Lincoln and J.K. Rowling are both Writers
After writing last week’s blog post about famous failures and depression, in which I compared the experiences of the famous failures, Abraham Lincoln and J.K. Rowling, I realized that I had failed to document a source for the statement I had made about her depression. Citing sources is very important to me since I come from an academic background. So, this week I am writing an addendum to last week’s blog post with some citations and some quotes from J.K. Rowling about her experiences with depression, and how she overcame it. How I made this mistake, I don’t know, since I spent many weeks proofreading the post, but there it is. Perhaps it’s like tunnel vision, the closer you are to something, and the harder it is to get perspective about an issue.
In addition, I’d also like to discuss another link between J.K. Rowling and Abraham Lincoln that I had inadvertently missed, which was that they both are writers. Abraham Lincoln wrote poetry and speeches, and some of his most famous writings were The Gettysburg Address (presented in November 1863) at the Gettysburg battlefield, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and his House Divided Speech, given on June 6, 1858, at the Illinois republic convention in Springfield, Illinois.(Sources: “This Day in History,” 19 November, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, The History Channel,https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/lincolns-gettysburg-address, accessed on 05/17/18, and “Lincoln’s House Divided Speech,” (1858), PBS.org, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h2934.html, accessed on 05/17/18).
Likewise, J.K. Rowling is a fiction writer and the celebrated author of the Harry Potter book series. Rowling’s writing was a major factor in her recovery from depression, and I wonder, might she have been on to something? (Source: “How J.K. Rowling beat Depression,” Justin Bennett, How I Beat Depression, http://www.howibeatdepression.com/how-jk-rowling-beat-depression/, accessed on 05/17/18. It is possible that Lincoln also found relief in writing from his depressive thoughts.
For example, in an article by Joshua Wolf Shenk, “Lincoln’s Great Depression,” Shenk includes a poem that may have been written by Lincoln, though no definitive evidence exists, as the poem was unsigned. However, it seems likely that Lincoln might have written it because several characteristics of the poem are similar to Lincoln’s style with regard to “syntax and tone.” (Source: Joshua Wolf Shenk, “Lincoln’s Great Depression,” The Atlantic, October 2005 issue, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2005/10/lincolns-great-depression/304247/) In the poem, the unknown author wrote about depression and his/her intention to commit suicide, entitled, “The Suicide’s Soliloquy. (Source: ibid) The poem was published in The Sangamo Journal in 1838, which was a “four-page Whig newspaper in Springfield, Illinois”. (Source: ibid, and Joshua Wolf Shenk, “The Suicide Poem,” The New Yorker, June 14, 2004, Issuehttps://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2004/06/14/the-suicide-poem, accessed on 05/21/18,) Here is a quote from this poem:
“Here, where the lonely hooting owl
Sends forth his midnight moans,
Fierce wolves shall o’er my carcase growl,
Or buzzards pick my bones.
J.K. Rowling and Her Depression
Similarly, in her own words, Rowling described her experience with depression as follows: “Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced…It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it’s a healthy feeling. It is a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different.” (Source: Justin Bennett, “How J.K. Rowling Beat Depression,” May 15, 2012, http://www.howibeatdepression.com/how-jk-rowling-beat-depression, accessed on 15 May 2018.) In a similar way, Lincoln described is depression as untenable: “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth.Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. I must die or be better, it appears to me.” (Source: Abraham Lincoln Quotes about Depression, http://www.azquotes.com/author/8880-Abraham_Lincoln/tag/depression, accessed on 05/18/18, and also, “Lincoln’s Great Depression,” Joshua Wolf Shenk, The Atlantic, October 2005 issue, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2005/10/lincolns-great-depression/304247/, accessed on 05/18/18.
According to the writer, Justin Bennet, Rowling experienced a depressive episode, and suicidal thoughts following the break -up of her marriage to a Portuguese journalist that ended in two years. (Source: (Source: “How J.K. Rowling beat Depression,” Justin Bennett, How I Beat Depression, http://www.howibeatdepression.com/how-jk-rowling-beat-depression/, accessed on 05/17/18.) At the time, of her divorce, she was living in Edinburgh, Scotland, with her small daughter, and a friend paid the security deposit on her apartment. (Source: CNN, “Harry Potter author: I Considered Suicide,” 2008, http://cnn.com/2008/SHOWBIZ?03/23/rowling.depressed/index.html, accessed on 15 5 2018.) She was unemployed and living on welfare benefits to support herself and her daughter. (Source: ibid) Seeking medical assistance turned out to be her salvation, although the first Dr. she went to seek help, unfortunately, dismissed the severity of her depression. (Source: Bennett) However, her regular physician prescribed cognitive behavioral therapy to help her to overcome her depression. (Source: Fox News, “J.K. Rowling Considered Suicide while Suffering from Depression Before Writing ‘Harry Potter,’ www.foxnews.com/2008/03/23/jk-rowling-considered-suicide-while-suffering-from-depression-before-writing.html). She was caught in “fearful cycles of rumination and doubt,” as she started writing her series of Harry Potter books, which she had originally “conceived” in 1990, while she rode on a train. (Source: Bennet, 2012). Her first Harry Potter book was published in 1996 and was titled, The Sorcerer’s Stone. (Source: CNN) And in fact, one of the characters described in her book called “Dementors,” were “hooded monsters,” that were symbolic of her depression, helped her to express her feelings about depression in a constructive way. (Source: Justin Bennet).
How Writing the Harry Potter Series Helped J.K. Rowling to Cope
In her depressed state, she thought that she had “nothing to lose,” by writing these books and that the worst that could happen would be rejection from “every major publisher in the UK.” (Source: ibid).
She turned writing into a daily discipline, and it became an outlet to help her overcome her depression, and the structure that this routine created provided her with stability during a very unstable stage in her life. (Source: ibid) It also helped her to stop worrying as she focused on creating plotlines and character descriptions for her Harry Potter books. (Source: ibid)
Is there Therapeutic Value in the Arts to help treat Depression or other forms of Mental Illness?
Could there be therapeutic value in immersing oneself in the arts, whether it is writing, music, fine arts, or creative movements, such as dance or sports? As for myself, I have found comfort in using drawing and painting as an outlet to express my feelings of grief, sadness, and anxiety. For example, in 2011, I started a painting series to document my father’s life, which I entitled, A Life Remembered. This painting series was based on black and white photos, which I used as inspiration for oil portraits of my father and the people and places he encountered during his lifetime. Similarly, J.K. Rowling found a daily writing practice to be of assistance to her in fighting her depression. (Source: “J.K. Rowling How to Deal with Failure,” Medium.com, https://medium.com/personal-growth/j-k-rowling-how-to-deal-with-failure-ff8c7cb0048, accessed on 05/17/18). Might Lincoln have also found solace in writing as an outlet for his feelings as well, while he was struggling with depression? I’m not sure of the answer, but all these questions are definitely food for thought. Could it be that creative expression has the potential to be advantageous to everyone, whether you consider yourself “talented” in a specific discipline or not? Maybe art for art’s sake is valid, even if your art is not award winning.
According to the authors, Stuckey and Nobel, (2010), there is evidence-based research which suggests that these four creative domains: visual arts, music, expressive writing and dance/creative movement, there is a positive and beneficial relationship to health and well being. (Source: Heather L. Stuckey, and Jeremy Nobel, “The Connection between Art, Healing and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature,” US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, American Journal of Public Health,, 2010 February, volume 100 , issue (2):, pages 254-263 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804629/. Accessed on 05/18/18).
These authors examined the current understanding between “art and healing,” by studying various research and literature which documents this connection (Source: ibid) The goal of their literature review and research was to focus on the time period between 1995-2007 and to evaluate “the state of peer-reviewed research on art and healing.” (Source: ibid) They also sought to offer a concise summary of “both qualitative and quantitative research methods and results,” and to provide a description of all the main “categories of creative expression,” which have surfaced as enrichment to the
quality of life. (Source: ibid). The result of their research indicates that “in all four areas of creative expression,” significant indications pointed to a trend that showed that participation in the arts for enrichment’s sake has statically significant beneficial “effects on health.”(Source: ibid) However, the authors offer the caveat that there are limits to “many of the studies included in our review,” and it is therefore not possible to make generalizations about the relationship between the therapeutic benefits of engagements with the arts and one’s health. (Source: ibid) In addition, the authors also admit that their “sample of studies is not exhaustive, and other research has been added to the literature since our review was conducted.” (Source: ibid).
In conclusion, it;’s an interesting study nonetheless, despite its limitations, and it confirms my supposition that there could be a positive correlation between the arts and well being. I wonder if somewhere inside of ourselves, we really do know what is good for us, and just need to listen to that instinct more. What about you? Have the arts helped you get through difficult times or brought enrichment to your life?