against indigestion, and with the most brilliant success." Ultimately the cocaine treatment for depression was an embarrassing failure for Freud. After getting other's addicted to it, Freud discovered cocaine's dangers.

 

Freud's Antidotes: While many credit Freud's lengthy self-analysis as an effective treatment, it also appears that recognition from the world was a powerful depression antidote. Freud, at an early age, very much wanted fame and recognition. In his late 20s, he was beaten out by Carl Koller in the discovery of cocaine as an anesthetic, and that depressed him some. Later, through his work on psychoanalysis, dreams, and sexuality, Freud received worldwide recognition, and he acquired an intellectual community in which Freud was the leader. Recognition and community appears to be a powerful antidote for many famous emotional sufferers, including mathematician John Nash, made famous in the book and movie A Beautiful Mind.

 

William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891)

 

Early in the Civil War, Union commander William Tecumseh Sherman was responsible for Kentucky, and he became exceedingly pessimistic about the outlook, complaining frequently to his superiors about shortages, resulting in negative press reports about him. Sherman insisted that he be relieved, and a month later he was put on leave by a superior who considered him unfit for duty. Sherman went back home to recuperate, where his wife, Ellen, complained to his brother (U.S. Senator John Sherman) of her husband's "melancholy insanity to which your family is subject." Sherman himself later wrote that the concerns of command "broke me down," and he admitted contemplating suicide.

 

Sherman's Antidotes: With support from influential family members, Sherman regained a position of command under General Ulysses S. Grant. At the Battle of Shiloh in 1862, a massive Confederate attack took most of the Union commanders by surprise. Sherman, concerned that if he took more precautions "they'd call me crazy again," was also caught unprepared, but he rallied his troops and conducted a fighting retreat that helped avert a Union rout. On the next day of the battle, Sherman would prove instrumental to the successful Union counterattack. At Shiloh, Sherman was wounded twice, and had three horses shot out from under him, and he became a Union hero. Sherman wrote in his memoirs, "Before the battle of Shiloh, I had been cast down by a mere newspaper assertion of "crazy'; but that single battle had given me new life, and now I was in high feather." Sherman's depression was transformed first by the support and confidence of others, then by fortuitous external events, his own bravery, and recognition.

 

Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

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http://www.brucelevine.net
Bruce E. Levine is a clinical psychologist and author of Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite

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