“She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips “
– John Keats, Ode to Melancholy
Melancholy, popularly thought of as something that must be avoided and treated, has been written about extensively, and referred to in literature by Keats and Shakespeare. It is the feeling of sadness, with a tinge of sweetness. It is an experience of Joy with the knowledge, that it must leave, in Keats’ words. In the same poem, Keats refers to poisons, and the feeling of dread, and contrast melancholy with this feeling of falling under. He describes it as an internal state that invites one to observe the beauty around us in nature. He describes melancholy not as a feeling of just an end, but a beautiful contemplation of “all things that live must die”, and acceptance of the cycle of nature, and every beauty’s fated end. Thus melancholy does allow us to take a step back from time to time, and work on acceptance of our human-ness, and our realities. Sometimes, melancholy is the way to sighing and accepting some circumstances that meet us in the valleys of our lives. And that is how, we climb the peaks too!
Melancholy definition first described by Hippocrates, “melancholia” was thought to be a condition that generally struck people without a particular reason, and hung a dark cloud over their heads. In modern times, it came to be described as “endogenous depression” (coming from within) in contrast to depression stemming in response to external stressors.
Freud, In Mourning and Melancholia (1917) writes, “The distinguishing mental features of melancholia are a profoundly painful dejection, cessation of interest in the outside world, loss of the capacity to love, inhibition of all activity, and a lowering of the self-regarding feelings to a degree that finds utterance in self-reproaches and self-revilings, and culminates in a delusional expectation of punishment.”
The Father of psychoanalysis goes on to explain melancholy meaning, that melancholia is a sense, that something has been lost, yet not knowing consciously, exactly what is that has been lost. According to Freud, in melancholia, the sense of loss exists, but the what of the loss remains out of our conscious minds. Thus the loss is within, and the external world cannot see it. If one imagines, this can be a lonely position to be in, difficult for others to understand. This feeling comes with a loss of interest in the outside, and a more intense attunement to one’s inner world. The thoughts, and emotions inside a person seem to grip a melancholic person more than what is happening to the outside world.
There is a lot more to melancholia, apart from dejection and cessation of interest in the outer world. While melancholics introverts, and spend a lot of time with themselves, they are also highly creative and analytical people, who are alive to many feelings and sensations of life. They may be considered loners by the world at large, but they are very strong in the introspection area. They would often be preoccupied or deep in thought. Their minds keep them busy. This is also why, they are spurring up with different ideas and are considered highly creative.
Remember the film, Rockstar where the helping-ego character, tells Jordan, “dard laa gaane mein”. That is Imtiaz Ali’s genius tapping into the subtle nuances of human emotion and creativity. There is libidinal focus on his inner life, and turmoil that is needed, for Jordan’s character to blossom. It is fuelled by pain, and of mourning. Though mourning and melancholy are not the same, they are related. While in mourning we know what has been lost, in melancholy it is the sense that something is lost.
Being highly sensitive and introspective people, they are really in touch with the nuances of their inner lives, and are emotionally available to friends and close folks. Thus, a fair guess would be, that they are self-aware of what they are feeling, many a times. Though that may not always be the case. Sometimes, melancholies can be highly sensitive, because often the emotional radar is turned inward, causing them to over-think a situation, and mull over the details. However, melancholies have the ability to keep their emotions, especially anger locked up inside.
Melancholies are also task-oriented and highly self-motivated individuals. Once they set their mind upon the task, they analyse the situation with careful determination. They like their results to be perfect, and are highly attuned with their tasks and goals. Now we know what sets them apart and motivates them? They are intrinsically motivated, i.e., they find the feeling of completing a task well rewarding enough!
Melancholia is often considered a subset of depression like melancholic depression. However, Julia Kristeva, makes a difference between depression and melancholy, saying that though they are similar, the lines are often blurred. Melancholy is considered to be an emotion of aesthetics, as well as longing, and is thus different from depression.
Freud, made a distinction between persons struck by shame and self reproach, and the melancholic person. He says, often the melancholic’s description of their failures, and inability may not be accurate, that is, the surroundings may actually see them as high achievers. Yet, when they speak, they are giving us an insight into the psychological state. And if any of us were to imagine having a critical eye, telling us part of us has been lost, it would be surely be distressing. Sometimes, melancholic persons can withdraw into themselves, and may feel hesitant to talk about their mood. However, over time, it can be a depilating position to find themselves in.
Like all other problems, talking about melancholy is important, if its long standing presence begins to affect our functioning, and the weight becomes too much to carry. There are many ways of seeking help. You could go to your nearest hospital with mental health facilities and go for a consultation. Second, you could approach a clinical psychologist directly. You could also look for psychotherapists in your area. People also search for melancholic meaning in hindi, mourning meaning in hindi i.e. ‘Udasi’.
If you are not free to travel, and would like to take sessions at your convenience, you could also seek help online. There are many portals offering help over chats, and skype to people at large. This has made mental health facilities, and a listening ear, available and accessible.
At BetterLYF, online counselling options are available over Chat, Call and Video Calls. All counsellors at BetterLYF are trained psychologists with Masters. They are committed to the mental health cause, and helping out the best they can.
Freud- Mourning and Melancholia