Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue


Happy Birthday, Abe!

posted by Beyond Blue

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On Presidents’ Day I like to celebrate the birthday of my mental health hero.

On those mornings I wake up embarrassed that I have aired my dirty laundry to the world–i.e. confessed to whomever reads my blog–that I am, in fact, a holy whackjob, I pull out a five dollar bill. And I look at Abraham Lincoln.

“The inclination to exchange thoughts with one another is probably an original impulse of our nature,” Lincoln wrote in February of 1859. “If I be in pain I wish to let you know it, and to ask your sympathy and assistance; and my pleasurable emotions also, I wish to communicate to, and share with you.”

If this great man, the most noble and courageous human being to ever breathe Illinois air (which was less polluted back then), could share his intimate self so freely with others, then what’s holding me back? In fact, by reading the details of Lincoln’s emotional anguish in articles about our 16th president and in Joshua Wolf Shenk‘s acclaimed book, “Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness,” I became inspired to tell my story.

It’s to Abe, then, that I turn when my palms begin to sweat–when I start thinking that if Eric gets fired for telling his boss off (something he does twice a year) I’ll never be able to land a real job (especially in the government) now that I’ve published my mental health record online.

Abe will set me straight. Because he walked through any fear he felt.

“It is a peculiar feature of Lincoln’s story that, throughout his life, his response to suffering led to still greater suffering,” Shenk writes in his fascinating book. “His story endures in large part because he sank so deeply into that suffering and came away with increased humility and determination…. In his strange mix of deference to divine authority and willful exercise of his own meager power, Lincoln achieved transcendent wisdom, the delicate fruit of a lifetime of pain.”

Consider the following words penned by Lincoln when he was 32 years old, in January of 1841:

“I am now the most miserable man living. If what I felt were distributed to the whole human family there would not be one happy face on the earth. I must die or be better it appears to me.”

And compare them to these sentences composed as part of the Gettysburg Address:

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom–and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Wow. That kind of transformation doesn’t happen with a prescription of Prozac and a few therapy sessions (although that’s a good starting point). No, his sort of dramatic conversion happens only after lots of pain, and of the worst type–from staring for days or months or years at that which is ugliest in you and turning it into something beautiful.

Having articulated the very torment I have known, this mental health champion offers me clues on how to pull forward–through faith, humor, poetry, and a sense of purpose–and how to use my despair toward redemption.

When I look into Lincoln’s solemn eyes on my five dollar bill, I tap a sense of hope. Not hope that my sadness will evaporate completely. Because it certainly didn’t for Lincoln. But hope that my tears might teach and instruct me, evolve me into a more compassionate, humble, resilient, disciplined, patient, determined, inspiring, and whole human being. Like my fellow depressive and hero. Who turns a three-digit number around this time.

To read more Beyond Blue, go to http://blog.beliefnet.com/beyondblue, and to get to Group Beyond Blue, a support group at Beliefnet Community, click here.

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anon

posted February 13, 2007 at 5:17 am


Be ever so proud for you are loved..You are a person and one who has admitted to an illness that is not of your doing. It takes strength to do that and the rest remains in the hands of GOD and hope.. Hope for better things to come in any way that they come to you.Whether it be the light of the morning sun or a loving arm around your shoulder…Blessings be…



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Kevin Keough

posted February 13, 2007 at 5:24 pm


Thanks for the reminder. I am very taken up by Lincoln. I want to add to quotes people might like. 1) “A tendency to melancholy…let it be observed, is a misfortune, not a fault”. 2)(and God bless him for speaking the truth re the way true men feel toward women) “Whatever woman may cast her lot with mine, should any ever do so, it is my intention to do all in my power to make her happy and contented; and there is nothingI can imagine that would make me more unhappy than to fail in that effort” Thank God for Lincoldn.



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Larry Parker

posted February 18, 2008 at 10:32 am


A man who struggled for his own survival leads his nation to survival at its greatest moment of peril.
A man who was personally racist freed the slaves.
Lincoln’s paradoxes made him who he was. They make us all who we are. I think the secret to Lincoln’s success was that he embraced those contradictions (perhaps one reason why he managed to unify such a fractious War Cabinet, and why he got along with Gen. Grant, the alcoholic who was the most sober military strategist in the North).
Which is why I embrace the sayings of those two other famous men of the 19th century, Whitman and Emerson, about embracing one’s contradictions as well.
PS — I have been to Gettysburg many times. It is perhaps the holiest site in America — for Lincoln’s address, and during the battle for both the misguided bravery of one side and the heroic resistance of the other. It remains the most important (and deadliest) battle ever fought on American soil.



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marilyn

posted February 18, 2008 at 3:36 pm


therese you are a very brave woman to put yourself ou there as you do on a daily basis.i dont think you will ever lack for anything as i think you are one of gods angels sent from above to give us all hope and faith that we can overcome and survive. thanks for your strength.



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Margaret Balyeat

posted February 18, 2008 at 4:47 pm


Therese, I agree with marilyn! To me you are one of God’s messengers of hope and your missionary work among us has helped veritable legions!
Like Gabriel before you, you carry messages of comfort and love, reminding us daily that G-d DOES still walk amongst us and hear our (smetimes silent) pleas for relief!



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Lizzie

posted February 18, 2008 at 6:09 pm


The book “Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged and President and Fueled His Greatness. Joshua Wolf Shenk” lives by my bed! Just like you, I feel empowered by his words. It was during one of my deepest depressions that I found Lincoln I love this qoute:
“I am now the most miserable man living. 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 can not tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me.” When I read these words I knew I could make it. Thanks for your post.



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Bryan

posted February 18, 2008 at 6:59 pm


Thanks Therese. Great post. I don’t think I ever knew Lincoln struggled with depression. It’s good to know that even Presidents aren’t immune from the monster of depression.
Peace.



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Melissa

posted February 18, 2008 at 7:21 pm


Therese – I have a jumpy keyboard, so this may have already posted (if so, sorry). Anyway, I found out about your blog through another St. Mary’s alum who was a theology major and friend of yours (and since this is public, I won’t post her name or mine). I just wanted to let you know how much your blog touched me, as I’ve been battling a bit of my own depression after years of infertility. I debated whether or not to send this, didn’t want to seem stalker-y or anything , but thought that everyone likes to hear something positive about him/herself, so here it is: you’re still lovely inside and out, bravo on your blog, and God bless you!



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CLeo

posted February 19, 2008 at 4:23 pm


Terese,thanks for the great post. President Lincoln is also one my most admired humans in the planet. I’ve never ceased to be amazed by this man’s legacy and his Gettysburgh address is something that I read often.
He,most certainlt, was very “finely tuned” just like so many of us suffering from bipolarity or depression are.
I’ve also felt ashamed of myself for airing my failings to the world, and just this morning I was berating myself for having done so to a person who is so toxic, yet under the belief that she’s a rock of stability, that will certainly use what I, so foolishly, shared with her, to my detriment.
Some go through life totally blinded and don’t see their failings, those are usually the hardest of us all, a hardened heart is certainly much more critical than a mental condition, and much more deadly to others as well.



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CLeo

posted February 19, 2008 at 4:24 pm


Wish there was an ‘edit’ function here.



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Professor Neil Garland

posted February 3, 2009 at 2:02 am


Remember, Therese, a man wrote these words, who may one day reincarnate and read the words you wrote today. And wouldn’t you know it, that you would make their day, whomever and where ever they may be. And it would not be a far gone conclusion, that they one day may also need your help. Imagine, the person who is the reincarnation of Abe,(Mr. Lincoln) trying to figure out, “Is he here just to tell everyone he is here, or is he here to help our great nation once again?” So if I may ask, “Would you one day want him for your President?” and “would you work to get him elected?”



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blanche

posted February 16, 2009 at 9:14 am


All I can say is “Wow” !!!!!!!!



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Patty

posted February 16, 2009 at 1:05 pm


This was my first visit to site, new to Beyond Blue. Seems like I’ve finally found a home. Thank you for putting your thoughts and feelings ‘right out there’. And what’s really scary? The Professor’s comment appears to orbit my ‘circular reference’ type of thinking!!! thanks agai for hope!



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SoulSearcher46

posted February 16, 2009 at 2:53 pm


I had no idea that Lincoln was so plagued by melancholy throughout so much of his life. I’ve learned something new here today, hopefully not all I learn today, but an interesting start.
I truly appreciate your willingness to share insights of your own struggles with mental health as I truly believe that when another or others open up about their personal experiences, especially on such a stigmatized topic as depression, it affords others the opportunity to understand that they are not alone, cursed, forsaken or scorned with an affliction that no other has or may be experiencing. I been down that road a few times in my life as well.
Thanks so much for the positivity & support!



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