Melancholy

Lately I have embraced my introverted nature, even so much as to use the term “introvert” as a verb: I’ve had enough socialization for the night. It’s time for me to go introvert for awhile.

I think it works. The word itself and the act of introverting.

Other parts of my nature have been on my mind more recently, though, namely my pessimism (I prefer realism, but few people seem to accept that) and my melancholy. When all three elements are working in sync, I am unbearable to be around. Even I don’t like being around myself when I’m feeling weighed down by all three. Yet I am stuck with me so I have had a lifetime to learn how to tell myself to shut up without getting offended. Other people aren’t so lucky. Most of the time I’m presenting only one of those three (introversion, pessimism, or melancholy) and I’m still not considered to be a fun person. It’s a running joke in my family, how un-fun I can actually be even if I am having an absolutely blast doing whatever it is I’m doing.

Case in point: I was at a Def Leppard concert years ago with my friend Carolina (she, an lovable extrovert, was put on this planet to make people happy). We were both enjoying the show immensely when a group of guys made their way into our tiny space. Carolina had a fabulous time with them, chatting and laughing and singing aloud. I ignored them and retreated into my own headspace. When Carolina went to get a beer and disappeared for 45 minutes, the guys then turned to me to keep them entertained as Carolina had been doing. But little did they know that I am hardly entertaining and after awhile they gave up, asking me “Damn. Where did the fun girl go!?”

Even Sarah Vowell has declared herself to be “not fun”, so I’m in good company there.

I’ve unburied most of this because of an essay I recently read by Susanna Kaysen, a fellow depressive and the author of Girl, Interrupted. When I’ve tried to explain to people that I’m more of a realist than a pessimist, I get confused looks. My interpretation of the world isn’t necessarily that we’re all going to Hell in a handbasket (I don’t believe in Hell, just as I don’t believe in Heaven, but that’s another discussion), but more that I can understand why we might end up there. I have always calculated X, Y, and Z in any situation and most of the time the end result doesn’t look good. When I’m wrong, though, and things end up perfectly fine, I am pleasantly surprised. I’ll find myself reveling in relief. To a constant worrier like myself, relief is a damn good feeling.

An excerpt from “One Cheer for Melancholy” (featured in a collection of essays called Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression):

The transient nature of happiness, beauty, success, and health may come as a shock to the upbeat person but it’s old hat to the depressive. And, I think depressive people have more fun. Human nature being what it is, we enjoy more whatever is hard to get and in short supply. Happiness is certainly both, and nobody knows that better than someone who spends half the time sunk in gloom.

I do believe that happiness is contagious because it is difficult for me to be so woebegone around certain kinds of people. Optimists don’t bother me, but they do wear me out the same way extroverts do. I don’t dislike either of them, just as I don’t want them to dislike me. But I know that some people are born happy, their jovial disposition is sometimes set in their genetic code. I am not one of those people. My genetic code reads differently, riddled with the marks of a worrier and an anxious person who thinks too much.

There is a silver lining here (see, realists – like me! – can see the good in things, too): When an optimist is disappointed, it’s a hard blow. I sometimes wonder if they experience a level of sadness that floods their psyche with more regret or even disillusionment than a pessimist/realist would experience. Most of me thinks so. Part of me worries that an optimist will have to live with emotions with which they’re hardly familiar. Sadness? Sorrow? That careful teetering on the ledge of depression? I’ve got a leg up in this scenario. I live on that ledge, all the time. But being an introverted, depressive pessimist doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy life. I just means that I appreciate it more when I can. That’s my silver lining.

Human nature and its defense mechanisms. Tricky things, they are.

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10 thoughts on “Melancholy

  1. How very synchronistic that you should write a post about introversion and extroversion. During the past week in Fort Myers Beach my family and I talked a lot about the distinctions and my daughter sent this in an email: http://themetapicture.com/how-to-interact-with-the-introverted/ She and my mom are introverts. I am an extrovert that gains energy from being with other people, yet I need a lot of time alone without people. I both like categorizations like these, but wonder if the labels can be too confining sometimes.

    • I love that meme! I agree with you that the labels can sometimes be confining. Introverts and extroverts swap characteristics at times, but draw energy better from opposite sides of the spectrum.

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