Through a Glass Darkly
Melancholy! I know it well. It has been my close friend these thirty three years and our relationship has often been that of a love/hate nature. I love what dark moodiness brings to my burning creativity. I hate how it can often affect those around me … most notably my children.
Is it possible that, after years of conflict, I have made peace with my melancholia?
As mentioned in my musings yesterday, I began penning some comments the other day concerning happiness and contentment … ideas that were cut short by a seemingly coincidental fortune cookie. Silly? Yes. Coincidental? Perhaps not. It is possible that I needed additional time. It is likely that I needed to reach a major turning point.
You see, I had been writing yet another “woe is me” diatribe about how happiness … true happiness … is unattainable, but I have since changed my opinion. Now? Well, now I don’t care. I don’t. Happiness may or may not be reachable, but I no longer see reaching it as the pinnacle of human desire.
Turning point reached.
About a week ago a friend forwarded an article from Newsweek to me. Happiness: Enough Already is written to open the eyes of society regarding the misconceptions that have been perpetuated by the mental healthcare industry about sadness and depression … the theory that we all need medication to pull us out of the dumps and make us happy, happy, happy. “What society once viewed as an appropriate reaction to failed hopes and dashed dreams, it now regards as a psychiatric illness. That may be the most damaging legacy of the happiness industry: the message that all sadness is a disease.”
I read the first paragraph of this article and found myself embarking on an internal conflict. I was upset and angry and refused to read the remainder of the article. Why? Simply put – I agreed … but that placed me in quite the conundrum because I suffer from mental illness. I AM BIPOLAR. Yes, I have been clinically diagnosed. Yes, I am medicated … and I was prepared to be offended (in reading further) at being labeled as a statistic – one of those that went looking for a miracle happiness drug. I had a lot of thinking to do, which I did, and then I read the rest of the article.
The first thing I realized was that my diagnosis is, and always has been genuine. I was diagnosed by a psychiatrist and psychologist in a time before medication advertisements had everyone on the planet convinced they were all borderline suicidal and needed to do something about it. I am not clinically depressed because of some unfortunate event in my life. I am bipolar because of a severe chemical imbalance in my genetic make-up. I have experienced the worst extremes of depression and mania. Unfortunately, I am living the consequences of life changing decisions that were made while I was very, very sick and my illness was undiagnosed. I do not take an antidepressant every day. If I did – I would be thrown into a medicinally induced unhealthy manic state. I take a medication that is classified as a “mood stabilizer.” I joke that it makes me normal (horrible word … “normal”). In short, the medication stabilizes the chemical imbalance in my blood stream and allows me to feel human. Yes, human. As opposed to living in extremes, I can safely experience joy and sadness in a healthy manner like “normal” humans. Without my medication … well, manic euphoria and suicidal thought alternate rapidly from one to the other and bring with them a million other extreme emotions. Treated - I have moments of happiness and I still suffer from repeated bouts of melancholy. Yet, somehow I had still allowed myself to buy into the “happiness movement” and was almost convinced that my medication was not strong enough because I was not happy all the time.
(If you haven’t read the article yet – now is the time to do so.)
How could I have been so stupid as to think that perpetual happiness was the ideal pinnacle to be reached when, by my own admission, my best written works (particularly my attempts at poetry) evolve out of highly emotionally charged situations … usually very dark and potentially disturbing? I am not alone in this. As the article states, “Vincent Van Gogh, Emily Dickinson and other artistic geniuses saw the world through a glass darkly.” Good company to be in, I think … despite the fact that Van Gogh shot himself in the chest. Further on the author reveals that, “a classical Greek text, possibly written by Aristotle, asks, ‘Why is it that all those who have become eminent in philosophy or politics or poetry or the arts are clearly melancholic?’” The possible answer (as given by Eric Wilson in his new book Against Happiness, which I must now find): “the blues can be a catalyst for a special kind of genius for exploring dark boundaries between opposites.” He also “praises melancholia,” writes Newsweek, for generating “a turbulence of heart that results in an active questioning of the status quo, a perpetual longing to create new ways of being and seeing.”
I do not know if I buy in 100% with Wilson’s theory that “the happy man is a hollow man.” I have met individuals in my time who truly seem born to live life in a state of almost unending happiness. Lucky for me, I am now able to let go of that aspiration as it does not fit my personality.
Recently - Jim of Restoration/Restoration, in response to my blog Only the Lonely, urged me to embrace my melancholic loneliness by letting my spirit loose and not confining her … trusting her. Look Jim – I am finally taking your advice.
For those of you who find yourselves on the dark side of the looking glass – join me. Sever the chains of false happiness and embrace your moments of melancholy. You are, after all, human.
“I put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process.” ~Vincent Van Gogh
“There may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke.” ~Vincent Van Gogh
“I can very well do without God both in my life and in my painting, but I cannot, suffering as I am, do without something which is greater than I am, which is my life, the power to create.” ~Vincent Van Gogh
Please note: I do recognize that depression is a serious illness that requires treatment although I do believe it is being over diagnosed and treated incorrectly. Medication is just one step. It only solves part of the problem. The pharmacy must be paired with counseling to be fully effective in such cases. If you suspect you have a problem with depression (and self recognition is always the first step) … please, get help … but take control of your own treatment. Read. Study. Ask questions. Don’t just pop some random pill in your mouth and expect it to solve all your problems. Trust me. The “happiness” you seek may not be worth it. As mentioned in the article I have now referenced numerous times, “It would be foolish to underestimate the power and tenacity of the happiness cheerleaders.”