Have you ever felt worse after a great victory in live? Those of us with chronic depression know that one of its most disheartening traits is the ability to rob us of triumphant moments. At those times in our life when we should be celebrating victory, depression – and perhaps anxiety – step in to rip away the joy that should fill our heart. It is just as true today as it was more than 100 years ago for President Lincoln.
A Case in Point:
- 1st Election to Congress – At 37 years of age Lincoln won a seat in Congress, an accomplishment he spent years working toward and which would have him working alongside such greats as John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and Daniel Webster. Yet, in spite of this great victory he later wrote, “Being elected to Congress though I am very grateful to our friends, for having done it, has not pleased me as much as I expected.”
Why is this? According to Lincoln historian Joshua Wolf Shenk, “What looks to the world like a triumph, many depressed people see merely as another step on an unending ladder. In extreme cases, a dramatic achievement can create as strong a sense of dislocation and loneliness as would a dramatic setback, and may lead to suicide.” Furthermore, Shenk states, “The paradox, then, is that a strong step forward could in fact serve to powerfully illustrate the inability of accomplishments to satisfy him.”
This is further aggravated by the fact that a depressed person often knows their negative reaction is inappropriate and so they are driven deeper with guilty and hopelessness.
So what can one do? It’s cliche, but one must learn to live in the moment rather than dwell on the past or what lies ahead in the future. However, it’s not always enough for the person with depression. For him, the aid of friends and family are often key to helping a person stay centered so they can enjoy their moment in the sun. They can do this by gentle nudges to enjoy the moment and offering an extra pat on the back rather than a lecture to “cheer up.”
As for myself, I think it of great help to find a memento of the achievement for those darker moments when I need a reminder of past victories. In fact, some who battle with depression put together scrapbooks or shoeboxes filled with reminders of those things that have brought them joy, whether it be family, friends, achievements or other milestones in one’s life.
Historical Source: Lincoln’s Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk.
Lincoln Portrait (top) Source: Chrono1209 at DeviantArt