With the blues June Callwood’s series on the passions that rule us returns to the master emotion she started with —love. For the blues begin in an infant who feels he is not loved enough, and throughout life return when we love ourselves too little
THE BLUES, whether they last an afternoon because the picnic is rained out, or through thirty years of desperate loneliness, are the emotions which lean man toward death. They crush vitality and turn the sun black; they happen to everyone.
Melancholia is the state of man when he has fallen below his own expectations. It can be brought on by a financial setback, a death, or just a wounding silence. Some people recover their tranquillity after an interval — a minute, a year — and others are stricken forever. Depression is the emotional equivalent of quitting. It has a harsh effect on the body and accelerates aging.
Some people, including many of the world’s greatest figures, have a constant tone of melancholy that makes them appear tender to their fellow men. Aristotle noted twenty-three hundred years ago that poets, philosophers, politicians and artists “appear to be all of a melancholy temperament.” Jesus C'hrist was lacerated by sadness and Abraham Lincoln endured so much depression that he sometimes was close to insanity. It was known as “the English malady" in the days when Charles Dickens wept with it.
Many people have one appalling black period in their lives from which they emerge so strengthened that they are immunized. William James, Harvard’s most brilliant professor in the nineteenth century, suffered a breakdown in his mid-thirties and later wrote, “No man is psychologically complete unless he has at least once in his lifetime meditated on selfdestruction.”
Depressions are the bass notes in a lifetime, bal-
ancing periods for introspection and assessment. Teen-agers couldn't mature without them, middleage can't avoid them and they afflict most of the aged. They also accompany illnesses and most human excesses, especially alcohol, but even sunburn. Babies arc particularly susceptible: psychotic states of depression can occur in three-month-old infants.
Despite the fact that the clinical details of depression were outlined in 400 B.C. by the father of medicine, Hippocrates, only in recent years have the behavior scientists attempted to discover why some people arc sadder than others.
A prevailing mood of depression, it appears, is directly related to a certain kind of early childhood. A conference on depression in 1959 at McGill University, attended by psychiatrists from all over the W'orld, found agreement that the classic pattern for frequent depression is to have been welcomed warmly as an infant and then, around the age of one, to be required to be obedient to every command.
Mothers who impose this stiff and unrealistically early discipline on their toddlers tend to be domineering, exacting perfectionists, who are themselves subject to fluctuating moods. From the baby's point of view', he was born into a marvelous world which is taken from him suddenly because he was unw'orthy. Anxious to recover his blissful state, he strives gamely to measure up to his mother’s demands. Since they arc beyond his power, he feels himself a thorough failure. Before he is two he is certain he is distasteful, and the conviction may last all his life.
This method of child-raising is most common in the North American middle class who delight in showing off starched, polite tots. It is commonest still in the firstborn of the family, who is a living testing ground for all the unreasonable standards new parents can invent. Such indoctrination results in adults w'ho are excessively ingratiating, because they can't bear any ill opinion. The women are meticulous highly organized housewives and mothers, who require model behavior from their own children and thus perpetuate their own flaw. The men are fastidious, punctual, conscientious, driving workers, straining beyond their capacities.
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Almost two thousand years ago the scientist Aretaeus described the melancholy as religious, guilt-ridden, sacrificing. In recent years doctors have decided he was right. Robert (). Jones, professor of psychiatry at Dalhousie University, Halifax, informed the McGill conference that his practice is in a community with a Scottish Calvinistic background, “a population which produces many depressions.”
Gross over-development of the conscience is so typical of melancholia that one English psychiatrist, Edward Glover, has been urging—luckily with little success—that doctors refer to it as "chronic hyperplasia (overgrowth) of the superego (conscience).”
A more comprehensible definition of depression is "a complete or partial loss of self-esteem.” Ibis describes the distraught one-year-old who can't please his mother, but it can happen even sooner. Newborn babies, being without perspective, are acutely vulnerable to any slur on their importance. An infant derives his concept of his own value from the loyalty and kindness of the woman who tends him. If she is indifferent or harried, or if the baby is in an understaffed institution, he concludes that he is repulsive. Such babies don't thrive.
There is some evidence that human beings become resistant to an unnatural proportion of depression in their natures if they have been respected and fondled throughout their first three years. C hildren under this age suffer drastic depression if they are separated from their homes for some reason such as hospitalization. They become withdrawn, seem to be in a dazed stupor, sleep poorly and lose weight. After the age of three, they are forlorn when separated but. clearly, are not in a state that will jeopardize their mental health.
The pessimist philosopher Schopenhauer was the victim of a mother who hated him so much she pushed him down a flight of stairs. He once wrote, ‘The only honest wish man can have is that of absolute annihilation.” Lord Byron’s mother treated him viciously and left him permanently morose.
The entertainment business is particularly attractive to the melancholy. Comedians and clowns, especially, are very often depressed individuals trying to warm their limp confidence in the flattery of laughter. Jack Benny, for instance, can t shake loneliness: neither can Red Skelton and Shelley Berman. All of them had mothers with little time for them. Actors, actresses, athletes, writers and teachers often seek in popularity the sense ot worthiness they missed when young.
Freud believed that the feeling of inferiority that weighs down the mel-
ancholy is essentially the fear of being unloved, of being unlovable. Depression in adults evolves into a complexity of emotions: hatred and anger against the inadequate self, fear of loneliness and disapproval, guilt over failure, an infantile greed for attention, envy of the happy. The chronically depressed never win their own full approval since they missed the knack of it when it was being hamled around—during their first three years of life.
Few people, however, are unrelentingly depressed, at least until their very old age. The least depressed time of life is around the age of ten, but after this depression flickers in and out of every normal lifetime. The adolescent years when the child falters in his new adult body are depressionprone. So too are the years of massive rumbling and settling, early in a marriage or new job. Goethe has written sympathetically about the gloom of youth "that hurls itself madly against the windmills and evils of the world, and sadly sheds its Utopias and ideals with every year.”
Partly because of the sense of strangeness it provokes, glandular change in the body often stirs up depression. Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable, and they go through the same churning again in the postnatal period.
The blues “arise from within”
The middle years are breeding grounds for depression because attractiveness and sexual potency are diminishing, the children have growm and gone, the piper who played for young folly must be paid and dreams relabeled foolishness and abandoned. Both sexes experience a menopause and their bodies are strange: soft, thick, slow. In old age the capacity to experience pleasure decreases. Almost every excitement or emotional shock sets off depression; eventually, in those with shallow emotional resources, the attacks merge and become perpetual.
The sad drooping mask of tragedy isn't the only expression that depression wears. Teen-agers, for instance, show their mood by a remote and closed attitude only rarely. More often they are sarcastic and cheerful. One indication of their underlying sadness is when they attend to important matters languorously, but get intensely excited over a triviality. Other signposts are overwhelming fatigue and a gimlet pursuit of newness.
Adults sometimes conceal their depression under a barrage of hearty gaiety, hoping to distract their misery by reeling off jokes and protesting noisily when the party breaks up. Since depression fattens on exhaustion, theirs is a losing technique.
A small study of depression by a Durham University professor revealed that the depression of women was triggered most often by bereavement, then by domestic stress, childbirth and pregnancy, and the severance of close ties such as children leaving home. Men are most often depressed by illness or their dread of illness.
The majority of depressions are what doctors term endogenous, or arising from within the personality. They range from the grinding black-
ness of middle-age depression to momentary free-floating wisps of discontent that render Beethoven and poetry more poignant. The other category of depression, exogenous ones resulting from a sorrowful circumstance such as a death, a home burning down or a broken love affair, are infinitely easier to understand. Most of these follow a worn pattern — numbness, then heavy grief and a long period of sadness that diminishes imperceptibly until it eases, six months to a year later, into a nostalgia that makes cosy company.
The first stages of grief have little in common with the blurred despair of a depressive mood. The strong, wrenching emotion that follows a disaster is a form of energy which is curiously pleasurable when released by screaming and weeping. Psychologists find enduring wisdom in the ancient Hebraic caution. “Do not hasten to rid a friend of his grief." Lamenting is a valuable restorative and accomplishes in a few days what costs the stoics months of dry-eyed anguish.
Sorrow inhibits the muscles, generating a feeling of lassitude. The head droops and the face sags, heavylidded. The voice is weak and thin and, because of the impoverished blood supply, there is pallor and shivering. Sometimes the chest muscles are so constricted there is a sensation of smothering, relieved by deep breathing and sighs. Dull-wittedness prevails and the urge to sleep is constant.
The contemporary French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, has a theory that all this is a scheme, hatched deep below the conscious mind, to avoid facing the emptier existence. All emotions, according to his theory, are attempts to change the world. The fainting indLiced by fear, for example, effectively eradicates one’s consciousness of danger. By “lowering the flame of life to a pinpoint,” the grieving achieve a state in which they cannot be expected to cope with their disorganized lives.
Whatever the blues are, nature will not endure the results for long before turning up the flame imperiously. Appetite makes an indecently early return, routine reasserts itself unfeelingly, curiosity perks up and the body, dragging its soul a little, begins a new pattern around the vacuum.
Studies of those who mourn unnaturally long show some striking features. In some cases, the despondency continues and even worsens unto suicide because of an over-heavy investment of self in the lost person or thing. People whose sense of selfvalue in the world is so flimsy that only one prop holds it up are setups for a crippling depression. They depend perilously on a dog which may be killed by a car, or a mate who is mortal, or an only child who may marry, or a position of preening authority which is subject to change. Investigations of the suicides that followed the 1929 stock market crash revealed that the men who killed themselves drew little comfort from their families and friends, but only from their money. With it gone, they were emotionally bankrupt.
Mourning normally is tormented by stabbings of guilt, since no human relationship is unblemished, but re-
search shows that abnormal mourning sometimes owes its longevity to an imbalance of guilt. In cases where feelings were thickly ambivalent with love and hate, the tone of the ensuing grief is one of remorse, a sticky substance that doesn't wear off readily.
Many experts believe that life-long wakes, such as Queen Victoria's over Albert, or Dickens' Miss Havisham's over being jilted, are glorious embracements of the first appropriate excuse to enjoy a long-postponed soak in misery. Prevented by their puritanical consciences from sinking into moroseness any sooner, many reveal their true melancholic natures by seizing avidly on the first opportunity to suffer without censure — and they are rekictant to recover.
Oddly, the Christian religion — devised by Christ to be based squarely on love—is rarely interpreted so as to help the depressed. It has, in fact, the opposite effect, duplicating the classic conditions for fostering melancholy — the original Garden of Eden enchantment. followed by everlasting sinfulness, degradation and inability to measure up to a requirement for perfection. The harsher branches of the faith produce a quantity of selfloathing and guilt which must be born with masochistic fortitude.
Why men more often suicide
Long-term depression is an aging emotion. Blood vessels become constricted and the heart rate slows, so that even grieving infants have dry, withered skin. The poor flow of blood results in headaches, constipation, unending tiredness, sleeplessness, backache, poor ability to concentrate or remember, giddiness and sour digestion. The distinguished Danish physiologist Carl Lange commented, “There can be little doubt that continuous sorrow may have an atrophying effect upon the internal organs. Sorrowful persons have the appearance of senility.”
Depression eventually produces a variety of real illnesses, among them asthma, colitis, diabetes and tuberculosis. The noted United States psychiatrist Karl Menninger observed about tuberculosis, “It is, after all, a graceful way to destroy oneself.”
Many depressed people prefer a shortcut. There are nearly four known suicides every day in Canada; the real total is undoubtedly higher. Young mothers who suicide are a particular problem. They are more likely than fathers arc to murder their children first, considering them an extension of themselves. Dramatic suicides, such as those over Niagara Falls, tease those who have been brooding about death to follow promptly. A Japanese girl who jumped into a volcano in 1933 received a great deal of newspaper attention. The following year saw the volcano a favored tourist spot: three hundred and fifty people subsequently suicided there and more than a thousand other attempts were thwarted.
Men are more likely to suicide than women. The incidence of male suicides between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four is nineteen per hundred thousand of population; for women, eight per hundred thousand. In their late sixties and early seventies men suicide at the rate of sixty-two
per hundred thousand, women still eight per hundred thousand.
"By simple mathematics,” commented writers Lillian E. Smith and Paula Sneiling. "the sex that has to spend nine months in the begetting of each human being would have less time to devote to the service of death, w'ere it equally inclined, than has the sex of whom nine minutes are required.”
Excepting those that follow a trag-, edy, all depressions start w'ith unusual snappishness and inexplicable fatigue, and a mood of self-dislike. Despite the tiredness, sleeping is difficult; the victim usually w'akens hours before dawn and reviews his failures. The next stage is one of physical complaints, mostly headaches, loss of sexual desire, dry mouth, aching bones and muscles, w-cight loss.
Usually depression wears off of its own accord and is forgotten. However. if the stress level in the person's life is too high, the depression may worsen. Hypochondriac fears begin and methods of suicide are considered. It's time to see a doctor; depression is the easiest of all mankind’s emotional ailments to treat. One woman who attempted suicide on Christmas Day and was committed to a mental hospital was back at her desk six weeks later, her poise and good sense restored. Pills, shock and therapy make short work of severe melancholia.
Sorrow over a recent bereavement is an all-over pain that doctors cannot help. The Chinese have a story about a woman w'ho asked Buddha to restore her dead child and he agreed, if the woman would bring him some grains of mustard seed from a plant growing in the yard of a home to w'hich death had never come. The woman returned to Buddha empty-
handed and resigned to her loss.
A United States clergyman. Charles Francis Potter, wrote about his parish in Edmonton during the First World War. That city sent more than a thousand Princess Pats to the front and a few weeks later only sixty-five were left. Mr. Potter found a widow in his congregation who had “triumphed over her grief" and sent the next bereaved woman to her. Eventually he had a group who were capable of consoling others and one another.
Cicero said. "There is no grief which time does not lessen and soften." It’s true, except in the cases ot griet for the death in babyhood ot one's self-esteem. Such sadness doesn't disappear spontaneously, and is difficult to root out. Thousands have silently and doggedly succeeded by abandoning the hopeless pursuit of praise, meaningless popularity, false honors. Noting that they are incapable of increasing their self-approval by such means, they force themselves to
become sympathetic, considerate, tactful and loving toward others. It's uphill work for the desolate, a private act of courage, but ultimately it provides a victory of real splendor.
The philosopher Immanuel Kant was one of many who believed a firsthand knowledge of melancholy is an indispensable requisite of maturing. A man who has known sadness, he wrote, "values himself and regards every human being as a creature w ho merits respect." ★