“I live a living death, my flesh is wounded, bleeding, cadaverized, my rhythm slowed down or interrupted, time has been erased or bloated, absorbed into sorrow… Absent from other people’s meaning, alien, accidental with respect to naive happiness, I owe a supreme, metaphysical lucidity to my depression. On the frontiers of life and death, occasionally I have the arrogant feeling of being witness to the meaningless of Being, of revealing the absurdity of bonds and beings.”
— Julia Kristeva, Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia
There is not a time in my life in which I can remember being without depression or it hovering nearby. Technically I am diagnosed as dysthymic, with episodes of major depression. This has not made life horrible. It has only presented unique challenges that have been a struggle to overcome. Personally I dislike the term ‘mental illness’. It is our convenient way of categorizing and alienating a deviation. It is a mental variation, a deviation from the norm, but this unique wiring is not intrinsically an illness or disorder. Untreated it can no doubt cause serious problems, and I have experienced those severe problems first hand. I cannot speak for everyone, only for myself and my experiences. For the longest it was an invisible agitator, then a known tyrant, but in time I came to accept this variation despite its unattractive traits.
There is no need for me to rehash close brushes with suicide, self-harm, and brooding lifeless in bed. It took years to acknowledge this ghost was there, the despair it caused, and ultimately accepting I needed help to deal with it. It was like a raging stallion, a horse from hell, it must be reigned in. Rather than bore you with talks about therapists and discussion about psychiatry, I would like to focus on our framing of such deviations. It can be argued that many famous poets, painters, writers, philosophers throughout history have produced their masterful work due to their suffering or despite their suffering. This is not to glorify or romanticize depression or any similar case. Only to show that this deviation is an aspect of the whole, and can allow certain exceptional insights if used properly. I titled this ‘the sublime in melancholia’ for that reason, for myself depression has forced me to see existence in a sober gray tone. On a scale, the average person may have a daily mood of 4. A dysthymia person has a daily mood of 2 or 1. Feelings of excitement, enthusiasm, extroversion are rare, if not completely absent. The average person may cling to a religious truth, political party, or sentimental mission and this gives them purpose or glee. This requires a degree of naivety, to hope, to have faith in, which is again rare from the dysthymic position. Melancholia, a preferred if outdated term, does not allow much excess. It is cliche and simple to say ‘those with depression are more likely to be realists’. This I do not buy, even if it does allow sobriety in thought.
Tragedy is the affirmation of existence. The beautiful and pleasurable is easy to accepted. The tragic and painful is not. Melancholia forces one, often times involuntarily, to see and accept the tragic. Despair, pain, suffering, sorrow, loneliness, self-loathing…there is sublimity in these experiences. I find it pointless to weigh what suffering is necessary and what suffering is unnecessary. I am only concerned with what actually occurs within our own subjectivity, not its cosmological role if there is any. It can also lead one to staring meaningless in the face, sheer void and despair, a nothingness which haunts oneself and existence. Melancholia forces one to plumb the deepest caverns of the mind and soul, as cheesy as that sounds. It is a part of me, not the whole of me. It is a part of me, not an adversarial enemy out to hurt me. I only discovered tranquility when I accepted the melancholic as a part of myself, brought it within harmony. This makes the difference.
One shouldn’t mistake melancholia as implicit unhappiness or callousness. It is a cold fire that burns passionately. It may not be expressed exuberantly, but it burns intensely right below the surface. The melancholic may appear pessimistic about existence, though this does not mean unhappiness. When life is seen as gray, the colors that do show are even brighter. The melancholic loves as passionately as any other, only in a slightly different tone. This is found in great poets who write stunning poetry, if we only knew the severe depression they wrestled with. The modern obsession with exuberant cheerfulness and optimism is a foolish trend. One can be content, happy, tranquil, without the sickly sweet ‘positive thinking’ marketed to consumers. One only need to look at the Stoics and Buddha to see the ‘fountain of good’ is not the superficial smiles of today.
Again, I can only speak for myself and my own experiences. This is the insight I have accumulated over a lifetime of depression, and I sincerely encourage people to reframe their perception of mental variation. Left untreated it can be a reckless bull, and treated properly it can be a unique beauty. The most important detail is harmony, even our least attractive aspects must be embraced and accepted.