Saturday, August 30, 2014
A posthumous diagnosis of the paralyzing mental malady that afflicted one of humanity’s greatest minds.
Charles Darwin was undoubtedly among the most significant thinkers humanity has ever produced. But he was also a man of peculiar mental habits, from his stringent daily routineto his despairingly despondent moods to his obsessive list of the pros and cons of marriage. Those, it turns out, may have been simply Darwin’s best adaptation strategy for controlling a malady that dominated his life, the same one that afflicted Vincent van Gogh — a chronic anxiety, which rendered him among the legions of great minds evidencing the relationship between creativity and mental illness.
In My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind(public library) — his sweeping mental health memoir, exploring our culture of anxiety and its costs — The Atlantic editor Scott Stossel examines Darwin’s prolific diaries and letters, proposing that the reason the great scientist spent a good third of his waking hours on the Beagle in bed or sick, as well as the cause of his lifelong laundry list of medical symptoms, was his struggle with anxiety.