Melancholology (by Dr. Fab)

2 Sep

Those who have known me for a while, or who can read between the (not exactly subtle) lines, might know this about me: I can get sad sometimes. Or at least a bit down. At times seemingly without a reason and within the space of 2 seconds. This manifests itself in various ways: I can be in the middle of a group gathering and I become really quiet. Or I am at a party and suddenly leave without telling anybody. Or I prefer playing the piano to watching TV. What not so many people know is that this is something I ‘have had’ since I was very young. That feeling of simultaneous emptiness and heaviness that sits very deep within me, an exquisite sadness – but a soothing one, one without tears. A penetrating shadow that can hug and warm from the inside. That desperate need of belonging, or generally longing for something. Something deep and beautiful, trying to be meaningful. And something that always seems out of reach.

I have never really been able to put my finger on this. It is something that has been part of me since I was about 9 or 10 and it also has not always been there. It has been like a companion who checks in every now and then. But during the past few months, I have seen her (definitely female) quite a lot. I thought I was ‘just down’, exhausted, bored, lonely – many words seemed to get close, but nothing really nailed it. Until last week.

Life has a funny way of holding things up in your face sometimes. Whilst I thought I was going to burst with frustration over this strong but evasive feeling, one thing I came across, as a word or concept, all the time was this: Melancholy. I have always loved this word – not sure why – but had never thought much about it. Then I looked it up, and boy, I was hit in the face. I spent about 3 hours on a magical mystery internet tour, flew from one page to another and there it was – the explanation to my state of mind and heart, that had felt so indescribable beforehand. Words that got right to the bottom of it. And suddenly, I had this sense of relief sinking in, right into the pit of my tummy. Because I found a concept, a word, a description – something that told me I was not going mental.

So, what is melancholy? I am NOT trying to give a professional analysis here. After all, all I have done is as much reading as can be done in 1 week BUT I have 20 years of experience with this. This is what I feel qualifies me to talk about this subject. Or at least give some kind of account on why and how it relates to me.

Melancholic people are described as having a desire to connect with the world in a deep and meaningful way. They think a lot, and don’t always share their thoughts. Through this thinking, they often become ‘sad’ – although this is not a sadness that can be eased by tears or shopping. It is a Sweet Tristesse that can also give a lot of pleasure. It is also not paralysing, it can guide you to the greatest highs of highs, but also to some very low lows. It can be very intense and overwhelming, especially if it has not been understood. At times, the soul wants to stretch out and reach the far ends of what is possible to conceive, and sometimes it wants to crawl back into itself, getting to that place where everything comes together. The most trivial moments (often especially sought out) can have hugely enriching and exhausting effects on melancholic people.

Conceptually, melancholy is not something you ‘suffer from’, it should rather be understood as a gift, because not everybody is capable of it. It enables you to make deep connections, to reach emotional and mental spheres that can feel like ‘secret worlds within worlds’.

One thing that is important to mention, Melancholy is not Depression. Depression is an illness that requires treatment as it can be harmful and destructive to the extreme. Melancholy can be a first step, and can lead to Depression. But it must be understood as something very different: a frame of mind, a way to see and connect with the world. Empathy for example is a big part of Melancholy, but something that people suffering from depression are often not capable of.

These things are described as being connected to the Melancholic Mind: Autumn, Afternoon, Poetry, Classical Music and Literature, Earth, Leaning (your body or head against something), the color Grey. Stern facial expressions. Dusk and Dawn. Nostalgia. Getting lost in thoughts. Soft spot for Alanis Morissette (just kidding). Many great artists and politicians are renowned for being melancholic. During the Fin de siècle period, many people got lost in this in-between ‘the end of an era’ and ‘the beginning of a new century’ situation that triggered a lot of beautiful, melancholic art.

Interestingly, and this is something that is very true for me, melancholic people have the need to find words to explain and define, and also have a need to express their ‘condition’ – they even show it off sometimes.  I have done things for effect. Not so much now, but in the past. When I was younger I also wrote a lot of poetry, pretty sad poetry, I had such a deep desire to put words to this feeling of heaviness and detachment. But I did not hide these poems. I actually gave them to everybody who would read them. I mean, look at this blog for heaven’s sake! And I am so, so, so guilty of being that person who, when asked ‘is everything ok?‘ (obviously triggered by something), would say ‘oh, yes, of course!’ whilst my face and my heart would say the opposite and all I want is for somebody to grab me, look deep into my eyes, soul, heart, everything, and tell me they can ‘really see me’ and they will be there for and with me. I am helplessly romantic and sentimental and the thought of a perfect union with somebody is one that fills me with breathtaking joy. But I am also a sceptic and superb at undermining my own behaviour and success in that area, because at the end of the day I can not imagine there being this one person who would really be my ‘other half’.

I can think of so many other examples now: As a teenager I spent EVERY SUMMER, tucked up in my darkened room reading the Mists of Avalon. I prefer Chopin to Bach. Autumn is my favourite season. I love getting lost playing the piano. I would much rather run a slow Marathon than a 400 meter Sprint. My favourite literary figures are Madame Bovary and Effie Briest. I have frustrated many boyfriends and my family by ‘not talking to them’ and suffered at the same time from this urgent need for them to ask me how I am feeling. I have felt so lonely in the middle of my best friends whilst feeling blessed for having them. And I love company and parties. It would be a foolish lie to pretend otherwise – there are just too many witnesses! But do I really relax into them? Rarely. Do they sometimes even enhance the feeling of isolation? Yes. Interestingly, melancholy and joy do not exclude one another – which for example is the case with depression – quite the opposite actually. Joy and contentment can be found through melancholy.

What do I do now with this revelation. Nothing actually. But I know how to deal with my secret friend when she comes to visit again. I will embrace her and allow her to take me on whatever journey she wants to take me on. I will surrender to her, because quite frankly trying to defy her would not work. And it’s not like I can call her or ‘activate’ her – she comes as she pleases and I might just as well bake a cake her for and put the kettle on.

As I am writing this, one thing is becoming clear. Those who have a melancholic string to their emotional bone will totally understand what I am talking about. Those who don’t, will take me for an overdramatic, self centered, pathetic, pseudo psychological hippie litte girl. Melancholy is a delicate subject, one that makes a lot of sense to those who can experience it. And one that is sheer bullocks for those who can’t. Which is fine. It’s a bit like a secret club. And there are many things that escape my frame of understanding (or interest) – like rugby. Or cars.

Also, not everybody who has ever written a poem or a song or who likes dreaming, or staring at things, is necessarily melancholic. Some people are just lazy, grumpy, weird, in a bad mood, like to complain or are simply otherwise negatively charged. That is not melancholic. That’s being a sourpuss or an ass.

And with that I will leave my little sweet sour indulgence. I might want to share, but on this occasion, I don’t want to show off.


One Response to “Melancholology (by Dr. Fab)”


  1. Shakespeare, Goethe, Riener « How to Fab - October 27, 2012

    […] few months ago, see here, I discovered that I am a melancholic. To some that might not sound like something radical in […]

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