I’ve never thought of myself as depressed. Pessimistic, maybe, negative at times, and critical, sure. But never depressed. I’ve always thought of my brain chemistry as somehow uniquely me, something to be preserved, if possible. I knew kids who got put on all kinds of medication in high school and it was clear that the dosages and side effects were a nightmare.
I figured that if I could stay out of the hospital, pursue my goals and dreams, and not be a horrible person, then I would deal with the ups and downs of my own internal experience.
Here we are all these years later: I’ve stayed sober, I’ve stayed out of the mental hospital, I pursued and accomplished a lot of my goals and dreams, and then I got cancer. The goals I never reached I was still working on — a permanent academic position, a better art career, another long term intimate partnership, possibly a family, a more loving and supportive affect — and actively striving for.
My particular treatment for my particular cancer involves androgen deprivation, that is chemical castration, which obliterates sexual function, reproductive capacity, energy levels, muscle strength, etc. I started the daily weeping soon after I started the androgen deprivation treatments. I would cry for some part of every day. I did that for a couple of years. It seemed normal. No testosterone, no sex, no family, no future = profound sadness.
It was a kind of revelation: being closer to emotion, feeling submerged in an ocean of emotion, was freeing. I felt as though I was seeing the world more clearly, feeling the world in a way I never had before. It felt like insight, upsight, but it was largely negative. I felt betrayal more acutely.
The weeping can be triggered by lots of things. Thoughts and feelings mostly, but conversations, situations, contexts, too. In conversation with my friends, if we approach the serious topics, the weeping can be extensive. Alone in the car, it can be strong them too. At the oncologists office the weeping is often strong. Back in Memphis, the oncologist was visually uncomfortable with my weeping. He offered to medicate me regularly. I refused.
Speaking with people I trusted, I still didn’t feel depressed. I felt profoundly sad about a profoundly sad situation. If anything, I thought I was reacting normally, or perhaps with increased sensitivity which I attributed to the clarity of my spiritual practice and condition.
I had a dark moment a couple of months ago. Thinking about what would happen to me without my family’s support. Understanding that I would be indigent, homeless and vulnerable without them. I had a moment of clarity in which I realized that I would not seek to survive cancer in such a situation. It was rough. It was dark dark dark. I didn’t contemplate suicide, but it was close.
Refusing cancer treatment isn’t the same as shooting yourself, but it’s not that far off either. I don’t know. I’m not sure how to feel about it. It was a hard thought, which came upon me during a dog walk at the scatterwash. I wept.
In the oncologist office, when they tell me that my PSAs are still undetectable, that might be a success, but I experience it as a continuation of this excruciating status quo: this sentence of exhaustion. The weeping makes the doctor’s office uncomfortable. Worse, the next room is filled with properly doomed old people hooked up to chemo machines. I walk in and out on my own, I have relative freedom and reasonable expectation of some years of life.
And so I find myself asking again, Am I Depressed?