For me, life seems to exist in an elongated middle, a never-ending in-between, resting precariously between the bitter and the sweet.
For almost as long as I can remember I’ve waltzed through my days with depression as my dance partner. Even in the best of times she remains, silently swaying next to me. And, perhaps nearly all of my endeavors have been an attempt to come to terms with her ever-present being. I’ve thrown myself into careers. Devoted myself deeply to academic pursuits. I’ve seen a counselor, tried meditation, all in a vain effort to make her go away. She ebbs, she flows, and yet still she sways. Art, music, poetry, and literature have been and continue to be the best ways I’ve found to find some comfort and enjoyment in the darkened dance; the only ways I know in which to try to make her my friend.
In his novel, High Fidelity, Nick Hornby poses the question: “What came first, the music or the misery? Did I listen to music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to music?” In the same way, I could ask: did I get into art because I was depressed? Or was I depressed because I got into art? It’s hard to say really. The shadow of this woeful dancing queen called depression stretches far, but so too does the memory of creative drive.
I’ve been rather relentless in my pursuit of a remedy but, the one thing I haven’t done is medicate. I have no moral opposition against antidepressants, and I certainly don’t fault anyone for taking them. If we are honest we all exist in that elongated middle-distance. As Eric G. Wilson says “all creatures are a melding of grandeur and gloom” and “our task is somehow”, to the best of our abilities find our own ways “to stay strong in the middle”. If medication has granted you access to some strength for the daily in-between-ness of your existence, then by all means, please, please continue to take it. Take what measures of necessary support you are afforded and dance on, fuck anyone who judges you.
I have only one reason for not taking a medicinal approach to my disproportionate and discordant disco with depression; I’m afraid. I’m afraid that the medicine might actually work.
Eric Wilson describes melancholia not as “a sickness” but, instead as “a sign of intellectual grace” that allows the “sorrowful thinkers” to “delve into the crepuscular continuum between clarity and clarity”, to explore the “edges, circumferences, and fringes” where things “reveal their deepest mysteries: their blurred identities, their relationships to opposites, their tortured duplicities.” Simialrly, John O’ Donohue writes that “There is an inner depth and texture to darkness that we never notice until we have to negotiate the absence of light.” This darkness has, indeed, provided me with a counter-intuitive degree of intellectual clarity. This oppressive shroud, the weight of which keeps me bent low, has provided me with a vantage to better see the connections and juxtapositions between the cracks and jagged edges of things that appear unrelated. I fear what would happen if I became fully unburdened by the weight of the black bile, and if the dark was scorched away by the piercing luminosity of the light.
My mind’s eye has adjusted to the brooding haze of melancholy with such exacting and incisive precision that I’m afraid my creative senses would be rendered dull, useless and ineffective without it. I’m afraid that I would be more blinded by the shimmering brightness of the day than by the cavernous void of the night.
I worry that I have become chemically dependent on the imbalanced and disordered chemicals of my neurology. And, I wonder if the calamitous pitch and shadow of this lingering and obtrusive sadness is so deeply embedded and intertwined with my artistry that it has actually become my creative catalyst, without which I could create nothing. When the pill dissolves, and the misery fades, will the music fade away too?
Joni Mitchell said that if you “chase away the demons, they will take the angels with them”. I fear that somewhere in this dance, depression became my muse, and if she goes, the work goes too. Or, could it be that they have always been one and the same? I don’t know for sure, but there does seem to be an unmistakable symmetry.
Over the past six months I have found myself at my lowest and darkest, and yet my creative work has never been more focused. My output is consistent and almost unprecedented. I can see exponential improvements in skill and quality, as my techniques, tools, and abilities become increasing refined and fine-tuned. To put it it simply, I am happy with my art, which is really saying a lot for me.
At the same time, I have never been more lonely, more isolated, more closed off, more cold, more incapable of human interaction and human connection. I have never been more hopeless and despondent. Nothing in me wants to go on. Tomorrow feels like a fate worse than death and taxes combined. Where once I was able to say that my present circumstances were “just how it is right now”, I now think “this is how it is always going to be”. Not only do I no longer see any hope on the horizon, I no longer see the horizon at all.
Perhaps, a new and more pernicious question is emerging: is the misery simply the cost of the music?