Nostalgia – More Harm Than Good?

By Ebere Anodo

I have often wondered if it was unduly strange and unnecessary of me to hold on to memories so tightly, most times to the point of hysterical nostalgia- of which I am aware was a psychological disorder back in the 90s. This is often triggered by smell, actions, songs played or listened to at that particular period which causes some sort of explosive burst or fullness in the chest-a yearning to travel back through time and into those moments, be it pleasurable or not, causing happiness or sadness, but most times the latter.

To be in a nostalgic trance as I would like to call it, would mean to be oblivious of most of the happenings around you during that moment and be trapped in some kind of emotional space. However, it could also be for a short period but leaving you in a frantic state.

Brief standard definitions may suffice here:

Nostalgia– Sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period or moments in the past.

Hysterical -Being affected by exaggerated or uncontrollable emotion or excitement.

Nostalgia was made of two compounds, Greek in origin: Nosos – return to native land and Algos– suffering or affliction.

Today, experiencing a mild longing for the past may be like escaping to better times- especially during darker periods, as through nostalgia, you can simulate being in different circumstances than you actually are. However, in the 1800s most especially, it was the second most studied mental disease. In an interview, Edward Shorter, a professor of the History of Medicine and Psychiatry at the University of Toronto said, “It was once a mental disease that could end fatally”. He went further to say, “People could leave home and become servants and then be overcome with home sickness. Three weeks later they’d be dead”.

In the late seventeenth century through the end of the nineteenth (the period of wars) there were those that suffered from homesickness so extreme, it drove them mad. Most of the soldiers became so miserable, isolating themselves as they stopped eating and caring for themselves leading to a lack of hygiene and then diseases that killed them off. Doctors in the army noticed that most of the soldiers missed home and they were very attentive to that fact when treating or observing them.

Between 1820 and 1830, the concept of nostalgia reached its peak. Clinical cases had multiplied among immigrants and conscripts soldiers throughout the wars and continued during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire.

Some say nostalgia is good for your mental health as it helps you escape to happier times in the past leaving you in a good mood afterwards, but how true is this?

Today, hysterical nostalgia has been forgotten but replaced. Thomas Dorman, Author of “What Nostalgia Was: War, Empire and the Time of a Deadly Emotion”, argues that for two centuries, Nostalgia manifested itself as something we might understand today as Post traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD).

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