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Part 2: Famous Failures, J.K. Rowling, Addendum

 

 

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 Sorcerers 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

JK Rowling, flat
J.K. Rowling, Conte crayon on pastel paper, Jodie Schmidt, 2018. Photo reference source: Wikimedia Commons,JK Rowling reads from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, at the Easter Egg Roll, at the White House, Daniel Ogren, 5 April 2010, photograph.
Lincoln Portrait in Pastel, flat
Abraham Lincoln, Conte crayon on pastel paper, Jodie Schmidt, 2018. Photo reference source: Wikipedia, Alexander Gardner, November 8, 1863, matte collodion print.

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?

 

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Famous Failures: J.K. Rowling, Her Struggles and Her Triumphs (Part 2)

Similarities between J.K. Rowling and Abraham Lincoln: Depression

This week, I am diving into part two of the series I started on April 21, 2018, entitled, “famous failures”, a term coined by Sid Sivara, who wrote an article with that title. The personality I want to highlight this week is the author of the celebrated Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling. As I researched her life, I discovered that she has some striking similarities to the personality which I described a few weeks ago. For example, both she and Lincoln struggled with depression and poverty.

Abraham Lincoln, (1809-1865), was the sixteenth president of the United States and he grew up on a farmstead in Kentucky. (Source: James M. McPherson, “Lincoln, Abraham, (1809-1865), Sixteenth president of the United States”, American National Biography, http://www.anb.org, retrieved on 05/08/2018.)  During his childhood, he carved out a life which was marked by hard physical labor and a lack of consistent education in a one-room schoolhouse. (Source: ibid) He also suffered from melancholy and depressive episodes for much of his life, as well as “brooding” which his friends termed, “the hypo,” short for hypochondria. (Source: ibid, and Shenk, Joshua, “Lincoln’s Great Depression”, The Atlantic). “Hypo,” was the term medical practitioners used in the 19th century to describe what we now recognize as clinical depression. (Source: McPherson)

Similarities between J.K. Rowling and Abraham Lincoln: Professional Failures

Lincoln also tried and failed at much life professional pursuits, including “store clerk, mill hand, a partner in a general store that failed, postmaster, and surveyor.”  (Source: ibid). He also experienced failure in his political career from time to time, and in 1832, when he ran for the legislature, he was defeated. (Source: ibid, and Sid Sivara, “Famous Failures: Michael Jordan, AbrahamJK Rowling portrait_edited-1Abraham Lincoln portrait_edited-1 Lincoln and J.K. Rowling”, https://sidsavara.com/famous-failures-michael-jordan-abraham-lincoln-and-jk-rowling, retrieved on 03/29/18) However, when he re-entered the political race for the legislature in the New Salem district of Illinois, he made a decisive victory in 1834. (Source: McPherson). Despite many setbacks, Lincoln developed a new direction and ambition during his years living in the town of New Salem, Illinois. (Source: ibid) In fact, he started making decisive moves towards self-improvement by joining a debating society, received mentoring from the local teacher in New Salem, Illinois, Mentor Graham, in both mathematics and literature, and he developed a strong interest in politics. (Source: ibid)   In addition, he developed a lifelong interest and appreciation for William Shakespeare and Robert Burns. (Source: ibid)

Likewise, J.K. Rowling also faced extremely challenging life challenges such as poverty and depression. For example, she faced countless rejection letters for her Harry Potter books, initially at least. (Source: Elle Kaplan, “How J.K. Rowling Turned Failure into Massive Success, (And You Can Too),” https:// medium.com, accessed April 17, 2018).    Also, like Lincoln, she seems to be a deep thinker and one who had a specific dream and ambition. (Source: ibid) Rowling’s dream was to provide a good life for her daughter, and she did not give up, no matter how many times she failed. (Source: ibid)   Like Lincoln, she was successful, though it was far from easy. (Source: ibid).

J.K. Rowling’s Unlikely Success: What Motivated Her

While many of you may recognize J.K. Rowling as a bestselling author of the Harry Potter book series, did you know that she was once jobless, living on welfare and raising a daughter all by herself as a single mother? (Source: ibid) In her own words, she states: “By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.” (Source: ibid).  In addition, she states that her failures helped to shed light on many aspects of her life, including her relationships with others, and that it gave her tenacity to “face adversity head-on to turn unfortunate circumstances into success.” (Source: ibid.)

One aspect of her experience that gave her the will to succeed and rise above her struggles was her wish to give her daughter a better life. (Source: ibid) During this pursuit, she held onto this truth she knew about herself and that was that she believed she knew how to tell a story. (Source: ibid) Understanding her “why” for wanting to succeed in life was crucial to her achievements. (Source: ibid) Learning about J.K. Rowling’s life before she was famous, makes her seem more human and relatable, and it gives us hope that if she can be successful against significant life struggles, so can we. But how do we do this? To investigate this question further, I referred back to the Kaplan article to see what suggestions the author made about being successful.

 

What to Do When Failure Occurs: A Few Suggestions

The author, Kaplan, provides some insights into what we can do to mitigate the sting of failure. For example, she states, when a failure occurs and it inevitably will, rather than letting it defeat you, get some perspective and ask yourself some questions, such as: Do I try again, or do I give up? What do I hope to achieve and why? Is there another way to reach my goal or a strategy I haven’t tried yet? (Source: ibid)

Another strategy you can use to rise above failure is to envision that you are actually being successful in your endeavors and to detach yourself from feelings of failure so that it doesn’t define you. (Source: ibid) According to Kaplan, “Visualization is a powerful tool for building confidence and changing your mindset toward success.” In fact, Kaplan states that: “A recent study looking at brain patterns in weightlifters found that parts of the brain activated when a weightlifter lifted hundreds of pounds were also activated when they only imagined lifting.”  In conclusion, I don’t suppose that I will ever be as famous as J.K. Rowling or Abe Lincoln, and I am OK with that. In fact, I’m not sure that I would want the kind of pressure that they experienced, such as the ever-present imperative to achieve because of their phenomenal successes and contributions to society. I just want to stop letting past failures stop getting the better of me. If I focus too much on these types of things, it can be paralyzing and keep me from moving on toward my next goal. What about you? Do you have a dream that just won’t die, no matter how many times you fail in the pursuit of its fruition? What is your reason for living? I’d love to hear all about your dreams, hopes, and ambitions. Send me a note in the comments section of this blog.