Thursday, May 19, 2011

Post-party depression: it deserves its own diagnostic category

You've heard of post-partum depression?  Although I've never experienced it, I do experience a kind of PPD: Post-Party Depression.  Let me describe the diagnostic criteria for you.  Depressed mood for most of the day following a party and for a period of up to one week; presence, while depressed, of at least two (or more) of the following: poor appetite and/or overeating, insomnia or hypersomnia, low energy or fatigue, poor concentration and/or difficulty making decisions, feelings of hopelessness.  The symptoms are not due to other causes (such as finding that your champagne selection is running dangerously low, or that you haven't the funds to afford another party for several weeks months).  The symptoms are not relieved by shopping, a massage, or by having friends over for dinner.  The symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (such as deciding whether or not to have dessert).

My experience with Post-Party Depression is very similar to an experience I had when I was working with a summer Gilbert and Sullivan troupe.  You bond with the rest of the cast very intensely and they become a strange, new sort of family.  You rehearse together, you eat together, you drink together, you party together (some of you even sleep together, which produces a lot of interesting and hystrionic drama in rehearsals), you spend hours and hours being together and then, on the last night of the show, at the after-party, where everyone is really gay and really drunk and really exhausted, you have a realization that cuts through the fog of inebriation like flashing lights in a rear view mirror.  The realization is that the show is over and that the family is breaking up.  There are no more rehearsals, no more lines to run, no more twisted double-entendre and bawdy jokes in the King's English, no more pot-luck dinners and all-night parties after weekend rehearsals.  There is just no more.

My first really big "production," the Roaring Twenties Halloween Ball, resulted in a very similar let-down.  I had planned for weeks, gathering information, researching foods and beverages of the period, collecting props, devising menus, staging the back yard.  Plating, lighting, garnishing, music--nothing was left to chance.  I had fun (and plenty of giddy insomnia) every moment along the way.  And after the last guest left, boa feathers still wafting on the breeze, lights twinkling in the trees, champagne bottles everywhere, and popular music of the era still echoing softly and ethereally through the gardens, I did not realize how very sad I would be because the adrenaline was still coursing through me.  I reminisced about the conversations and events that night as I organized what I could, did what dishes I could, and then collapsed, weary and happy, into bed.

I awoke not with a headache, but with a heartache--the kind of sadness that follows the loss of a significant attachment.  And here's where you might think: HUH???  Why would she be so sad after a Halloween party?  But it wasn't just a Halloween party, it was the Mother of All Halloween Parties, and it spawned several successive Roaring Twenties Balls, each one more wonderful and magical than the last.  More than that, my sadness was about the fact that the show--my show--was over, the audience--my audience--had all gone home, the cast--my cast--had hung up their costumes and had put away all their props.  The adrenaline rush was gone, the hopeful expectancy had evaporated, the energy of people reacting to each other, to their environment, and experiencing pleasure together, had dissipated.  And there was no more.

I experience Post-Party Depression after a lot of large parties I've given, and after other special events.  I'll admit I live for the adrenaline rush of making a plan come together, setting a stage, painting a canvas, creating an experience for guests that will be memorable and one-of-a-kind.  I put a lot of time and energy into the smallest dinner party, and I love every minute of it.  And afterward, with wine glasses abandoned at the table, candles burning low, a sink full of dishes, and stains on the tablecloth as colorful reminders of an evening we shared together, I feel more than a little sad.  And I wish we could do it all again.

In my life-long struggle with Post-Party Depression, I've discovered only one thing that helps: allow myself time to grieve and then plan the next party.  I'll be sure to tell you all about my recovery process as it unfolds.

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