Today I’m struggling with melancholy more than usual. Melancholy is different from depression or sadness or grief or any other feeling in that category of unhappy/painful emotions. It’s visceral and lively. It takes over my mind and my heart. My heart aches. I ache excruciatingly, but it’s not for a particular person or thing. It’s more in response to the fullness of life and beauty and sweet things, sweet beautiful meaningful things. All that is good and beautiful and true flooding me can make me feel profoundly melancholic. Why? What is it physically that happens to me when I feel this? Are my thoughts and feelings responses to something initiated biologically? Or is it the other way around? Feeling and thinking and listening make it more pronounced. I have to do something. Something that takes me “out” of myself. Usually I do something mundane like wash the dishes or organize something or read a book. Today I’m letting myself write while I feel this because I want to communicate to others what this is like. I’m sure there are others who feel this. It’s probably more closely related to anxiety than any other diagnosable thing. I think the ancients considered it a type, or sometimes a sickness, or a type who tends toward this sickness. I think today the scientific community simply wouldn’t use the word “melancholia.” They would dissect it for possible biological conditions, most likely finding some kind of deficiencies. Am I simply hungry?
The strange thing (although not at all strange to me) is that I find this such “native territory.” I can remember having this feeling to some degree from the time of my earliest memories. I know sometimes even at age three I would sit on the kitchen floor while Mom was working, and the cats were licking my pajamas, and although I liked being there with Mom, and I liked the cats’ attention, I also was aware of sunbeams falling on the floor and somehow they made me sad; I felt such a strange crux of realities; I felt present and elsewhere; I felt happy and sad; I felt belonging and otherly; I felt tangible understandings and mystery. Of course I didn’t think all those words. I think feeling melancholy comes from hyper-awareness, maybe too much observing while not balancing that with engaging.
So why am I writing this in this particular blog? Does feeling melancholy having anything to do with having experienced abuse? I don’t think it does necessarily or directly since I can remember feeling it even when my circumstances were fairly idyllic. But I think being someone who is prone to melancholy is probably more vulnerable — more vulnerable to anything, including abuse. I think that’s the essential requisite for experiencing melancholy: no borders or shields between sense of self and sense of context.
Sometimes I feel so full of feeling, I feel like I need to vomit. Except that it’s not like when you’re sick and might actually need to vomit. It’s more like when you drink a really sweet and thick milkshake too fast and your throat feels so full that you almost gag. So often I find myself describing my extreme emotions in terms of digestive issues! Hmm.
Is this helping me to describe this feeling? I don’t know. I hope that if anyone reads this who has felt this might take a little comfort in knowing you’re not isolated. Any type of feeling of being overwhelmed can make us feel helpless and isolated. But this too shall pass. I won’t say “this is just a feeling” because it is also bodily discomfort and it engages a type of perspective. But I can say with certainty this feeling of Melancholy is not your Author or Lord or sum-total of your Being or your Destiny; it’s just one of the arrows in your emotional/psychological quiver.
Another thing I find that helps me when I feel overwhelmed with Melancholy is to breathe more deeply. I too often find myself holding my breath. And I can hold my breath for “too long” — that’s an artifact from having been an oboist. I remember doing exercises with my oboe teacher and achieving the capacity to exhale for over four minutes. Exhale!
What prayer helps me when I feel this? Lord-God have mercy on me for I am but dust. Jesu juva; soli Deo gloria. Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison. Jesus, hold me!
Imagining the Spirit holding me in something like a spiritual Dew-Drop helps me greatly. Like my spirit is in the amniotic sac of my Creator-Who-Births-Me.
Abba! Papa-Mama-Lord! Save me!
I think some might say I’m having “liminal” experiences. They might be correct. But while I’m experiencing this, what does it matter what it’s called or how it’s analysed? The whole essence of this is complete immersion in sensing, feeling, communing.
That’s a helpful point for me. When I’m celebrating/ receiving the Eucharist, I feel this intensity of openness and vulnerability yet without pain. Hmm. What does this teach me? I need Jesus to transport me through these “waters.”
Well, dear Reader, do you experience Melancholy? Care to share any of your experience with me? Did any of my ramblings give you insights or comfort?