Sunday, March 20, 2011

Then and Now

The Musician just asked me today if I thought that clinical depression has always been as prevalent as it seems to be now. Of course we can't be sure, but I opined that it has probably always been there at a level at least something close to modern levels. Famous people throughout history are now being diagnosed as having been clinically depressed based on their writings and actions. Abraham Lincoln, for example, showed signs of severe depression, even as a young man. In 1835, according to a biographer, he was so depressed after a death of someone close that he had people with him most of the time to make sure he did not harm or kill himself. But it was probably seen as more of a personality trait than a chemical issue at that time. I'm also thinking of people like the fictional "Mrs. Brewster," with whom Laura Ingalls Wilder boarded as a young teacher. She was definitely heavily depressed at the very least, very likely assisted by gloomy winter days and isolation.

In Julia P. Gelardi's book, Born to Rule, she writes about the behavior of Princess Beatrice, youngest daughter of Queen Victoria, after the death of Beatrice's husband. She would be "crying one moment, raging at a picture of her dead husband the next. After this, the despondent young widow went out to ride her bicycle in heavy mourning. Then she read a book on piety or talked for hours about the small economies being made on all the candles in her homes." Sounds very like bipolar mood swings, or some other mental disturbance.

Then today I also started re-reading Agatha Christie's The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side. And there is a description of famous fictional movie star Marina Gregg: "It's more that her ups and downs are so violent. You know - far too happy one moment, far too pleased with everything and delighted with everything and how wonderful she feels. Then of course some little thing happens and down she goes to the opposite extreme." In 1962, when the book came out, this was put down to "temperament." Today abnormal highs and lows are bipolar.

John Fixmer asserts in his online article that today Lincoln would very likely not be elected President due to a stigma of mental illness. I'll have to think about this for a while. My moods may fluctuate, but I am still as smart as I have ever been. I read about politics and economics, as well as history and light reading like Agatha Christie. My daughters are turning out to be decent people, based on compliments by others and not just by my biased maternal self. :) Still, stress can severely affect my mood, more than is normal, I think, and I try to avoid it as much as I can. I might want to avoid a press conference or meeting with a foreign leader if I was in a raging manic state. On the other hand, now that I am aware that I do have a chemical imbalance, and the world is not a horrible stinking rotten place even if I feel that it is, I have managed to be in public and not show what is churning inside. Maybe if I felt that leading a country was important enough, and I wanted to do it, being bipolar might not be an issue. I certainly try to control it to be a wife and mother, which I feel are far more important than being a national leader.

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