Reading biography is a tremendously useful way to help enter the worlds of others. You find that many many men and women, many many great men and women – often the greatest – have an Achilles’ Heal of depression. Here is an example from William Manchester’s magisterial biography of Winston Churchill (who is the human reason why the Nazi’s lost WWII):
All his life [Winston Churchill] suffered spells of depression, sinking into the brooding depths of melancholia, an emotional state which, though little understood, resembles the passing sadness of the normal man as a malignancy resembles a canker sore. The depressive know what Dante knew: that hell is an endless, hopeless conversation with oneself. Every day he chisels his way through time, praying for relief. The etiology of the disease is complex, but is thought to include family history, childhood influences, biological deficiencies, and–particularly among those of aggressive temperament–feelings of intense hostility which the victim, lacking other targets, turns inward upon himself…Depression is common among the great; it may balance their moods of omnipotence. Among its sufferers have been Goethe, Lincoln, Bismarck, Schlumann, Tolstoy, Robert E. Lee, and Martin Luther….We first encounter Churchill‘s awareness of his illness in a letter, written when he was twenty, complaining of ‘mental stagnation’ and a ‘slough of despond.’….”What a creature of strange moods he is,’ Max Aitken…wrote, ‘always at the top of the wheel of confidence or at the bottom of an intense depression.’ In times of disappointment, rejection, or bereavement, feelings of hopelessness overwhelmed him. Thoughts of self-destruction were never far away. He told his doctor: ‘I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through. I like to stand back and if possible to get a pillar between me and the train. I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second’s action would end everything.’ He also disliked sleeping near a balcony. He explained, ‘I’ve no desire to quit this world, but thoughts, desperate thoughts, come into the head.’ – Manchester’s The Last Lion, pp
As Christians, we must always be profoundly aware, even amazed, at the depth and complexity of men and women made in God’s image. “For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep!” Psalm 64:6.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet captures this so well, “What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?”