19. Edvard Munch’s Panic Attacks are “Legally to Blame” for the Creation of One of the Greatest Paintings in History
Even though his name might not ring a bell, it’s a safe bet that most of you have probably seen his iconic painting “The Scream” at least once before. Edvard Munch, one of the founders of the “Expressionist Movement” in art, probably suffered from bipolar disorder with psychosis based on his own diary descriptions of visual and auditory hallucinations. The most painful event in Edvard Munch’s life was the premature death of his mother from tuberculosis when he was five years old. This tragedy was compounded when his older sister also died of tuberculosis when Munch was thirteen.
All this trauma was intensified by the poverty experienced by the Munch family, despite the fact that Edvard’s father was a physician. The panic attack that inspired the iconic painting occurred in Oslo in January 1892, which the legendary Norwegian artist is recorded in his diary as follows: “One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature.”
18. Alexander The Great’s Megalomania and Paranoia Led Him to Murder his Best Friend
Alexander founded more than twenty cities that bore his name, including Alexandria in Egypt. His settlement of Greek colonists and the spread of Greek culture in the east resulted in a new Hellenistic civilization, aspects of which were still evident in the traditions of the Byzantine Empire in the mid-15th century. The legendary Greek king remained undefeated in battle and conquered most of the then-known world, spreading Greek culture all the way to India. Ultimately, Alexander became the measure against which military leaders compared themselves and military academies throughout the world still teach his tactics.
Conquering the world at such a young age as Alexander did, could easily make anyone feel strong doses of megalomania and Alexander’s possible paranoid episodes— especially near the end of his life— seem hard to ignore. During one of them and after consuming big portions of wine, Alexander murdered his best friend, Cleitus, over a silly argument. Furthermore, Alexander believed that he was the son of Zeus. From birth, he was taught that he was the son of the god of gods and though we can’t get an accurate diagnosis from reading various historical accounts on Alexander, we can speculate and read symptoms.
17. Nikola Tesla’s Surprisingly Weird OCD Rituals and his Fear of Pearls
The Serbian-American engineer and inventor is highly regarded in energy history for his development of alternating current (AC) electrical systems. Besides the AC system, Tesla helped in the development of generators and turbine design, while the earliest demonstration of fluorescent lighting was his accomplishment as well. Being one of the greatest minds the world has ever seen, however, came at high cost for Tesla’s mental health. To begin with, Tesla was born into a family filled with mental instability. His memoirs leave no doubt that his father and brother were mentally ill. Shortly after seeing his brother die, Tesla started to experience hallucinations.
He would see spontaneous flashes of blinding light, which he likened to “the air around me filled with tongues of living flame.” Nonetheless, his biggest issues in life had to do with his extreme obsessive-compulsive disorder and germaphobia. Tesla had some convoluted ritual every time he went to dine and he would perform it over and over again before he would start eating. Additionally, he always wore white gloves (way before Michael Jackson) when he ate. It’s also recorded that he had various random obsessions and phobias, such as not standing to be near women wearing pearls.
16. Charles Darwin’s Undisclosed Illness Prohibited him from Spending Time with his Children
Charles Darwin suffered a debilitating illness for most of his adult life with varied and bizarre symptoms. The nature of his illness has been the subject of much academic debate and more than 40 different diagnoses have been proposed at various times. The illness was such that Darwin would be incapacitated for days, or even weeks at a time. He had psychological symptoms, waking at night with intense, irrational fear and episodes of hysterical crying. He continued to have periods of severe lethargy, with times when he could only lie on a sofa and do nothing.
Despite this, he produced an enormous and impressive volume of work, writing 19 books, numerous papers, and thousands of letters, many of which are preserved today. After suffering his first intense episode of agoraphobia around age thirty, Darwin’s life continued to be plagued by this traumatizing experience, which caused him physical discomfort every time he was in public: constant trembling, nausea, hysterical crying, and visual hallucinations. His condition got so severe at one point that he couldn’t even be around his own children.
15. Did Jack Kerouac Suffer from Schizophrenia or Did he Fake it?
Before he becomes one of the most prominent authors of his era, Kerouac served in the Navy. In 2005, details of his days in the Navy became public and his military records revealed a history of mental disorder. It seems like Kerouac was diagnosed with “dementia praecox” (an archaic term for schizophrenia), and for that reason, he was considered “unsuitable” for the American Navy. As a result, his enlistment was short, lasting only 10 months. Those who know Kerouac a little better through his books, claim that the famous author faked mental illness so he could be discharged from the Navy.
On one occasion he stripped naked and ran across the parade ground shouting “Geronimo.” Interestingly, the Navy did not deem Kerouac entirely schizophrenic but instead stated that he was unable to deal with military discipline. Kerouac then sailed on a few ships in the Merchant Marine, and of course, wrote some of the greatest American novels. Nonetheless, Kerouac was alcoholic and later in life showed signs of severe depression. His cause of death was listed as an internal hemorrhage caused by cirrhosis, the result of his self-destructive behavior and longtime alcohol abuse.
14. Tiberius Took Pleasure from Seeing Others Suffering and was a Child Molester
Tiberius is considered to be one of the most dominant Roman generals and the one who conquered the lands of Pannonia, Dalmatia, Raetia, and temporarily, parts of Germania. He was also the Roman emperor who laid the foundations for the northern frontier, while his 22-and-a-half-year reign is one of the longest in Roman history. What many people don’t know about him, however, is his extremely violent manic episodes and sex addiction. Pliny the Elder describes him as “the gloomiest of men,” while Tacitus portrays him as a man who clearly suffered from the burdens of his rule and was not shy in taking it out on others.
Last but not least, Suetonius recorded many stories about Tiberius, some of which spoke of his sexual perversity, including graphic depictions of child molestation and cruelty, as well as accounts of his paranoid episodes. Suetonius pinpointed Tiberius’s pleasure in seeing others in pain and described him as someone who did so many wicked deeds under the pretext of reforming public morals when in reality it was only to gratify his lust for seeing people suffer.
13. Caligula’s Extreme Paranoia Led him to Make his Horse a Senator
Nephew of Tiberius, Caligula is speculated to have suffered from paranoia, antisocial personality disorder, and narcissism. To begin with, he believed he was a god and that the god of the sea, Poseidon, was plotting against him. In arguably his most insane moment ever, he made his horse a senator, while he saw nothing wrong with marrying his own sister. According to historical sources reported by Philo of Alexandria, his mental health dramatically changed suddenly after a severe fever that nearly killed him in 37 AD.
Many modern scholars suggest that it was his physical illness that led to severe mental issues. His symptoms could indicate any number of mental health illnesses, from schizophrenia to personality disorder. Even Suetonius admitted that “he was sound neither of body nor mind,” constantly running in fear of thunder and lightning, and from the gods, he claimed not to believe in. In his time, he was diagnosed with falling sickness, known in modern times as epilepsy, which very well could have led to mental illness later on in his lifetime.
12. Abraham Lincoln’s Mental Breakdowns Were so Severe that he Would Often Collapse
There is no question that Lincoln was subject to periods of melancholy throughout his life and as a young man he’d experienced the “hypo,” short for hypochondria. Still, Abraham Lincoln led the United States through the American Civil War, preserved the Union, abolished slavery, strengthened the federal government, and modernized the economy. Before the age of positive thinking and cognitive therapy, Lincoln learned to live with negative thoughts and not dwell on them. Although most of Abraham Lincoln’s written references to depression were in a series of 1841-1842 letters to Joshua Speed, Lincoln’s most profound quote on his own personal depression comes from another source.
On January 1, 1841, Lincoln broke up with Mary Todd – the woman he would marry a year later. A few weeks after his breakup, Lincoln wrote a letter to John T. Stuart, his first law partner. In the letter he mentioned, “I am now the most miserable man living. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me.” Despite his constant suicidal thoughts, experts suggest that it was his lifelong depression that gave him the strength to handle the crises of his years as president.
11. Diogenes May Be History’s Most Epic Troll Because of his Extreme Antisocial Behavior
Diogenes was a very unusual man by any social standard; modern or ancient. The “father” of Cynicism – a school of thought practiced by the Cynics who believed that the purpose of life is to live in virtue, in agreement with nature – openly doubted and questioned the local authorities and used philosophical arguments to change the corrupt society he lived in. He deeply believed that a better world was possible only if people returned to Mother Nature and accepted it (nature) as the only absolute authority and ruler. However, he had very odd and weird ways to demonstrate his beliefs and theories.
A great example of his crazy behavior was his public masturbation “sessions” at times, which he justified by saying, “If only it were so easy to soothe hunger by rubbing an empty belly.” Diogenes was antisocial and didn’t get impressed easily; not even by a king of the status of Alexander the Great, who went to meet him in Corinth one morning while he was lying in the sunlight. When the famous Greek king asked him whether there was any favor he could do for him, he simply replied, “Yes, stand out of my sunlight.”
10. Charles Dickens Suffered from Severe Insomnia and had Imaginary Friends
Charles Dickens worked like crazy at everything he undertook and rocketed to fame as a writer in his mid-twenties. Besides making a prodigious contribution to English Literature as a writer of fiction, he edited a weekly journal for twenty years and became an accomplished performer of his own works. When he didn’t work, he took night walks in the streets of London due to his inability to get any sleep during periods of extreme stress. Despite his greatness as a writer, experts suggest that he would almost certainly have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder if he was alive today.
Why? Well, let’s just say that other than fiercely driven and insomniac, Dickens was also a tearful man, stemming from when he was sent to work in a factory as a child when his father was thrown into a debtors’ prison. He denied talking about his time working in an ink factory, instead of bottling up this harrowing experience during which he would be working six days a week in squalid conditions, which he found humiliating. He found great joy and comfort in his characters and would talk about them as if they were real. And when we say real, we mean it.
9. Isaac Newton’s Dramatic Mood Swings Made him Literally Unapproachable
Isaac Newton is regarded as one of the most influential figures in the scientific revolution. Despite his immense contributions to science, Newton appeared to suffer from a series of mental disorders including manic depression, psychoticism, or even schizophrenia as some contemporary experts propose. According to various historical sources, during his episodes of depression, Newton hallucinated and had conversations with invisible people, while in his notes on alchemy and religion he wrote that he was appointed by God to bring His truth to the world. According to some historians, Newton’s poor mental health was partly attributable to mercury poisoning from his chemical experiments.
Indeed, Newton was known to experiment widely in his laboratory with mercury. Mercury poisoning is associated with morbid irritability, insomnia, and mental hyperactivity, all the features that Newton displayed throughout his life. However, some scholars have claimed that Isaac Newton’s physical and mental health issued in his life from the moment he was born prematurely on 25 December 1642. His plight was further compromised when his mother abandoned him to his grandmother at the age of three. Such early difficulties may have contributed to his mental ailments that troubled him later in his life.
8. Leo Tolstoy Had it All (Theoretically) but “Fancied” Suicide More than Anything
Tolstoy’s novels brought him an enormous amount of money that could guarantee him all pleasures of life. He had a beautiful wife through whom he got thirteen children. However, in his later writings, he distanced himself from realism as an aesthetic goal. Tormented between a strict religious temperament and his sensual cravings, Tolstoy came to embrace a life of personal austerity based on Christian love and an idealized image of the Russian peasantry. It is believed that he suffered from very severe, suicidal, major depression that often manifested in the emotional intensity of his novels.
In his book titled A Confession, Tolstoy wrote about his inner struggle to find the meaning of his life. Through this book, he explained why he decided to bury himself in his work in order to avoid facing the deeper questions of life. But the more he tried to avoid, the more problems began to torture him. As time marched on, his bouts of depression grew more frequent and more intense, where it came to a point that the famous author believed that only death could save him from the smothering, sad reality he experienced.
7. Michelangelo’s Autism Might Have Helped him Paint Something as Epic as the Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
A paper published in the Journal of Medical Biography in 2004, revealed that Michelangelo’s incredible talent and unique painting style could have been the result of autism. According to the descriptions provided by his contemporaries, the painter was depicted as someone living in his own reality, while most of his family members are noted as having exhibited similar symptoms. Michelangelo was also described as being antisocial, who had difficulty holding up his end of a conversation, often walking away in the middle of an exchange.
He had a short temper, a sarcastic wit, was paranoid at times, and narcissistic at all times. When he needed help on a project he always preferred to work independently and refused to nurture the talents of his assistants. He usually hired those that did not threaten his supremacy. It was his perfectionism and obsession with work, however, which allowed him to deliver some of the most epic artistic masterpieces in history, such as the Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
6. Pablo Picasso’s Dark Depression Gave Birth to an Iconic Painting Era
In 1901, Pablo Picasso was introduced to depression for the first time, which continued haunting him through the rest of his life. The depressive episode began following the suicide of a friend. His condition worsened throughout the following year and his artwork was greatly affected by his mental state. He predominantly painted grim subject matters such as prostitutes and beggars. This is how the “Blue Period” came into existence, a term used to define the works produced by the extraordinary Spanish painter between 1901 and 1904, when he painted essentially monochromatic paintings in shades of blue and blue-green, only occasionally warmed by other colors.
Ironically, these somber and melancholic paintings are now some of his most popular works, although he had difficulty selling them at the time. What’s even more interesting, scientists from Maynooth University in Ireland suggest that the meticulous analysis of Picasso’s works from that era, could shed light on how degenerative illness can be spotted years before other life-changing symptoms come to the fore. Some scientists go a step forward and claim that the insights to his works may lead to new research which could ultimately help diagnose the early stages of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
5. Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Possible Bipolar Episodes Would Often Damage the Output of his Compositions
Ludwig van Beethoven is famous for being one of the two (Mozart being the other) greatest classical composers in history, despite being deaf from a young age. Beethoven began to lose his hearing at the age of 28 and by the age of 44, his hearing loss was complete, most likely caused by compression of the eighth cranial nerve associated with Paget’s disease of bone. Beethoven’s head became large, while the composer had a prominent forehead, a large jaw and a protruding chin, features that are consistent with Paget’s disease.
However, some historians claim that being deaf wasn’t the biggest issue the composer had to face, but rather his regular manic-depressive episodes that often had a negative impact on his work. According to available historical sources, during these episodes, there was also degradation in his manners, which could be a symptom of his possible bipolar disorder. Beethoven died of liver disease, the result of his alcohol misuse.
4. Joseph Stalin’s Possible Mental Illness Could Explain his Incredibly Violent Behavior
Joseph Stalin ruled the Soviet Union for more than two decades, leaving a legacy of death and terror as he turned a backward Russia into a world superpower. According to Stalin’s physician, Alexander Myasnikov, the most recognized figure of communist history suffered from a series of mental issues including paranoid personality disorder and manic depression. Also, in his diaries, Myasnikov claims that Stalin suffered from atherosclerosis (the hardening of the arteries), which made his mental health even more fragile. This actually, could have been a factor in his political decision-making and violent actions.
Major atherosclerosis in the brain, which the doctors found at the autopsy, should raise the question of how much this illness – which had clearly been developing over a number of years – affected Stalin’s health, character and his actions, as Dr. Myasnikov wrote in the diaries, excerpts of which were published for the first time in the Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets in 2011. Scientists concluded that character traits can easily become exaggerated, to the point a person becomes paranoid, and that it’s very possible Stalin may have lost his sense of good and bad, healthy and dangerous, permissible and impermissible because of his illness.
3. Ernest Hemingway Survived World War I, Malaria, Skin Cancer, Pneumonia, Two Plane Crashes, Hepatitis, and a Fractured Skull. But Depression Killed Him.
Hemingway, arguably the most celebrated American author of all time, was as manly as a man can be. The image of his father, a moody, bullying, and depressive man, haunted his life. He wanted to resurrect himself in order to release himself from the responsibility for his death and chose to do so by killing himself with his favorite shotgun. The real cause of his death remains unknown though. Was it an accident, a suicide, or a prevalent genetic killer that caused toxic levels of iron to flood the body, ultimately inciting depression and agony? Historians still debate the reasons behind Hemingway’s pulling of the trigger.
At the time of his death, Hemingway was 61 years old. According to Mayo Clinic, just days before his tragic death, the famous author was receiving treatment for what was thought to be hypertension and a “very old” case of hepatitis at Mayo Clinic, a reputable not-for-profit medical hospital. His doctor described his health as “excellent” just a month before he commits suicide. Ernest’s father, brother, sister, and granddaughter also ended their lives, a fact that seems to verify contemporary psychiatry’s suggestion that depression and suicide are in many cases inherited.
2. Vincent Van Gogh Cut his Earlobe Off and Offered it to a Prostitute
Although there’s no consensus on the world-famous painter‘s mental health, based on the evidence derived mainly from his behavior and actions, many competing hypotheses have been advanced as to possible conditions from which he may have suffered. Various symptoms are described in Van Gogh’s letters such as hallucinations, nightmares, absent-mindedness, insomnia, and anxiety. His infamous act of cutting off his earlobe and giving it to a prostitute and his eventual suicide leave little or no doubt that Van Gogh was mentally unstable. It’s also well-documented that the famous painter was hospitalized in the mental clinic of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
On his good days, he would often paint in the institution’s walled garden. He was also given an extra room inside the clinic to use as a studio, where he produced a series of works, including copies of prints after paintings by artists like Rembrandt and Millet. But unfortunately, Vincent’s mental health continued to fluctuate. During one period of extreme confusion, he ate some of his oil paint, following which he was restricted to drawing for a while. Despite such relapses, the legendary painter was exceptionally productive at Saint-Rémy, where he completed around 150 paintings in less than a year.
1. Charles VI of France Didn’t Allow People to Touch him Because he Believed he was Made from Glass
Despite ruling France for forty-two years (1380 to 1422), the notorious French king went down in history as “Charles the Mad” and in all honesty, the word mad might be too soft a description. Possibly suffering from various mental disorders, there were times he could not remember his name or that he was king, while he couldn’t recognize his wife and children occasionally. However, he is particularly famous for his glass delusion, an external manifestation of a psychiatric disorder recorded in Europe mainly in the late Middle Ages.
Charles believed he was made of glass and didn’t allow others to get near him so they wouldn’t touch him and break his body. Strangely, when he was unafflicted, the “glass” king loved to exercise and play popular physical sports of his era. When his demons appeared in his mind though, he became a different man. He could sit in a room motionless for hours or even days. Although contemporary psychiatrists are hesitant to diagnose with certainty historical mental illness without meeting the patient in person, they all seem to agree that other than glass delusion, Charles VI was a certified nutcake.
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