Monday, February 06, 2006

on life and the darkness within

"Melancholy. As any Elizabethan could tell you if they all weren't dead, melancholy is a far richer and more complex ailment than simple depression. There is a generous amplitude of possibility, chances for productive behavior, even what may be identified as a sense of humor. . . . Humor in these conditions leans toward the anti-transcendent -- like jail humor and military and rodeo humor, it finds high amusement in failure and loss, and it celebrates survival one day, one disaster, to the next."

"What happened?" "Why are you always depressed?" "Did she say something?" "Is everything okay?" "Oh come on - don't be sad, it was just a game" "Having a bad day?" "Is he being an asshole again?"

Right - first, let's get our terms straight. For simplicity's sake, we can order the blues into three general categories of increasing severity:
(1) "sadness," which is the short-term grief one feels after a loss,
(2) "melancholy," which is a long-term state of being characterized by pensive reflection, sometimes accompanied by wistfulness, sadness and even gloom, and
(3) "depression," which is a disorder that strips all pleasure and initiative from one's mind, replacing it with a monochromatic anhedonic stasis.

Sadness usually has a specific cause. Sadness is temporary, "fixed" by the passage of time. Sometimes you can fix sadness by replacing what was lost.

Depression pretty much has a specific cause as well -- something in the brain chemistry gets fuckered in a seriously wrong way. Depression can be fixed through medication, may be fixable by the passage of time, and (according to therapists) can be fixed by therapy.

Melancholy does not have a specific cause. It also cannot be fixed. Even if it could be fixed, if you are melancholic, chances are you wouldn't want it fixed.

If you're melancholic, you don't understand the need to "Have a Nice Day!" You simply don't smile on command. You're never giddy. You're not a fucking cheerleader for anything. You value introspection over sensation. You flatter yourself that you see the world with a clear-eyed, unstinting, shit-and-sunshine vision. Although you think of yourself as pretty balanced, seeing both the good and the bad, the "shiny happy people" think you're just fucking gloomy and listen to Linkin Park while staring at a razorblade (The depressed people might think of you as a crazy optimist, but they're usually too lost in their own problems to notice you or anyone else.)

When you're melancholic, people ask you "what's wrong?" and try to cheer you up, not realizing that nothing's wrong, that's just the way you are. You're allergic to cheer for cheer's sake. When you're melancholic, your lack of unbridled enthusiasm will be interpreted as a bad attitude. When you're melancholic, people will assume you're depressed, ignoring the fact that you manage to experience a wide range of emotions, you manage to see the humor in life, and you manage to stay productive, all while being followed about by your own personal black rain cloud. That's quite a fucking feat, let me tell you.

Another tidbit - the funniest people I know are invariably the most melancholic people I know. Something about blending the sunny light with the gathering dark produces that skewed take on life we call "humor." Happy people and depressed people are rarely funny people.

At root, a melancholic temperament seems the logical next step after one's youthful optimism is jaded by the cares, responsibilities and hard-learned lessons of adulthood. One can face one's losses, and one's mortality, with happy denial, with melancholic serenity
or with depressed paralysis.

So to end this missive... if I were melancholic, chances are it my melancholy would be with me for much of my life - and it wouldn't be due to any external cause like an argument, or an election result. If I were melancholic, the outcome of a conversation or the result of a cricket match wouldn't do much to cheer me up, or let me down. If I were melancholic, I'd be living a life without illusions (or delusions) that get inflated when "a" happens, or deflated when "b" does.

IF I were melancholic, that is...