17 August 2011

Debauchery: an unsung approach to depression

by Nia

In The Sun King, her history of Louis XIV, Nancy Mitford spends a chapter on Francois Louis de Bourbon, Prince de Conti (1664-1709), one of Louis' young cousins. When it became clear that the brilliant Prince was going to outshine the King's son and heir in every way, the King got jealous and threw roadblocks in his career for the rest of his life:

"...as the years dragged on uselessly and his hopeful youth was succeeded by a disillusioned middle age, the Prince de Conti became embittered and gave himself up to debauchery."

Why was I never told about this treatment option for my depression? I was asked by various therapists if I used a controlled substance or found myself hiding any personal habits from friends and family members, but I don't remember any doctor specifically saying, "We've found that wallowing in all the vices at once has had promising results. Do give that a go."

Is it considered too expensive? Debauchery has historically been the realm of those with limitless funds. But have you priced transcranial magnetic stimulation lately? Is a season of gambling, whoring, drinking, and opium- ...whatever one does with opium all that much more?

Is it a class thing? Am I too far removed from the French nobility? I for one am damned if I'm going to be judged less worthy than a bunch of inbred sots in satin pants who didn't bathe for weeks at a time. And those were the ones who weren't depressed.

And don't tell me it's a question of how much I've suffered. Excuse me for never being denied a regimental command or the governorship of a province. I spent a decade in a cubicle farm. I'd like to see Mr. Buckles-on-his-Shoes make it through just one week there.

I am willing to concede, however, that translating debauchery to modern-day life is not without challenges:

1. The illusion of wealth is still required. Depressives who stock their larders with Budweiser or complain about Netflix fees whilst entertaining visa-less Estonian strippers in the name of self-medication do not qualify as debauched. They are simply filthy pigs.

2. Without coachmen, it is much easier to inadvertently kill people. The debauchery game has changed significantly now that one is expected to drive one's own conveyance home after evenings spent in dissipation and depravity.

3. Strangers will butt in. Where in simpler times a family member might entreat the local minister to intervene in one's carousing, now more often attorneys, judges, and Child Services are involved.

4. There is the matter of wench identification and procurement. In the Prince's day the respectable debauchee found his wenches at taverns or the cheaper seats at theaters. I am not sure what the current approximation is: perhaps it is the type of gal who shows up at the bar of whatever hotel the Yankees are staying at.

5. The template for the female debauchee has, alas, yet to be perfected. The Marchesa Luisa Casati (1881-1957) came close: she strolled through Venice stark naked, served opium at tarot-readings, painted her house servants gold, and fished the occasional dead party guest out of her fountain. But she was also rather obviously off her rocker. Perhaps the great appeal of Angelina Jolie in her single days was the whisper of a hint of a secret hope that she was debauched.

6. Guilt is not an option. The debauchee's commitment to perversity, turpitude, and sin must not waver. One cannot succumb to feelings of shame or regret for mortifying one's family, scandalizing one's neighbors, and appalling one's friends. There is no crying in debasement.

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Image: portrait of Fran├žois Louis de Bourbon, Prince de Conti, Anon., French school, 17th century. {{PD-art}}.