Melancholy by Edvard Munch

Confessions of a Melancholy Junkie

Earlier this year, my life coach introduced to me the Enneagram. If you’re not familiar with the Enneagram, it’s a sort of personality typing tool, with incredible depth. Not akin to one of those Buzzfeed “which Golden Girl are you?” quizzies, as intriguing as those can be.

After taking the initial Enneagram typing test and digging through the various, nine types, it seemed that Type 4, The Individualist, most resonated with my experience and past and present behavior.

At an unhealthy level, the Type 4 uses their imagination to stir up emotions within. The desire is to feel something and feel it with intensity. The driving force is that if I feel something, especially emotions that allow me to feel true to myself, my super ego/Inner Critic will be pleased and reward me.

As far back as high school, I remember telling people that sadness is the most authentic human emotion. In sadness, everything else is stripped away and we are in a state of incredible vulnerability. Sort of like being at the end of our rope. To me, it’s always felt authentic. Tears are a sign of authenticity and “being real”.

Even in high school, I remember listening to specific songs (cue Dashboard Confessionals), that would whip up and evoke feelings of loss and hopelessness. Much of the time, I’d cry and bask in that space of “woe is life”. Life As A House was another movie I’d watch because it was so heart-wrenching. Again and again, I’d come back to these pieces of art, hitting on the bong of melancholy.

Fast forward almost 12 years later (I’m now 30) and I’ve come to realize that I’ve been a sort of melancholy junkie. After seeing Wicked recently, there was one song I’d listen to in private, over and over again, whipping up emotions that take me into the depths of sadness.

The strange thing is that while these habits sometimes swerve into depressive bouts, other times they are simply cathartic and make me feel incredibly connected to the human experience. But it also cheapens suffering. There are billions of people in this world suffering through incredibly traumatic experiences and I create this faux suffering moment that pretends to identify with the depths of suffering. Looking at it now, with more honesty, it seems pretty self-indulgent and shallow. Yet, I try not to judge it!

The work I’m now pursuing more consciously is what if I gave joy an equal footing with melancholy? What would it look like for me to swing in the other direction? At first, indulging in joy or feeling joy at all feels a little forced and fake. Like those people you see smiling, ear to ear all of the time. Sort of plastic and unmovable.

A part of me is suspicious of happiness and joy. A sort of Eeyore meets Charlie Brown view of life. Yet, I’m eager to go down this path of joy-seeking. What might I encounter along the way? How might my life shift as I let go of my melancholy junkie tendencies? I want to bask in joy. To let the light of joyfulness shine upon me. It’s time to set aside forced melancholy for a bit and simply see what happens on the journey to joy.