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“But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud”

Every year, around this time, I get the winter blahs. I can’t stand the cold and gray skies, and it’s hard to concentrate on reading/writing/doing chores (not really much different from any other time when it comes to those chores, I guess!). I just like to crawl under the electric blanket and watch movies. Preferably costume epics and adaptations, like the ones Megan wrote about a few days ago. But this general mopiness made me curious about people in the Regency. Did they ever get tired of the gray skies, the drizzle? Ever think the sun will never come out again?

So, I came across a couple of articles online dealing with “melancholy” in the eighteenth century. It seems there were two types of melancholy–“natural” and “unnatural” (no mention of SAD!). “Natural” was considered to be brought on primarily by a black bile that could be dried up over time. This could be the result of certain foods, such as strong wines (and here I thought wine was the remedy!), and were accompanied by lifestyles that could nourish the condition, such as frequent intoxication and over-indulgence. One treatment, which sounds pretty nice and kind of spa-like to me, was a routine to bring balance between sleep, play, exercise, company, sex, and intellectual pursuits, as well as an attendant to keep the patient from being sad. It was then thought that the black bile could then dissipate, and the patient would return to normal.

The “unnatural” kind, though, was tougher. Maybe even the result of corruption from demons and spirits! (Though this is probably earlier than Regency–I read a great deal about it in Samule Johnson’s work). In this case, the sadness could descend toward manic episodes, fits of rage, and “eventual absolute madness.” So–demons, or maybe living somewhere like Alaska.

Johnson defined hypochndria as a condition that produces melancholy, or an intense fear that led to symptoms of melancholy. One case he documented was a women who thought she had a snake living in her intestines. The doctors showed her a snake they claimed came from said intestines, and she was cured. This sounds more like general craziness than melancholy, though!

All this made me try to remember a romance where characters suffered from depression, or melancholy, or any kind of persistent sadness, and I came up mostly blank. Most romance characters are a pretty perky lot, in general. Has anyone here read a book like that? Any thoughts on what such a story could be like?

And now that I’ve brought everyone down, I’ll sign off! I’m sure I have some movies waiting to be viewed….

p.s. Another very interesting book on this subject is Duncan Salkeld’s “Madness and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare”

In the September issue of The Romance Writers Report, the monthly magazine of The Romance Writers of America) there is an article by Eric Maisel about Beating the Writer’s Blues.

Eric Maisel is a renowned author of 30 books, most about creativity and writing. He’s a psychotherapist, who now confines his practice to creativity coaching. He has an impressive resume and I liked a lot of what he said about dealing with the depressive feelings that often plague writers.

Maisel is careful to advise a medical evaluation for depression that continues or seems severe, and that is good. He acknowledges the existence of depression that his biologically based and the efficacy of antidepressant medication.

Before I became a romance author, I was a mental health therapist in a County mental health program for senior adults. Statistics show that nearly 25 per cent of people over age 60 experience some sort of depression, so I had quite a bit of exposure to depression and its treatment. I am certainly not putting myself forward as an expert on depression but I did have enough experience to develop my own point of view on the subject.

Maisel says: “(Creative people) experience depression simply because we are caught up in a struggle to make life meaningful to us. People for whom meaning is no problem are less likely to experience depression.” Maisel suggests that creative people–writers–are different; their depressions are rooted in “meaning” problems. I just don’t agree with this. I don’t think that writers are “special.” I think we have special skills, the skill of story-telling, but so do mechanics have special skills. I don’t think that only creative people search for the meaning of life.

How can I say that a mechanic does not have problems with the meaning of his life? Why would a mechanic not have a journey similar to the example Maisel gives of an author whose crisis of meaning tumbles him into depression? I’ll bet I could come up with a scenario for a mechanic that would mirror that example. Or a salesclerk. Or a factory worker.

I’m not fond of hearing authors (mostly literary) speak as if their creativity somehow makes them different from the rest of the world. I see that tone a lot in the daily literary quotes that show up on my Google page. On the other hand, I understand this feeling, this need to be special, and to value the skills that are perhaps only shared by a minority of mankind. It’s just that I believe that there are many ways to be special and writing is only one of them. If I were a mechanic, I would hope to feel very proud of my mechanical skills.

In 1946 Viktor Frankl, one of the early thinkers in existential psychology, wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, a work that came from his experiences in a Concentration Camp. Frankl observed that all people search for meaning in their lives, and that even in that hellish, hopeless environment, people still had choices. They could still choose their attitude, how they thought about what they experienced, the meaning they attributed to their life. He quotes Nietzsche’s words, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

So I’m with Frankl. We all search for meaning in our lives.

Nor do I believe that being a creative person, like a writer, means that one is more prone to depression than the general population. I went looking on the internet to see what the current thinking is on this and especially to see what research has found. Apparently some studies link creativity and bipolar illness (manic-depressive illness; one of the depressive illnesses), but there appears to be no clear link between other forms of depression and creativity.

I do suspect that the creative writer is better able–and more likely–to describe his or her experience.

One thing was clear in the articles I read. Treatment enhanced creativity in depressed creative persons. I think it would be a treat to have a creativity coach like Maisel, but, really, a good psychotherapist should be able to help.

I promise I won’t “talk psychology” a lot on this blog but this was a topic I could not resist.

So….what do you think? Do you think that creative persons’ depressions are a crisis of meaning that is different than what other people experience? (Or dare you disagree with Diane???) Do you have any theories or beliefs about depression?

Remember to check out my website which has been updated for September.

And please visit my Unleash Your Story homepage and make a small donation for Cystic Fibrosis. Every little bit will help!

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