By Christine M. Porretta and Jenny Saltiel
Image Courtesy of: Wikipedia
Years in office: 1861 to 1865
A visionary figure in American history who kept the country united and abolished slavery, Lincoln is known for his strong will and intellect. What you may not know, though, is that according to some historians, he also lived with depression. This condition, however, wasn’t a weakness nor a deficit. Instead, it imbued him with strength of character, presence of mind, and conviction.
"Whatever greatness Lincoln achieved cannot be explained as a triumph over personal suffering . . . Lincoln didn't do great work because he solved the problem of his melancholy; the problem of his melancholy was all the more fuel for the fire of his great work," said Joshua Wolf Shenk in his book, Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness.
To lighten heavy atmospheres and his own mood, Lincoln was known to be a joker and storyteller. According to the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs, when Lincoln was once told that he was two-faced, he replied: "If I had another face, do you think I would wear this one?"
Lincoln's malformed face with one ear higher than the other, and his other physical features (e.g., long limbs and small, thin head) have actually been the focus of many theories regarding his medical condition. Some speculate that he had Marfan syndrome, a potentially life-threatening disorder of connective tissues in the body that can affect the heart and blood vessels, skeleton, and eyes. However, other historians believe that he had multiple endocrine neoplasia, type 2B (aka MEN2B), a rare genetic disorder that leads to cancer. In fact, John Sotos, MD, makes a case for this in his book, The Physical Lincoln.
In Dr. Sotos's opinion, Lincoln has also been misclassified as having suffered from depression. During an online chat with the Washington Post in late 2007, Dr. Sotos said: "Many people note that Lincoln could look like the saddest man in the world one moment and be laughing uproariously at a story the next moment." While this doesn't necessarily mean that Lincoln didn't deal with depression, Dr. Sotos thinks that Lincoln's facial expression can't be misconstrued for sadness. Why? Lincoln had weak muscle tone, which is a symptom of MEN2B.