Mar 26, 2008

On Mallard Ducks, Walking, and Melancholia

Left: A pair of Mallard ducks in a West Toledo park (click for larger image)

I have long been prone to spells of nonspecific gloom, and while I am hesitant to toss around DSM-IV labels, I recognize that I probably have a brain that either fails to properly process serotonin, or one that does not manufacture quite enough of this vital neurotransmitter.

I am also a person who prefers self-help over running to the doctor every time my mood takes a downward turn, and I would rather examine my diet, exercise levels, and vitamin intake when I enter a period of prolonged melancholia. Having been a bit depressed of late, I decided that I would go for a walk in the balmy late March breeze and take some pictures of the Mallard ducks that populate a nearby park.

The walk through the neighborhood was entertaining enough, and it began with watching some neighbor kids playing basketball on their driveway. The ball bounced out to the street, and I resisted the urge to drive into the basket for the easy layup against the ten-year-olds, opting to just toss it back.

I sat on the bridge in the late afternoon sun and soaked up a few rays. Cars whizzed by, filled with people who looked as tired as I felt. The ducks were a bit listless themselves, moving only when joggers fresh from their ellipticals came too close to their Anatidae spaces.

Left: A member of the Sciurus family surveys the neighborhood, or plots terror on unsuspecting Toledoans

Walking back I came across a squirrel that peered at me from atop the bricks surrounding an empty flower garden. The creature looked like a lonely sentry keeping watch from the battlements of a medieval castle, though it appeared to possess no weaponry.

In these days of terror, though, one can never be sure, and I thought that the stone structure might be ideal to hide IEDs or something.

The one-mile walk and photographic detours did not cure my blues, I must report, though I returned to my work with a heightened level of energy. Perhaps this would be an ideal evening to wallow in one of my aural anti-depressant techniques: sorrowful songs. I find that listening to morose tunes sung by depressed protagonists - like Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again (Naturally)" or Harry Nilsson's "Without You" - can be an effective way to combat the blues.


Anonymous said...

Maybe you have seasonal affective disorder?

Tim Higgins said...


With all that you are working on these days and the fact that it probabaly seems that it will never end, why would feel depressed? It sounds like the walk did some good though, even if it didn't provide a cure.

As a student and teacher of history, I am sure that you know that perspective is to be found there. Wasn't it Mao who said, "It's always darkest, just before it goes completely black"?

historymike said...


Maybe this current spell is SAD-related, though I am prone to periods of gloom year-round. I am more interested in a pragmatic workaround than in spending time ruminating about the causes, as this can lead to something like self-pity.

historymike said...

Tim H.:

True, my heavy workload and academic pursuits contribute to the fatigue and reduced focus associated with depression.

And you are right - there can be benefits to working through a spell of somber thoughts, at least when you can trace the blues to life events.

The walk did some good, and I am an advocate of staying active when depressed. It is too easy to fall into the trap of laying around when feeling gloomy, and then allowing obligations to go untended.

Then you REALLY have something to be depressed about!


Historychic said...

I have found walking to be good therapy when I have my bouts of melancholy too. Any word on comps yet?

historymike said...

No, nothing official, and two weeks have passed. However, our advisor was talking about scheduling a date for the oral exam, so I might assume from that statement that I passed.

Any word on the baby????

Historychic said...

If he is talking oral defense, then you passed the written part. Ames will ask you questions that were not covered on any of the questions on the written part. Jakobson and Wilcox asked me about the Thirty Years War of which I could not remember at all during my orals. All in all, orals are just a formality, so try not to sweat it too much.

In regards to the baby, I am getting induced tomorrow, so hopefully I will have the kid sometime tomorrow or Saturday. I will send out a mass email once the kid is here.

Good luck!!!

microdot said...

Mike, your pensive post made me think of a piece of music and a YouTube video which might be the cure.
Nice melancholic Jazz by a Norwegian guitarist with some images that feature ducks...but you have to experience it...I guarantee you will like it!

microdot said...

If that link doesn't work, go to You Tuube and check out Terje Rypdal,
The Return of Pere Duc

Barb said...

This is a beautiful Irish Blessing with music and scenes of God's beauty --to inspire and console and encourage.