The Mental Health Spotlight Series is provided to showcase well-known public figures and their experiences dealing with mental health. It also serves as a gentle reminder that #youarenotalone.
Ernest Hemingway, Author (1899-1961)
One of America’s greatest literary figures, Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Cicero, Illinois. Growing up in a middle class household, Ernest shared a closer bond with his father (a country physician) who instilled a love for the outdoors by teaching him how to fish and hunt. His mother actively participated in the church and encouraged him to sing in the choir and play the cello. The contrast between his parents’ personalities is believed to have had a major influence on him during his early years and potentially lent itself to his adventurous, albeit risky behaviors later in life.
The Early Years
Writing for his school newspaper, The Trapeze, and publishing a few stories in the school’s literary magazine, Ernest managed to demonstrate early on his strength of willpower and resolve. He was a great scholar and participated in sports (football and boxing) in spite of a speech impediment, poor eyesight, and well documented difficulties with spelling. Though he was popular amongst his peers, these negative attributes weighed heavily on him and served constantly to remind him of his vulnerabilities. He is said to have chided editors (later in his writing career) who complained about his struggles with spelling. “Isn’t that what you get paid to correct?” he would cheekily reply to them.
Having no desire to attend college, Ernest graduated high school and went on to write for the Kansas City Star newspaper. His experiences there taught him how to write short sentences, steer clear of cliches and unnecessary adjectives, and how to piece together short stories. Barely six months later, Hemingway’s penchant for adventure would see him and fellow reporter, Theodore Brumback, volunteering as ambulance drivers for World War I in Europe. Letters sent home to his parents described life-changing experiences in France, Italy, and the Austro-Italian border, where Hemingway received a severe leg injury while carrying an Italian soldier to safety. In later writings, he often described the shooting and consequent rehabilitation as his closest skirmish with death.
Returning to the United States post-war, Hemingway wrote short stories, spoke at women’s clubs about his war adventures, and tutored. He also met and fell in love with Hadley Richardson, heiress to a small trust fund. Squandering their living expenses, the couple moved to Paris, where he earned money selling short stories, poems, and drawings for the Toronto Sun. After having his works stolen from a train station in Lyon, France, Hemingway was devastated but eventually moved on to Spain, seeking inspiration at the urging of writer, Gertrude Stein. Dubbed by Stein as part of the lost generation (the term would later be used as an epigraph in his first novel, The Sun Also Rises), he would go on to explore Canada, return to Paris and Austria, and write additional Nick Adams stories. Eventually, he and Hadley had a child, but the marriage soon ended in divorce. It would not be his last.
Married three more times, Hemingway’s relentless thirst for adventure would see him trekking across Africa, China, Cuba, and Europe again, volunteering his services once more during World War II. Allegedly, a 45-year old Hemingway is believed to have liberated the Ritz Hotel in Paris. Once Allied troops arrived, they were met with a sign on the entrance: “Papa Hemingway took good hotel. Plenty stuff in the cellar.” A notorious drinker, adventure-seeker, and womanizer, Hemingway was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in literature for The Old Man and the Sea in 1953.
Headed off on another African safari, Hemingway was reported dead after two airplane crashes taking place within two days. Incredibly, he lived while sustaining severe internal and spinal complications and a concussion.
Struggling with high blood pressure, clinical depression, bipolar disorder and both borderline and narcissistic personality traits, it comes as no surprise that Hemingway is said to have been incredibly melancholy during his later years. Due to the rapid deterioration of his physical and mental health, he finally agreed to shock therapy and served two lengthy hospitalizations. Coming from a family that suffered a long history of mental illness and suicide, like his father before him, Ernest Hemingway took his own life in 1961.
Updated 9/25/19 Author Notes:
How does one reconcile the adventure and boldness that underscores the way Ernest Hemingway lived his life with the manner in which he died? Honestly, I’ve read his Bio here, several times, and felt that I needed to change the direction of this narrative. While this month is National Suicide Prevention Month in the United States, it’s fair to list him as one of the most prominent celebrities who happened to fall prey to this tragedy of life. And that is exactly what his untimely death signifies; a tragedy.
We’ll never know how many more vibrant stories he had to share with the world because he believed that he was unable to carry his burdens any longer. The harsh and sad truth is that he didn’t have to carry them alone; he just didn’t know it.
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” –Matthew 11:28-30
As this scripture teaches us, we are not alone in our suffering or trials, as Jesus wants to remove our burdens, guilt and hopelessness— that we might have true rest in Him. Understanding that we have the advantage of receiving adequate care and comfort from traditional medicine and directly from the Source is a model that I pray more people are made aware of as the conversation around mental health continues to evolve.
Nurture your body, mind, and spirit always.
If you or a loved one are in crisis, please contact:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1(800) 273-TALK (8255). Help is available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. All calls are confidential.
Photo Credit (Featured): Stijn Swinnen – Unsplash