When I was in the second grade, I entered and won the school Reflections contest. A blue ribbon and a silver dollar. My story was called The Frost Princess and it was about a land perpetually in summer. The sun was always shining, the flowers were in constant bloom, everyone was perfectly happy. Contrary to what you’d expect, the trees and bees and flowers couldn’t take it anymore. They were exhausted by all the upbeatness of summer. They complained to their local princess, every land has one, and she said she knew of a special princess that could help them out. The Frost Princess. After much begging, the Frost Princess finally came and offered winter to the flowers and the trees. She told them they would die a little bit, that it would be cold and snowy and some of them wouldn’t make it through, but summer was so hot and happy that everyone chose winter. Winter came on all the land and the trees and flowers and grass finally got to rest in the cold, snow-covered ground.
At age 8, I believed that I won because each word (word!) was written in a different magic marker color but now I think I must have struck a nerve with some frazzled Mormon PTA mom, longing for a rest.
I’ve had a wee touch of the melancholy for most of my life. As a kid, I never knew that anyone could be any different. It was a guilt-free, gentle sadness. Around about age 19, I went through a deep religious conversion that made me both happy and pointedly aware that I was a sad one. It morphed into a shameful, burdensome sadness.
In my eyes, the scriptures and Church publications drew up a template of a kind and happy person, friend of Jesus, joyful and forward-looking. While Jesus and I were definitely chummy, I was certain that it was my sadness, my neediness that connected us together. There’s a lot of doctrinal evidence that I was fine being Jesus’ blue follower, but I zoned in on, and hated, my lack of regular good cheer.
I loathed myself for it. I contemplated why I was generally sad and linked it to sin or an unbelieving heart or a congenital spiritual defect. Then my sadness became equivalent to everything I could not accomplish as a Mormon. You’ve got your own list, it’s not that different from mine. The hatred of my sadness finally came to a head at around 25 when I had a major depressive episode.
This was different from the sweet melancholy I had known. I could hardly function, completely apathetic to things I normally loved, even dancing and peanut butter. I had a few paralyzing panic attacks and quit my job and school so other people wouldn’t have to be put out by my depression. I made a suicide plan but didn’t even have the energy to put that in motion. I started on some SSRIs, started talk therapy and after a year of a lot of sleep, I felt a lot better.
That episode was clearly a different beast than my usual feeling blue, but my continued sadness made me edgy for the next few years. Maybe I would head back down again. Maybe I’d have to quit my life again and stop caring about anything. A therapist suggested in the midst of my paranoid planning of my next depressive episode that I look at my sadness in a new way.
We didn’t glorify it. Melancholy didn’t suddenly become the Christ-like attribute that made me better or more thoughtful than other people. It had simply bloated into a feeling more significant than any other part of my humanity, so I had to diet it, let some of the air out. And you know, I learned something that day. I learned to stop caring that I was a little bit sad. I learned that sadness never lasts forever, especially when it feels like it is going to. I learned that I didn’t have to do something to distract myself from the sadness, since it wasn’t loaded with meaning, there was no reason for diversion.
Now that my melancholy is less meaningful, I don’t have to be so depressed about it, and I can finally capitalize on its blue-ribbon, silver-dollar earning capacity.