Mental illness strikes at the soul of man. The insanity degenerates with the ‘righteous’ who are quick to pull the sin card. Meriwether Lewis, that great American icon of exploration, suffered a mental illness that we know of today as depression.
This writer has the misfortune of a personal understanding of mental illness. My case is mild, not requiring medication, but requiring diligent mental disciplines. The human organism is complex – linking the intangible systems of intellect, emotion, and spirit, with the tangible physical self. Each of these systems is complex, together they create staggering complexities.
Thomas Jefferson wrote of Lewis,
“Of courage undaunted, possessing a firmness and perseverance of purpose which nothing but impossibilities could divert from it’s direction, careful as a father of those committed to his charge, yet steady in the maintenance of order and discipline… honest, disinterested, liberal, of sound understanding and a fidelity to truth so scrupulous that whatever he should report would be as certain as if seen by ourselves…“
All of this was true, and Lewis suffered from depression. We know this because of his journals. Lewis was very faithful to his ancient form of a blog. He wrote of new plant and animal species, of Native American culture, and gathered star coordinates that would be used to draw maps of the west. His journals chronicle one of the most amazing and fruitful adventures of man, rivaling the exploits of Marco Polo and Vasco De Gama.
But there are gaps in his journal entries. Months might go by without an entry. The months without entry were times of debilitating depression. Meriwether Lewis committed suicide in 1813. The study of Lewis is the study of ‘courage undaunted’ – but challenged every day by mental illness.
The complex world in which we live is unforgiving. People who suffer moderate mental illness, and we believe there are many, must take positive action every day. The Grizzly bears of Lewis’s adventure in life are fast and insidious. Daily discipline is required to moderate the challenge of life. Proper diet and regular exercise are central to maintaining total health. What might be a simple diversion to some is a major hurdle to those who flirt with illnesses such as depression. A simple flu bug, diverting attention from proper daily health regimens, can derail a life. The physical distraction of illness subverts normal mental disciplines.
The best action to keep from slipping into despair is trusting others. Trusting enough to verbalize thoughts. The process of articulating mental processes helps to identify and moderate thoughts. Writing in a journal is useful – even an on-line journal. The role of others is simply to love and understand, to listen, to be accepting. Mental illness creates a sense of loneliness and despair – connecting with others breaks the downward cycle.
Today, with courage undaunted, I am going for a walk.