It’s not happening yet though. It can’t. Not for physical or health reasons or whatever; simply because I’m just not quite there yet. See, my new tattoo is a bit of an instruction; a design for life; a mantra, if you will, penned by the hand of (who else?) my favourite Beatle. It’s the way I want to live my life. But, hugely frustratingly, it’s a way of life I haven’t quite figured out yet.
I’ll not tell you just yet what said ink is going to read – I’ll save that for the big reveal at the end of this post – because first, I think, I’ve got some explaining to do. Not to the brother/Mum/Dad (in that order) who’ll have tutted out a disappointed ‘Ohh, Li-sa’ with my opening sentence, but instead to anyone else who cares about me, or how I’m doing.
And so to another revelation: one which the above parties already know about but I’ve been too frightened to tell many others (including, even, some of the medical professionals charged with my care), for fear of how they’ll react, or of opening a box I’ll never again be able to close, or of being treated with yet more tilty-headed kid gloves. But enough of the preamble, and onto that insufferably wanky of ‘admitting-it-is-the-first-step-on-the-road-to-recovery’ tactics: my name is Lisa and I’m suffering from depression. (Hi, Lisa.) But don’t worry cos, hey, at least it might save me some shit on the tattoo thing.
Similarly frustrating for me in all of this is the terminology. ‘Suffering from depression’: a term that, thanks to the evolution of homo sapiens into intolerable, perspectiveless drama queens, has rapidly lost the seriousness of its meaning to whiny gobshites who are ‘depressed’ because they’ve seen the object of their affections copping off with someone else, or have spent up before payday, or have got to switch desks at work. These futnuckers have made it so much harder for the people genuinely suffering to be heard; to be taken seriously; to be understood, meaning that we’re embarrassed not just by the terminology (my parents have taken to calling it ‘low’; my best mates ‘going underground’), but by the suspicious sideways glances and invisible inverted commas that come with it. “Oh, right: ‘depressed’. Of course you are.” Well, futnuckers, I actually am. And here, if you’re interested, is how.
It began… actually, I don’t know exactly when it began. I’m tempted to say it was before I even got the first of my secondary diagnoses, back when there was that awful inkling that something was seriously wrong. Either way, I’d say it certainly started before the second of those diagnoses, with the added news about my brain tumour.
The mornings were the most revealing: the inability to get going, the heightened (and increasingly terrifying) panic attacks, the growing number of occasions on which I’d wake up and quite honestly wish I hadn’t – or, at best, would open my eyes to that ‘oh great, this again’ feeling, dreading another laborious day in a life I used to love that, thanks to The Bullshit, has now been turned inside out. I’m talking about all of this as though it’s in the past tense when, in truth, these things still remain, along with a lost interest in the stuff I used to enjoy, hopeless concentration, poor sleeping patterns (as I write this sentence, it’s 3.52am), a continual feeling of guilt and burden, and enough tears to fill a paddling pool. It’s been bad. Far worse than I'm letting on here. Yup, heaven knows I’m miserable now, all right.
So, as well as the psychotherapist and the counsellor and the visiting district nurse and the GP who doubtless had to send someone out on an emergency tissue-run after my visit, I’m now on antidepressants. And yes, longtime blog readers, I appreciate that after the Chemical Brothers episode, that’s something I said I’d never do again but, hey, I’m fast learning that not all flippant promises can be kept. (Rather like the one I made saying I’d get ‘oh ferfuckssake’ tattooed onto my forehead should I ever receive another diagnosis. Suffice to say, that’s not the body part I’ll be aiming at with the new ink. Nor do I recall any Beatles lyrics of the ‘ferfuckssake’ nature.)
I’m sure the above revelation has hardly come as a surprise to you. I mean, sheesh, of course I’m fucking depressed. Equally, though, you might be shaking your head just as much as I’m sure my brother still is about the tattoo thing (seriously, Jamie: get over it), thinking back to the wonderful news at the end of my last post and wondering what kind of a hopeless lost cause could possibly be experiencing such a shit time when they ought to be celebrating. And I did celebrate, as you’ll have read. For about two days. After which all I could see was the halting of The Bullshit’s process as an indication that nothing had changed; as a reminder that no amount of slowed cells could turn this from a terminal into a curable case; as something that had bought me more time in a life from which I’m taking piteously little enjoyment.
But though it felt like it lasted barely twenty sodding minutes, I was able to celebrate, scant as that celebration was. That’s got to be something, right? And there’s the thing with depression. It’s like a Smiths record with all-too-infrequent (but nonetheless wonderfully appreciated) chirpy Johnny Marr guitar. And yes again, longtime blog readers, I know this is an analogy I’ve made before, but frankly (Mr Shankly) I simply can’t think of a better one either for or under the circumstances.
See, being depressed doesn’t mean I’m sobbing under a duvet in a dark room 24/7 (though it happens rather more frequently than I’d like), nor does it mean I’m completely incapable of making plans or putting on make-up or cracking a joke. Because, whenever I can summon the energy, I’ve got a pretty damn polished ability to hide whatever’s happening beneath the surface. In fact, lawks, I should bloody well win awards for it. ‘And Brave Face of the Year goes to…’
But, the way I’ve come to see it this past week or so – mostly thanks to the advice I’ve taken – depression is something that’s best kept unhidden. And so I’m kind of thinking of it as like starting Weight Watchers: it’s only going to work if you tell everyone about it. Which is ironic, since I appear to be gaining a kilo with each chemo, despite the unspeakable agony of shitting out a weekly brick of bulky concrete turd and puking with such prolific, projectile-spinach-from-my-nostrils panache that I’ve begun to score each upchuck as though it were a ballroom dance. (TMI? Darling, you are SO reading the wrong blog.)
Since we’re sharing, then, I might as well tell you what I think the problem is: I just haven’t found a way to live yet. I can’t understand how people do live when they’ve been told what I have. It feels like someone hit a pause button on my head back in October and I’ve achieved the sum total of nothing in the meantime, while everyone else’s lives have been merrily trotting along as normal around me. And how have they? How is that even possible? Everything has changed! Everything! So how, in the name of Zeus’s butthole, has the world just not sodding ended? Because, in so many ways, it honestly feels like mine already has.
But even despite the fog of depression, I still know deep down that there’s nothing I want more than to find a life. Yes, I know it’s going to be different; yes, I know it’s not going to be the one I’d necessarily have chosen. But I’ve simply got to find a way of taking enjoyment from more things than just my husband and my family – without whom I’m sorry to admit I’d have given up already.
You’d think, wouldn’t you, that upon being told you had a terminal illness you’d be seizing the day and making the most of each moment and squeezing every last bit of enjoyment from your life. But, as my mate Tills rightly pointed out this week, in that dream scenario you don’t have the illness to contend with and the limited mobility and the never-bloody-ending hospital visits and all the shite that comes as a side order with treatment. And so, in the negligible time there is to actually live your life as you’d imagined you would, well, you just don’t chuffing feel like it, okay? You feel like getting in a huff and stomping your feet and getting outrageously angry that you’re in this predicament. You feel like wailing and howling and shrieking out at the appalling unfairness of it all, and beating yourself about the head that, even after months and months of time in which to get used to your shituation you STILL JUST CAN’T FUCKING BELIEVE IT.
But is that how I want to live? Of course I ruddy don’t. I want to get pleasure from my life. I want to love it. I want to carry on as though I’ve got years and years left in me (because who knows? I might have). I want to go on extravagant numbers of holidays. I want to have sex with my husband in giant hotel beds on cheeky weekends away. I want to be good company. I want to be a better wife. I want to feel comfortable being left on my own. I want my husband to be able to go to work more often. I want to be funny. I want to look like I used to. I want to be ambitious. I want to write books – maybe even screenplays? – and leave a legacy that’ll make my family proud. I want to teach my nephew his first swearword (we’re getting there: he gurgled on the phone last night when I said ‘bollocksbollocksbollocks’). I want to feel lucky. I want to stop worrying my family. I want to be inspired. I want to un-learn the daytime TV schedule. I want to have a longer fuse. I want people to know how to act around me. I want to see more of my mates. I want to have a laugh. I want to wake up in the morning and think ‘come on then, let’s ’ave you’ and close my eyes at night with a quietly triumphant ‘ha, not today… and not tomorrow either’. I want to be more than the illness I’ve got. I want to live my life like you live yours: as though it’s precious and treasured and worth fighting for. Because, come on, if I can’t find a way to seize more enjoyment from the admittedly unfortunate situation in which I’ve found myself, what’s the point in putting up with all the crap that treatment brings?
Like I say, though, I’m not there yet. Whenever I am, I'll let you know in picture form (it’ll be stamped on my wrist) but for now I’ve got some work to do. I realise that I’m not going to ‘beat’ depression – just as I realise that I’m not going to beat cancer. But, hopefully, I can find a way to manage it; to cope with it; to stay one step ahead of it. Or, as McCartney once sang: take these broken wings and learn to fly.