Saturday, August 29, 2009

Il Penseroso

Well, I suppose it depends on how you define depression, doesn't it? Melancholy has been called the thinking person's disease, so it does seem that deep thought and the "black bile" go together like peanut butter and chocolate, and in a limited application, it could lead one to find solutions to everyday problems that require extra concentration and willingness to see past surface appearances. But obviously, it doesn't take much for depression to cross over into being debilitating, and one could probably convincingly argue that too much thinking, especially about the big picture as opposed to a specific problem, will lead one to nihilism. All is vanity. Bring on the heat death of the universe.

I don't doubt that if I were to walk into a psychiatrist's office and say, "Hey, here's what I think about things," I'd be classified as moderately depressed at least. I've never taken medication for it, but not out of any strident anti-pharmaceutical principle. I just figure I've managed to make it this far in mostly sound mind and body, and I definitely value the insights I feel I've gained by nature of my saturnine temperament. The trade-off is the fact that a lot of energy gets spent just trying to come up with reasons to get out of bed or do anything besides watch TV and play video games.

I've always thought of it as being comparable to a pair of colored lenses -- when you're depressed, you still see things the same way and in the same relation to each other; it's just as if everything takes on a different hue. What seemed golden and bright before now looks cool and blue. Nothing has essentially changed, it all just strikes you differently.

Several studies have found that expressive writing promotes quicker resolution of depression, and they suggest that this is because depressed people gain greater insight into their problems.

To an extent, yes. You're looking at the proof, even! For a while now, I've been facing the imminent deaths of two loved ones in addition to the slightly longer-term prospect of major upheaval on the employment front, and that of course is in addition to the general weltschmerz any person with general awareness and at least a modicum of intelligence feels. Yet, when I'm able to find the time to write and something to write about, I'm content, at least for a while.

But in my experience, the same applies to music. Writing a song has the same effect, and it's not because it somehow "captures" the way you're feeling, just like how I don't necessarily write about sad topics when I'm feeling that way. Plus, it's not even that writing when you're depressed or frustrated gives you any answers; sometimes, it's more like it gives you the energy to tackle your problems again. I imagine there's just something life-affirming about the act of creativity. It's a small way of shaping order and structure out of chaos. It's a way of gaining a measure of control over your experience, a way of feeling your own power to affect your life instead of feeling helpless and adrift. And it's also the case when appreciating other people's creative output -- experiencing good writing or musicianship can be uplifting, whether or not it has anything to do with whatever's specifically bothering you at the time.

You can force it but it will not come
You can taste it but it will not form
You can crush it but it's always here
You can crush it but it's always near
Chasing you home
"Everything is broken"
"Everyone is broken"

Why can't you forget?
Why can't we forget?