Churchill, depression, and profound insight

Many look to Winston Churchill as a profoundly insightful leader who guided a nation during some very dark years. He may have even saved a civilization. I find it interesting to explore a little of the man who provided such guidance in such dire times.

According to our current American narrative, we might expect Churchill to be a self-made, self-confident, out-going, charismatic sort of leader. The reality is that he was born into the aristocracy as son of Lord Randolph Churchill, himself a politician, the third son of the Duke of Marlborough. In many ways he ways more eccentric than charismatic and given to periods of profound despondency, which he called “black dog” (borrowing the term from Samuel Johnson).

It may well have been Churchill’s eccentricity, his propensity for brooding, that gave him to the insight to see Nazism as the threat it was. We often see depression as a malady to be overcome rather than a gift to be cultivated. John Gray writes in the BBC News Magazine,

… it’s hard to resist the thought that the dark view of the world that came on Churchill in his moods of desolation enabled him to see what others could not. He owed his foresight of the horror that was to come to the visits of the black dog.

One of marks of a visionary is the ability to see things that others miss. Often this insight, this sense, comes because there is something about the person that is abnormal. There is something in the temperament, the makeup of that person that allow her to see beyond what everyone else sees. This often seems eccentric to others–unexplainable, something to forgotten about. However, it becomes smoothing of a theme to the visionary.

In Churchill’s case, chance and the actions of some friends caused the intersection of his vision with the opportunity to occupy a position (as Prime Minister) in which he could do something about it. The rest, as they say, is history.

Churchill’s “black dog” was not a malady to be overcome, as I write above, but a gift to be cultivated. So, how do you cultivate depression? How do you manage living with it in such a way as to allow it to be something redemptive in your life?

Some thoughts:

  1. Cultivate friendships — melancholy demands solitude. It’s important to balance solitude with good company.
  2. Try not to take yourself too seriously — the difference between a sane man and a mad man is doubt. Remember, you might be wrong so learn to laugh at yourself.
  3. Get a therapist — a therapist can help you uncover and unlearn some of the destructive behavioral and cognitive patterns that can move you into paralysis. In my experience, therapy isn’t a cure but a way of finding new tools and deeper perspectives on living with a new reality.
  4. Give expression to your thoughts — blog, journal, talk — get it out of your head and onto paper or a screen.
  5. Find a non-verbal creative outlet. It’s often helpful for this to be something that is physically taxing or at least something tactile. Many enjoy gardening or painting.
How do you manage despondency or melancholy? 
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