what the sun does warm,
is only external –
the surface of rocks upon which
i slither –
a falling forwards,
a call hither which i can only
respond to with –
weak movements, half hearted
as what could i commit this hear too?
i find solace,
in closed eye reverie,
and detachment through ink
splashed upon the blank page
a single line of text which
does compensate –
rather than the nauseating
surge of all as a wave ,
constantly crashing upon my mental shore
and above all of this –
an agnostic hope, that there is
– phil krell
“What word would you use to describe your mood?”
“Interesting, that’s not what I would think from just glancing at you.”
“I know… which maybe adds to the melancholy – that constant struggle of balancing how I feel inside and how I need to portray myself in order to cope in this world.”
“I get that.”
“Yeah – sometimes people read my poems and say ‘hey man, that’s a sweet poem’ and in my head I’m thinking – they have no idea how much i cried over those words, they have no idea how many nights I couldn’t sleep until I was able to write down those deep, sorrowful moments.”
“Exactly! And we’re caught in this struggle of wanting to express ourselves but not knowing exactly how or even what other people will accept.”
“Right, so if you could act how you feel most of the time, what would that look like?”
“mmm, ha, well I would cry a lot more… and I would write a lot… and I wouldn’t talk to as many people.”
“But I can’t do that because… you know work and stuff.”
“haha right, okay, give me a moment.”
This conversation led to the above poem. On a weekend trip in Asheville, NC I met a traveling poet. He had set his typewriter up on the sidewalk, sat cross legged behind it, with a sign propped up saying “Poet for hire.” When I approached him he was reading Emerson, and then he was engaged in a conversation with another traveler about the philosophy of nihilism and Pablo Neruda’s contribution to his inspiration. I was both entranced and terrified. I was desperate to ask this man to write a poem for me, and I was simultaneously frightened of two possibilities. I was scared he would write words so true they would sting, words I didn’t want to hear about my insecurities or weaknesses, and I was just as afraid his work would be disappointing – some paltry attempt at rhyming on a typewriter with words just long enough to be considered eloquent. Nevertheless, I was determined to be brave and try something new – so I walked a block and a half in a strange city to find an ATM, withdrew a crisp $20, and went back to the poet on the street. Our conversation could not have been farther from what I was expecting. His refreshing honesty, his instantaneous acceptance, his very self was so against what I had preconceived in my head. As I sat on the cold, dirty sidewalk and listened to his typewriter clack away a medley of words, I thought – how brave this man must be. I had just told a man who writes poems on the streets for money that I don’t express myself freely because I have a job. I laughed at the irony, and also silently thanked him for not judging me. He typed, paused, typed some more, then read the above poem. Surprisingly, I didn’t cry, I was in so much awe that he captured the essence of how i feel day to day – without making it sound despairing or overly dramatic. I feel the sun’s warmth along with the overwhelming sensations in our modern world – sound, news, noise, busy – sometimes it is too much. Eyes have to be closed, deep breaths have to be taken, just to carry on.
And there is always hope. Perhaps my favourite word, in his poem and in the spoken tongue, melancholy does not mean void of Hope.
Later that Saturday evening, a friend asked “Are you okay being melancholy?” there was no preface of “Wouldn’t you rather be happy? Cheerful? Sanguine? Choleric?” No, just – are you okay?
My answer was a brief version of this. Yes, I am okay with being melancholy. Was I always okay? No.
Last spring I had renewed my prescription for sertraline, a run of the mill antidepressant. It would have been six years since I had started taking that little blue oval if I had finished that script. I didn’t. Now, I have nothing against sertraline or medical mood stabilizers. If my high school counselor had not been able to prescribe something for me I would have spent my junior and senior year in an insomniac state. If my university did not have a nurse practitioner who was encouraging and supportive of the medicine I doubt I would have made it through nursing school. It helped me sleep, it helped me focus, it helped my mind sift through what was important to think about and what could be discarded. It did not, however, help me feel. While previously my emotions had run from one extreme to the next, sertraline kept them steadily muddled in the middle. No outburst of joy, no breakdown of sorrow, no overwhelming anxiety. No reason to feel alive.
So I stopped taking them. I asked my nurse practitioner at the time to help me lower my dose (as a nurse I have to emphasize you cannot stop these things cold turkey, it can be extremely hazardous to your well being) and after a few weeks my mornings were sertraline free. I cried every single day for a month. Of course, this a week after graduation, three months before getting married, and most of my friends were moving away but I was so relieved to cry about all of it. I had been so afraid of feeling I forgot how it helps one process life. When one of my closest university friend moved with her husband, I sobbed and sobbed, and it was good! It proved I had cared, I had worked for strong relationships and they were true. When I got married, I cried for six days. I cried for the sanctity of the choice we had just made, I cried for the grace the Lord had given us – to find a friend and lover all in one. I cried that my family wouldn’t see our first few months of marriage, I cried that we were alone in this journey. I wrote morose poetry, I spent hours reading, I gave myself time to feel all that had changed, all that needed to be felt. And it was all good.
Being happy isn’t equivalent to being content. For so long I believed this. I believed if I was not always deeply happy, ready to laugh and giggle and engage in frivolity I would be seen as stiff, depressed, or just plain wrong. I was afraid people would doubt my faith if they knew I didn’t always feel like singing songs of praise. I don’t know where these assumptions came from – unless they were residue of past remarks. If you’re prone to feeling blue I’m sure you know the cringe worthy phrases “Smile, you’ll feel better!” or “How can you be sad? You’re a believer aren’t you?” Oh, how that last one grates on me. How can we not be sad as believers? As we look around the world and see how far we have fallen from Eden? How can we not mourn our own sin and see His Grace with a reverence that brings us to our knees? How can we not weep for those who do not have our hope in an eternity? And how… how if we know the intricacy with which God created us can we ignore the deep wells of emotions He has given us? Did He make us to be expressionless? Stone faced and somber or with consistent painted smiles? Or did He makes us to feel the spectrum of humanity – and show it all when needed?
I’m no expert on this. I am trying to be more upfront with myself, with my emotions, and with others. Brave melancholy, to me, means knowing what you feel, knowing how to express it, and not being afraid. Brave melancholy means knowing that not everyone feels the same way you do. Some people are indeed continuously happy, rejoice with them. Do not slight people because they don’t feel the same way you do – what humanity would that show? Brave melancholy means I am able to recognize it, feel it, express it, and leave it there. Leaving it is easier said than done. On many days my own melancholy overwhelms me. I have days where I think maybe Sylvia Plath knew what she was doing, maybe that’s the only way. Those are bad days. Those are the days I forget the deep set hope in my heart. The Hope we share with other believers. The hope that this world has much to mourn, and much to rejoice. This world, this temporary residence of our corporeal bodies, is not the home of our tender hearts. No, they are with Him, where weeping is only from joy.
Don’t be afraid of your own heart. Be afraid of stifling yourself in a box prefabricated for you by strangers. I wish I had the words to say all I want on this matter – there is so much more to be written. But I’m at a loss. So I’ll end it the same way it began, a poem, written by a man, about the raw sensitivity of simply feeling human.
‘keep being sensitive.’
the mountains tell me.
‘keep being sensitive,’
a forgotten art.
– Christopher Poindexter