Mannion has written an excellent post about Lincoln’s Melancholy, which is a well-known attribute of the man in question as well as a new book. I haven’t read the book, though I intend to, so I won’t comment much on Lincoln, but instead note that I have a friend just like the friend of his that Mannion describes, a friend who carries with him his own melancholy, which is, in reality, clinical depression.
My friend knows he’s depressed, and he knows I know it, too, but we don’t talk about it. Instead, I make an absolute arse out of myself trying to make him laugh, and revealing my deepest happinesses, such a strangely difficult thing for me to do, in an effort to make him want to feel such happiness down to his bones, too, instead of experiencing things in the detached, worried way he usually does. He worries too much about his children, who are fiercely resilient as most children are, and about whether he will disappoint his friends, especially those who cannot be disappointed—because they know his secret, in spite of the happy-go-lucky guy he pretends to be. He sometimes gets into spirals, where a worry about one thing turns into a worry about the next, and it all muddles up into a ball of frustration that makes him feel he can’t solve any of it, even though most of it will solve itself, if he could ever just give it time.
The thing is, he’s a writer, and there is, of course, a rich tradition of thought (as alluded to with the reference to Styron in Mannion’s post) that depression, and indeed other afflictions and the addictions appropriated to mask them, are the very things that drive an artist’s artistry, and that seriously addressing something like depression may stifle the muse. Would I be as interesting, as thoughtful, as creative, if I weren’t afflicted? It’s a terrible thing to be scared of one’s potential cure, to worry that the cure might be worse than the disease.
I know what it feels like.
My friend’s fear of fixing his depression is recognizable to me, I once hummed the same melody in a different key, stuck as I was for a very long time at a very young age in a place of dangerous darkness. When I stumbled back into the sunlight, all I could think about was wanting to go back into the dark, which was, if nothing else, familiar, and offered circumstances that made being a basketcase acceptable. All I knew how to do was be troubled and tormented, and I wrote very well from that place. I knew myself in that place, because I became an adult there. At 19, I didn’t know if I could ever be happy and healthy and still be interesting.
As it turns out, I could still be interesting (at least to myself, if no one else). It was the happy and healthy part that was tough; there was no pill to help me.
I don’t know that my friend and I will ever talk about these things. I think he knows I’ll listen if he volunteers, and I hope he does, sometime. I would like to tell him that even when the cure has been offered and accepted, the scars of affliction linger. It is a warning, yes—be prepared—and an assurance: You will always be brilliant. The man who inspires me now, even while on the edge of tears, will inspire me still, even if he gets the help he needs, and I find him instead on the edge of a smile.