Memoir and Melancholy: A Perfect Pair

despair, hope

We memoirists might look like gluttons for punishment, because writing about real life hurts, and no one makes us write but ourselves. But for many of us, writing about real life is just an extension of our “Perfect Melancholy” personalities; we write about our lives because we have to do something with all that self-analysis happening in our heads.

I’ve been reading Personality Plus by Florence Littauer, and the author’s description of my Melancholy personality hits home more than other personality tests or training I’ve taken. Other tests labeled my personality in less negative terms— Analyzer or Empathizer, for instance. But Melancholy cuts right to the chase. It describes me to an M.

The evidence is overwhelming—I am introspective, moody, artistic, and depression prone—and the personality test was indisputable. I am Melancholy through and through. True to Littauer’s description, I have been saddened by a small thing to which other personalities wouldn’t give a thought (the label of my personality); and more introspection is the result. I want another personality. I don’t want to have to work so hard to be happy. I don’t want to be Melancholy.

People who study personalities have long observed that artists and writers are commonly Melancholies, as opposed to Sanguines, Cholerics, or Phlegmatics, and this could be good or bad, depending on where you stand.

If you’re the one consuming the art, Perfect Melancholy is great: its existence enriches our culture by providing life-enriching and thought-provoking art.

If you’re the one providing the art, or struggling with “genius” tendencies (Littauer’s word, not mine) that you have trouble harnessing, Perfect Melancholy can be excruciating. Littauer notes that while Melancholies have the highest potential for achievement, they also experience the “highest highs and the lowest lows.” To my Melancholy-colored glasses, this data forces me into a dilemma that’s definitely false, but that seems so real: Would I rather be a “genius” (in writing), or be happy?

The Misery of Memoir

For much of my life, pursuing my art meant misery. All I could write about was my life; and my life, for a good chunk, was sad. Why didn’t I pick another topic, a happier topic, to write about? I go back to the personalities. Melancholy couldn’t get its mind off itself. I was trying to process hard things in my life, and as a writer, I naturally processed through writing.

Because it didn’t yet feel safe to talk about some of those sad things, I especially needed writing as an outlet. I had a strange relationship with writing, though. On the one hand, I felt like I needed to write to survive. On the other hand, what came out of my pen felt like it might kill me.

For almost ten years I would waffle on writing my story—I mean writing it for an audience as opposed to venting in journals. Typically here’s how it would go: I get the desire to write, I pull out old journals for inspiration, I spend a few hours working with the material, and I end up in a pool of tears because it hurts so much, followed by a crumpled heap in my husband’s arms because I am not ready to confront all the emotions these memories bring up. Then, I stuff the emotions, the memories, and my writing aspirations for another few months or years, only to repeat the process again and again.

Melancholies Can Write Happy Endings Too

This blog has borne witness to some of the healing process that finally got me writing again…and writing not only with sadness, but with gladness. God gave my story a happy ending. He not only redirected some of my worst circumstances, but he redirected my mind.

Now, even when more bad circumstances arise—which they inevitably do from time to time—I don’t have to give in to Melancholy. I don’t have to collapse in despair because “that’s just the way things are, and that’s just the way I am.”

God’s Word gives me a more accurate measure of how things really are, and how I really am. You might say he gives me a better personality test, or the ultimate Truth meter:

Though outwardly I am wasting away, yet inwardly I am being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16).

The sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in me (Rom. 8:18).

If I wait on the Lord, he will strengthen me (Ps. 27:14); Isa. 40:31).

I can learn to be content in whatever state I’m in, knowing that God will supply all my needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:11, 19).

He will keep me in perfect peace if my mind is fixed on him (Isa. 26:3).

I can remember that weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Ps. 30:5).

And I can be confident that, even when progress seems slow, he who began a good work in me will keep working on me until Jesus comes back (Phil. 1:6).

Yes, this world is sad and often hard to navigate—especially, I think, for us over-analytical Melancholies. But this world is not the end, it is temporary and passing away, and that is life-giving knowledge I can cling to.

Yes, I am sinful and fallible and moody and depression prone. But Jesus didn’t come to this world to suffer and die to leave me that way. He came to pull me out of the pits, physical and mental; to retrain my mind on him; and to change me, from glory glory to glory, as I behold him.

And so the story continues. Many mornings I wake feeling unhappy by default. My Melancholy personality (and Satan) doesn’t want me to be happy. But as I make the choice, day by day, to seek God’s face, he gives me strength for what’s in front of me. So I keep praying through it, keep writing through it, and keep moving forward, little by little. A lot of my days end better than they start, because throughout the day I exercise my faith and allow God to smooth out the bumps. These are small rewards, little happy endings, that point me on to the day when Jesus comes to take me home, and give me my ultimate happy ending.

 

 

 

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9 thoughts on “Memoir and Melancholy: A Perfect Pair

  1. Luanne February 13, 2015 / 7:10 pm

    Interesting. I have been like that occasionally but tend more to a very even keel state. Easy to make me smile. But you might not know that by my memoir LOL. Sorry you struggle with this….

    • lindseygendke February 14, 2015 / 6:58 am

      Hi Luanne, thanks for weighing in. I should have included a qualifier saying that not all creatives are melancholy, and not all melancholies are creative. Surely we memoirists come in all shapes and sizes! With this post I had in mind the bulk of memoirists I’ve read, whose memoirs are mostly depressing, with no happy ending, or a simplified happy ending after hundreds of pages of negativity. Maybe I just need to pick better memoirs, ha ha! But I do think there is a legitimate connection, which many personality experts have recognized. I will do a follow-up post in the near future about some of the memoirs I’ve read, and how I would like to read more happy endings.

      • Luanne February 14, 2015 / 2:17 pm

        Maybe my memoir won’t look all that happy, but I am pretty happy. So not sure if memoirs are a way to get out some negative stuff and personality type doesn’t go into it? Now you’ve got me wondering.

      • lindseygendke February 16, 2015 / 9:06 am

        Hmmm, that’s a good question! I suppose the answer is both, to some extent: that people both write to get out negative stuff, and melancholy people are perhaps more prone to write (and do artistic things) in the first place? I know that the only time I ever wrote poetry on any consistent basis was at my lowest points. This was extra-artistic of me…now that I’m not generally depressed, I have no motivation to write poetry. All interesting questions!

  2. Mon Ange February 13, 2015 / 9:46 pm

    I’m a artistic & creative person my nature, like you. But I don’t see myself as melancholy. The joy of the Lord is my strength. 💝🙏

    • lindseygendke February 14, 2015 / 7:04 am

      Hi Mon Ange! Thanks for reading, and thanks for providing a counter example to the generalization I made. While I think the connection between creativity and melancholy is common, I don’t believe that one always goes with the other; but I don’t think I made that clear in my post. I am glad you enjoy artistic and creative talents without the melancholy! I have come such a long way in this department, and God has brought a lot more joy into my life. But it was actually reassuring to read that my personality type just has these tendencies, and I might always struggle with them a bit. I felt it was important to be honest about that. But thankfully God has toned down the melancholy side of me; I would hate to think of the state I’d be in without him today!

  3. ccyager February 14, 2015 / 11:02 am

    Hi, Lindsey,

    How I wish I could tell you it’s not so bad, that actually Melancholics have a tendency to see their worlds through very dark glasses! I am a Melancholic myself, but another aspect of my personality I call “Problem Solver” usually jumps up and down on the Melancholic part. If there’s a mystery in my life, I work hard to solve it. I research, talk with people, etc. until I’m satisfied with the answers I’ve gotten. I am a 100% Introvert also, but have learned to put myself out in the world no matter how scary. Writing memoir would be a different deal for me, I think. I’ve thought of one I’d title “The Successful Patient” to share my experiences with chronic illness and to share what I’ve learned. I have other memoir ideas: my relationship with money (this is a scary topic for me), a spiritual assessment/memoir, and Love. Will I ever write these memoirs? Right now, the Problem Solver is stuck on how to promote and market my first novel to get that series off the ground….:-)

    I’m recovering now at home after a 5-day stint in the hospital with the pneumonia. My first experience of this disease and I found it quite scary, especially the difficulty breathing part. Thanks for your good wishes!

    Cinda

    • lindseygendke February 16, 2015 / 9:11 am

      Cinda, I’m so glad you are home and recovering now! I wish all the best on your continued recovery.

      I’m glad you brought up one of the positive aspects of this personality type, and there are many positives along with the negatives. It’s good to recognize that we have both, and then we can work to let the positives shine rather than the negatives. I think I have the problem solver tendencies, too, but I still too often get hung up on the first word: problem. I can get too bogged down in the problem to seek solutions, at least at first. For me, it’s really key to stay connected with other people, so I don’t get so stuck on myself. Being a stay at home mom in a new city right now, this is a challenge, but I have just made my first friend, and the more people I interact with, the better.

      I would love read any of those memoirs you mention, but understand that it may not happen for awhile, if ever. That’s okay! Just glad you are writing.

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