Aches to FeelOriginally one of the Four Humours in ancient medical practice, the word melancholia comes from the Greek for “black bile.”  Someone with a melancholic temperament presented as despondent, quiet, analytical and serious.

Whole eras could be melancholic (The Dark Ages).  Movements in music, literature and philosophy grew around it—Germany’s Strum und Drang, William Blake’s art and poetry, Edgar Allen Poe in general.

Later, melancholia became synonymous with major clinical depression, but went out of fashion as a medical term.

My personal experience of melancholia contains a wistful element—a hole that can’t be filled, an undefined longing.  There’s a nostalgic flavor to it, an almost remembering.  It’s that feeling of waking out of a dream right before an answer is given, before arriving at the destination, before the consummating kiss.  Something very important slips through my fingers, only I can’t remember what it was.  I miss someone terribly, but I don’t know who.

Across the wide spectrum of my bipolar mood swings, this is the place I can tolerate the best.  I’m not surprised that poets, painters, musicians and philosophers created from this saturnine state.  I experience it as deeply romantic and full of movement—Catherine in Wuthering Heights, crying out for Heathcliff on the moors.  For me, this mood easily attaches itself to story, character, fictional angst and all things heart-wrenching.  I can use this form of depression.  I can’t say that about most of my other states.

It still requires mindfulness.  Melancholia’s longing draws in sorrow and angst from outside of me, be it real or fictional.  I dare not watch The Road or Atonement.  And after I finish that intense reunion scene with my short story characters, I’d better go watch funny kitten videos on You Tube.

Having a hole that can’t be filled creates incredible vulnerability.  The longing to fill an aching, raw void leads to desperate acts.  So, while this humour visits me, I will feed it art and words of love and belonging.  If I’m very lucky, I might even start to remember that nothing is missing at all.


13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Michelle at The Green Study
    Jun 15, 2015 @ 09:03:11

    You so clearly describe a place that is my bittersweet spot – both for creativity and introspection. Sometimes autumn will bring it on, other times it arises when I’ve had too much social interaction. Everything is pulled inside, under covers, behind doors and I relish it. But as you point out, this must also be a watchful time, lest one gets pulled down the rabbit hole.


  2. LindaNoel
    Jun 15, 2015 @ 10:34:57

    Darling SandySue ~~ How beautiful and evocative this writing is. I so appreciate your clarifying how Melancholia is in your being/mind/body/life: this gives me a glimpse where I could not go if you were not expressing this here AND it gives me a thoughtful comparison for me to see my own experience in that state better. I do not think I Ever Do (action), I just Crawl to safe solitude and Eat and Watch others Doing=living in films & books. Lately I have become aware of the utility of the Eating Response and that it truly has/does Suppress my Anxiety about Doing and Supplants Doing. I’m embarking on switching the Order of Response. Over and Over and over I have been Unable to change the Eating which shuts down my Action possibilities. I am doing the Action now, one day at a time, gentle but Consistent with the curiosity+hope that Action will alter Eating. xoxoxox


    • Sandy Sue
      Jun 15, 2015 @ 11:02:29

      I hardly know how to respond to such courage. Everything you write about Eating feels absolutely true to me and in me. The only thing I know is that nothing changes until it is seen and you are Watching now with tenderness.


  3. Trackback: Uncool Illness, Melancholia, Madness, Overscheduling Myths, Happy Things: Mental Health Monday | A Way With Words
  4. Kitt O'Malley
    Jun 15, 2015 @ 13:43:43

    Beautiful. As I read, what came to mind was a longing for union with God. Then your last sentence says it all.


  5. Bipolar1Blog
    Jun 15, 2015 @ 19:22:01

    I think I am much more creative in the not so good feeling phases, How strange that feeling bad makes us creative!


    • Sandy Sue
      Jun 15, 2015 @ 19:53:32

      There’s been so much research done about mood and creativity. I don’t think anyone has determined that either depression or mania generates creativity. It’s more like bipolar disorder and creativity spring from the same source–whatever that turns out to be. I think it’s all so fascinating.


      • Bipolar1Blog
        Jun 15, 2015 @ 20:17:20

        Well our emotions are so much deeper than people who don’t have mood disorders, our moods themselves lead to creativity. I mean a poem which is very emotional and describes things is an amazing way is more creative than one that is very lukewarm and banal, I think. 🙂

      • Sandy Sue
        Jun 15, 2015 @ 23:02:37

        It is a test of vocabulary and verve to describe our moods and the feelings flying through (or shape and color for visual artists). Do we have different emotions than neuro-normals? Interesting question.

      • Bipolar1Blog
        Jun 15, 2015 @ 23:45:14

        I think our emotions are definitely more intense, our mood swings more wide. And people who are related to us may be the same way. I think that’s what makes us creative. We feel and sense deeply.

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