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Author: Sandy Sue
Originally 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.
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