Since I’ve been battling post-cancer depression, I’ve made cursory efforts to cheer myself up. I have a lot of goofy T-shirts. For instance, the one I’m wearing right now has an illustrated rendition of the classic banana knock-knock joke and I find it hilarious. The only problem is that when someone smiles at the joke, they’re rewarded with a bewildered look, because I rarely remember that I’m wearing a funny T-shirt.
I need the shirts to combat my face. When I look sad, people do double-takes and I feel my sadness spreading like something contagious. Years ago, I was feeling pretty bad and a homeless man stopped in his tracks and told me a joke in an effort to cheer me up. A man carrying all his belongings on his back felt sorry for me.
I have been spending a lot of time at home, so as not to contaminate others with sadness, though I can usually keep it together in public.
The other day, fighting off a bout of sadness, I worked out wearing my “Powered by Optimism” T-shirt that was a gift from my boyfriend’s aunts. I’m not sure if the shirt and the workout-related endorphins cheered me up, but the shirt makes my boyfriend laugh when he sees me in it, because he thinks I’m a pessimist.
Then I put on the Howard Jones shirt I got at the Retro Futura tour last month that proclaims “Things Can Only Get Better.” My boyfriend sent the link to the song when I was in the hospital, recovering from the transplant, and it’s in my Stem Cell Transplant Soundtrack. (An aside: If you ever get a chance to see Howard Jones, do so.)
I even wore my “I am awesome” socks, also a gift, created by a company called Notes To Self, even though I always wonder why these positive sock messages aren’t called footnotes. I worked out in my “I Love My Life” T-shirt that I got at an Intensati fitness event.
Outwardly, I’ve been trying to stay upbeat, but feel unmoored and have been drifting into some pretty dark places lately. It’s as if I turned off part of my emotions to deal with the cancer and all that went with it, and now I can’t activate them again, except for a pervasive sadness. When I have to do anything, like get out of bed, I feel like Bartleby, the Scrivener. I would prefer not to. (An aside: We watched a short film version in high school English in 1994, and it doesn’t translate well to this medium, so it was unintentionally hilarious. It’s also the first time I heard of Moby; our teacher gave us a photocopy of an article about him because he’s related to Herman Melville. Looking back, it was sweet of her, but we weren’t cool enough to know who he was then.)
According to speculation (and Wikipedia), Melville wrote Bartleby when he was feeling a bit down on his writing career. Maybe that’s why it strikes a chord. I’m still freelancing, but without steady work, I might be spending too much time inside my head. (Actually, before the hospital, it was nonstop working.)
Come to think of it, the last time I was sad and didn’t have a job, I was 15. I spent my summer vacation painting a lot of my furniture black and listening to the Cure and Nine Inch Nails. I shouldn’t be left to my own devices.
Of course, this is bigger than teen angst. I realize I should be happy. I should be savoring life with a newfound appreciation, like good survivors are supposed to. But I know that “should” thinking isn’t healthy.
I have a lot to look forward to. I’m heading “home” to see friends and family—some of whom I haven’t seen in nearly two years. I need to plan the gatherings, but this depression makes me feel as if I’m moving through molasses (but not as tasty). I owe a lot of people invitations and emails. I’ve been lagging behind.
But I don’t think I’ve been much of a downer in person. Even with my sad face. I’ve been keeping tabs on my depression, and if it starts to get too much, I’ll figure something out. Or I’ll paint all our furniture black.