This is a rather old fashioned word for “low spirits.” It’s sometimes used as a synonym for depression. It’s not my intent to discuss depression at this time. Melancholy is, in my experience, a milder, temporary condition. Like depression, it can come on suddenly and inexplicably.
You may wake up with a sense of unease. It feels as though all is not right with your world, even though nothing changed since you went to sleep the night before. This feeling is disorienting. It can slow you down (or trip you up) as you try to get into your day and do what needs to be done. You may feel like you’re not yourself.
We can get away with feeling like someone else for a while but eventually Melancholy will clue us in that something is troubling our psyche (if looking in the mirror doesn’t do it).
In an ideal world, you could put your life on hold to care for your emotional self. That’s not possible for most people. What you can do is tell yourself you’ll set aside time to pay attention to what’s going on inside as soon as possible. This may be on your lunch break or after work or during an unexpected lull. Melancholy will affect your ability to be engaged with people and with whatever it is that shapes your day. While you push it aside, it may be setting up housekeeping in your psyche.
In my experience, Melancholy most often involves things from the past intruding on your present. This can range from the benign feeling called nostalgia to a strong desire to have things be as they once were in an “easier” time. Unresolved grief is almost always an element of Melancholy. Grief can linger for a person, an animal, a job, a locale, or a way of life. Moving on in life is disorienting, even if it’s a good move, and we’re often too busy to address our feelings around it.
These feelings will be triggered unexpectedly until we process whatever is unresolved and integrate the past into our present. A persistent feeling that we are “not ourselves” is one of the clues that we haven’t achieved this integration.
Melancholy is a sign that we’re getting lost in “the story of me” in a way that’s not working well for us. A good first step to lead us out of this is to ground ourselves by reflecting on something enduring (see Resilience).
If we don’t feel confident sorting things out ourselves, we can consider looking at our past together with a trusted friend or counselor. That may involve taking it apart, shining some light on it, and putting it back together with new insight.
This pause to integrate is much healthier than ignoring how we feel and charging ahead. We wouldn’t want someone else to run roughshod over our emotions so why do it to ourselves? Use the signal of Melancholy to take a time out before what’s stirred up inside leads to the more serious condition of Depression.