We recently returned from a long overseas trip. A day after our return, a feeling of melancholy set in. We had an unsettled feeling. We were blue.
But what’s this? We are absurd. Nothing matters. What could bother us? Well, we thought about it and wrote the things that were irritating us down on a little pad: The pile of mail (and bills) that had accumulated in our absence that had to be sorted out... The need to run an errand to the bank, which is never convenient… A deadline at work that we had no chance of meeting…
We wrote these things down and studied them a bit; facing them directly and recognizing how each thing didn’t matter. We started to feel better. Bomstein pointed out over coffee one day that he read somewhere how stress makes the brain release some chemicals that stay in the body for a time even after the stress is removed. That, too, made us feel better. As if this feeling was instinctual, one of those hard-wiring things that makes us anti-absurd sometimes.
All of this got us thinking about the idea of feeling blue. In the past on this blog, we have often emphasized happiness… how to get it, or keep it, or what makes it happen or not happen, and even trying to figure out what the heck it is and so on…
But we are starting to like the idea of acceptance better. That is to say, the idea should not be happiness, per se, but acceptance. We shouldn’t fight feelings of melancholy. We should accept that, too. The ultimate absurd man, we think, is one who has mastered acceptance. He finds equanimity in accepting the world as it is and not, necessarily, in thinking about being happy regardless of what befalls him.
We know we’ve talked about acceptance often, too. But we think perhaps we should emphasize acceptance more. There was a man who saw some of these things early. When we think of the word melancholy, we think of his name. His name is Robert Burton, author, famously, of An Anatomy of Melancholy, first published in 1621.
Part of Burton’s message – and we know he had some strange ideas, like eating too much pork or too many cucumbers made one sad – is simply that feelings of melancholy are part of what makes us human. There is no escape. We should accept it and move on.
Burton writes, in his usual purplish prose:
“From these melancholy dispositions, no man living is free, no stoic, none so wise, none so happy, none so patient, so generous, so godly, so divine, that can vindicate himself…
Q. Metellus, in whom Valerius gives instance of all happiness, ‘the most fortunate man then living in that most flourishing city of Rome, of noble parentage, a proper man of person, well qualified, healthful, rich, honorable, a senator, a consul, happy in his wife, happy in his children,’ etc, yet this man was not devoid of melancholy, he had his share of sorrow…
For a pint of honey thou shalt here likely find a gallon of gall, for a dram of pleasure a pound of pain, for an inch of mirth an ell of moan; as ivy doth an oak, these miseries encompass all our life.”
Burton says here that feeling blue is normal. It happens to all. Don’t sweat it. Just accept that it happens. (Well… he also has his prescriptions, some of which are not bad. He says you should drink more beer, because it makes one happy, or, as he puts it, “the hop… hath an especial virtue against melancholy.” We can’t argue…)
To know these feelings are natural and to recognize them when they occur is itself a great anti-depressant, we find. It goes along with the idea that to observe your own actions and thoughts in a dispassionate manner is a wonderfully revealing exercise.
All is to say, don’t fight your bouts of melancholy. Recognize and accept is, we think, a better approach. And, ironically, this approach may dissolve those blues anyway.