JFK's Low Grade Mania

President Kennedy himself was not without mental issues. It would seem he was hyperthymic, as was possibly FDR and Dr. King. That is to say, he lived with a low grade but constant form of mania.

Hyperthymia is either a mental illness or a personality trait. It’s not in the Diagnostic Manual, and some doctors deny its existence. It falls on the bipolar spectrum not too far from its opposite depressive version, dysthymia. People with hyperthymia can benefit greatly from it, but they’re also at risk for full-blown mania and for developing depression. Someone with hyperthymia can develop acute bipolar disorder. I believe that I did, and then with mood stabilizing medicine, I moved back into more of a hyperthymic state.

At Choate, the prestigious boarding school In Connecticut the future president engaged in the sort of shenanigans that caused the headmaster to  order a psychiatric evaluation of the boy. His Addison’s disease, an autoimmune illness, left him vulnerable to infections, and his life was in danger many times

Medical records show that Kennedy took codeine, Demerol and methadone for pain; Ritalin, a stimulant; meprobamate and librium for anxiety; barbiturates for sleep; thyroid hormone; and injections of a blood derivative, gamma globulin, to fight off infections. It’s possible that JFK was susceptible to and had STDs. Initially in his presidency, he took lots of steroids, including anabolic steroids. And they promote mood swings, although Addison’s disease, which causes a lack of steroid production, can lessen the effect. 

New physicians eventually took over. The steroids were partly replaced by daily exercise. Kennedy’s decision making may have improved because of it. As the doctors got control of the President’s drugs, the President got control of his military and his presidency. The Cuban missile stare down was a triumph in both regards.

Kennedy was hypersexual, when not being laid low by Addison's disease. His energy level and work ethic during these periods were remarkable. He dictated messages rapidly. He took many meetings as a senator and in the Oval Office. And he gave many press conferences. All of these traits and habits suggest hyperthymia. In all of these things, there were parallels between JFK and FDR.

Unlike FDR, there were short periods of depression in Kennedy’s life, and it seems he even contemplated suicide. Addison’s disease can cause depression.

Kennedy’s father, Joseph Sr., was clearly hyperthymic. And while hyperthymia can be beneficial, it can lead to impulsive behavior. Old Joe’s political ambitions came to a crash when backed the wrong side in European hostilities — the Nazis.

All of the Kennedy men seemed to have active libidos —  Joe Sr. and his sons, certainly. Alcohol, drug abuse, and diagnosed bipolar disorder would follow Joe Kennedy’s family. Daughter Rosemary was severely retarded, and Joe arranged for a lobotomy. Son Ted was a serious alcoholic. Grandson David died of an overdose. RFK, Jr. had a heroin addiction. And Patrick, son of Ted, fought addictions to drugs prior to a bipolar diagnosis. He is now a mental health advocate.

We all know how the story ended for Kennedy. Had he lived, the U.S. might have gotten out of Vietnam, instead of escalating as LBJ did.