Monday, July 31, 2017

5 Historic Figures Who Prove You Can Be Anxious and Still Do Important Things

Today, we're going to try to make ourselves feel better by learning about some of the illustrious people in history who've had anxiety disorders. Do you ever feel like you're unimportant? They probably did too and look at them now. They're starring in their very own obscure blog post. This could be you in 50 years, so chin up! If my satire isn't obvious enough, here's a sentence constructed solely to ensure you that I'm not minimizing your suffering. I'm just really bad at being funny. Okay? Let's go.

Abraham Lincoln

Abe Lincoln was a tremendous president and a nervous guy. He had a lot on his plate, like keeping an entire country together, and that would stress anybody out. However, his well-documented sadness and worry was more than just the stress of the job. He was more than likely clinically depressed and had an anxiety disorder. Even with these difficulties, he accomplished things that changed the course of American history.

President Lincoln's depression is much better documented than any anxiety he may have had. He was known to have "melancholy," and friends feared he would commit suicide on multiple occasions. He may have even anonymously published a poem about suicide called "The Suicide's Soliloquy." It's an extraordinarily morbid poem. It's also very beautifully written.

John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck is one of the greatest American authors in history. He penned novels set during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl that forced landowning farmers to become impoverished migrant workers. His characters were simple, his settings rural and his stories unforgettable. The author of "The Grapes of Wrath" and "Of Mice and Men" wasn't a very happy man, in spite of his undeniable talent. He suffered from anxiety and depression.

According to the "Critical Companion to John Steinbeck," Steinbeck consulted a psychologist named Gertrudis Brenner for treatment of his depression. He survived his mental maladies and later died of heart disease, likely linked to a lifetime of smoking.

Charles Schulz

Do you know Charlie Brown and Snoopy? Then you've seen the cartoon work of Charles Schulz. This guy was the darling of comic strips for decades. To this day, we love his characters and the funny situations he put them in. From down-in-the-dumps Charlie to the bossy bully Lucy, he captured the good, the bad and the ugly sides of human nature through the lens of children.

Charles Schulz suffered from anxiety, as documented in several interviews during his lifetime. HIs wife once said that he dealt with his anxiety through acceptance. He tried to embrace his anxiety without bitterness, and this helped him cope with the tremendous stress of this illness. Radical acceptance is a tool even professionals use to help those with anxiety, so this guy was on the right track.

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson, posthumous published poet and prolific pen pal, this 19th century figure hardly had access to a mental health clinic. However, her behavior during her life paints a clear picture of what she suffered mentally. She had a string of severe chest colds and later a bout of inflammation in her eye that kept her somewhat sickly for a time. Whether this contributed to her slow retreat from society is unknown, but we do know that she eventually confined herself to her house.

Dickinson would sometimes rush off when the doorbell rang. She spoke to visitors from behind doors at times. Her doctor, who would visit the home, even complained he couldn't examine her because she would stand outside the room. She kept up a healthy correspondence with her friends, but did not see them socially. It's easy to see that she was agoraphobic. Yes, her reclusiveness increased her artistic output (she wrote more than 1,000 poems). That doesn't mean that was her purpose in staying housebound.

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin was the man who put the idea of natural selection on the map. Anyone with even a passing interest in biology or the theory of evolution knows who he is. Some of you may even know of his adventures aboard the H.M.S Beagle traveling the seas and documenting wildlife in places as far-flung as the Galapagos Islands. This voyage of five years, begun when he was in his early twenties, was to be his life's only grand adventure. He later become sickly, agitated and conflicted.

The cause of Charles Darwin's illness is a matter of debate. No one is really sure why this brilliant scientist got sick with problems like vomiting, heart palpitations and trembling, but we do know it was exacerbated when he took on too much work, which he did often. Leading theories include anxiety. He certainly worried obsessively about things like work and family. He frequently wrote about being nervous when he wasn't with his wife, which can easily be attributed to anxiety.

I'm going to stop here for two reasons. One, I don't want to bore you with a too-long list. Two, this list is seriously lacking diversity. I can't find any references of individuals of color or LGBT individuals (though Dickinson may have been gay) in history who had anxiety disorders. If you know of any, please comment below. 

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