CHAPTER 7: THE DARK SUN OF MELANCHOLIA
Recently I read a long letter from a psychiatrist detailing his treatment
of a very depressed artist, a woman whose chronic misery influenced her
photography. She was very successful in her work, which showed a genius
for capturing in pictures excruciating moments of human tragedy. The
doctor told her she should try antidepressant medication, because, as he
put it, “Depression is a disease that is treatable, and it makes no sense to
suffer unnecessarily.” She was worried though that taking pills would
somehow affect her art. The psychiatrist reassured her that she would have
even more energy to bring to her photography and that there was no
danger at all. So she agreed and embarked upon a course of medication to
relieve her very gloomy moods. After a period of weeks, the intensity of the
depression from which she suffered did indeed begin to recede. But she
also noticed that she had lost interest in photographing tragedy, and that
she wanted to take pictures of people in joyful scenes instead. A problem
arose because the new photographs were technically of the highest quality,
but no one cared about viewing or purchasing images of happiness. So her
career as an artist fell apart. The patient became very upset, thinking that
the medication had indeed destroyed the basis for her art. So she stopped
the medication, and, after a period, her misery reappeared.
Now she was
able to return to her work as a photographer of tragedy, but she also had
again begun to suffer, even more severely than before.
Finally, after many
back and forth moments, she resumed the antidepressant medications,
accepting the fact that her passion for her art was changing irrevocably.
The psychiatrist, in his letter, raised the question as to whether this
treatment should be called a success.
The patient’s pain had lessened, but
her career as a photographer of the dark moments of human existence had
been brought to an end.
Suffering was substantially relieved, but at the
expense of a very creative artist’s lifework.
The doctor did not say what his
patient had done as an alternative, but I think she found some other way of
supporting herself, and cried less.