by Andy Nowicki
The suffering soul must ask himself the question: Why is he sad?
In typical cases of acute or chronic melancholia, there is usually a proximate cause, such as, inter alia, the death of a loved one, the dissolution of a marriage, the loss of a job, or other failure, setback, sorrow, or similar provocation of grief, sorrow, or distress. When, however, the source of one’s melancholia is more generalized or abstruse, then the antidote to this condition is elusive, if not plainly non-existent.
One can, of course, learn to recover from specific tragedies or traumas, even if some residue of the precipitating event never entirely departs from one’s consciousness. But how does one manage to pull oneself out of a state of mind when that very condition seems to be fixedly endemic to his consciousness? That is to say, can a man cease to be melancholic if melancholia has burrowed itself into his soul that it is no longer merely a drizzling fog dulling the sense of his immediate apprehension, but rather a supreme deluge soaking into the very marrow of his absolute apprehension?
The chronic melancholic is peculiarly vulnerable to manipulation of the kind I have discussed in the earlier part of this account, because the relief that he seeks is akin to the desperate plight of a man drifting in a tiny lifeboat through the heart of a raging tempest on the high seas for days, with no sign of land anywhere. In such a circumstance, he is prone to fixate upon that which would seem to provide his weary mind some greatly-needed relief. If the perpetual lurch of the ever-cresting waves would slacken just a bit, if he could for a moment rest his tired bones on a sandbar, and find rest for a time, it would positively feel like Heaven. On the other hand, appeals to fear aren’t likely to have much of an influence on such a one, since he already beholds a nightmarish world, full of treachery and menace; it weighs him down and wears him out as it plainly manifests itself, and as a result there is little that could be suggested to provoke in him any greater apprehension than already greets him on a daily—even an hourly—basis.
Indeed, fear-based appeals have a far greater degree of usefulness when employed against those who lack the melancholic’s insight into reality (or at least, his perception of the same). For them, existence is not akin to a perilous journey on a life raft following a shipwreck; rather, they perceive themselves to be aboard a seemingly well-constructed ship, cruising through generally calm waters-- but it is the anxiety that lurks behind those adverbs (seemingly, but then all is not as it seems! generally, but what about the many exceptions to the “general” rule?) though which an apt manipulator can skillfully stir up a maelstrom of fear and loathing.
For such, in short, the fact that things are mostly good only means that things could get much, much worse, and fear of that worse, not to say of the always ill-defined but much detested worst, renders this group pliable to manipulation. But the melancholic knows that the current state of things is already desperate, if not hopeless. His chronic sadness, however debilitating, at least shields him from the indignity of cringing fear and craven fealty to his would-be masters, whose efforts to terrify him are rendered toothless by the fact a man who already fully apprehends the surety of catastrophe with every fiber of his being can hardly be swayed by the notion of impending catastrophe.
The melancholic cannot be taken in thusly, but he can be tripped up by the ardency of his thirst for relief from his torments. And here is where he must take action in a twofold manner.
First, he ought to give thanks for his chronic melancholia, because, while undoubtedly a burden, it is also clearly a gift. The chronic melancholic, that is to say, has been afforded insight into “the skull beneath the skin,” and though this insight be baleful and forlorn in nature, it is nevertheless a penetrating understanding that one cannot acquire by mere habituation to “patterns of empathy” or any such method; rather, it is thrust upon his consciousness as a naturally-occurring phenomenon. It is a quality, true enough, that he has a difficult time imparting to others, because they simply haven’t been granted the same capacity for this type of psychic knowledge. No matter how often he tries, he finds that his efforts are futile; it is like trying to obtain blood from a rock, or asking monkeys to compose Shakespearian verse.
|Alas, poor chronic melancholic|
Of course, to the melancholic, the temptation to derive pride from the fact that he possesses this knowledge—and, moreover, that his companions don’t—is cold comfort indeed; more often, it simply triggers his already aroused alienation, causing him to feel more alone than ever. Still, he ought not let it give him the sense that he is a more exalted being than his comrades; it is only a sign that he has been, as I say, granted a unique, exalted manner of understanding. He has been singled out, plucked up by God for the express purpose of carrying pain, grief, and loneliness. It is, shall we say, his lot—or perhaps, more fittingly, his calling—to be a “man of sorrows.”
The chronic melancholic is sorrowful because he is relentlessly, unceasingly, helplessly and hopelessly aware. But there are in fact two aspects of his forlorn awareness: the internal and the external, which could also be rendered as the personal and the impersonal. The chronic melancholic finds himself consumed with apprehension regardless of how he chooses to scrutinize the state of things; there is, indeed, no escape— both possible approaches yield little but ultimate heartbreak.
While never in the least impervious to the blandishments that batter his own soul’s hide—he too has his own apportioned “thousand natural shocks” to endure, along with whatever “most foul, strange, and unnatural” knocks that ghoulish fate opts to offer as a dubious bonus—he also finds that departing from the confines of his interior consciousness brings no consolation, because when the chronic melancholic fixes his gaze upon the exterior world, he winds up imbibing but another flavor of the selfsame grief that had previously assaulted him internally. It is no less painful to be subjected to immense suffering, he finds, when it ceases to be personal.