i don’t think i’m depressed right now. i think essentially what’s wrong is the radiation breaking down the tumours. radiation and i don’t agree with each other. nor does my cancer, so, it’s a sum gain but right now every bone in my body just feels like i’m losing out. i’m not overwhelmed with the ‘not worth it’ feelings like i have been at times since the SIRT went in.  but i’m tired.

tiredness doesn’t exactly depress me. i know what depression feels like, and this isn’t it. it isn’t has heavy; it’s just this sinking feeling of insecurities and worries. i’ve written about it before, and i never know if the best thing to do is to tackle them, or to wait until the feelings pass. is this a reflection of things that are upsetting me, or it is just my brain turning on itself?  i don’t have energy, and i am naturally bad at a lot of stuff, and i am afraid of things, afraid of being forgotten, of being lost, while managing actual life that exists outside the narrow confines of the intensity of my neurosis.

i’m listening to Of Monsters and Men a lot, an Icelandic band.  i haven’t written in detail about my trip; i’m working on a fairly academic article about it right now, but the personal sorts of moments i find hard to place into words.  Of Monsters and Men talk about the sea a lot, and about the darkness. i guess in a place with a midnight sun, and entire days with almost no light, darkness and water matter.  my dream to run away to a fishing village in Iceland, knitting socks and staring at the ocean cements now in the reality of having been in small coastal villages there.  it is this melancholy and beautiful place of safety for me when i feel like this, at the same time as mingled in with that fear of mortality; that fear that these places are now ticked off, places i’ll never see again, the last chance.  they also sing a lot about lungs, and breathing. i just want to keep breathing. i just desperately want that and i don’t know some days how optimistic i can be about the liminal numbers that flip around my lifespan, the realistic understanding of what my body can put up with. the median survival for stage IV colorectal cancer is 29 months.  i am at 18.

the idea of the last chance terrifies me.  the last anything. i’ve spoken about this with a friend – the idea of somehow knowing the last time we’ll ever see someone, or do something, or go somewhere.  there are places i’ve been in that were monumental in my life that i’ll never enter again; old apartments that i’ve lived in, that people in my life have lived in. that moment, that space, those things. i remember how all these places in my life smell – that is the main memory i have of anything because i have such a strangely acute sense of smell. smells sort of fill my head, and i feel as though they are falling into me.  overheated brisbane sharehouses with no back doors and possums in the kitchen, comfortable velvet couches and stolen paste up posters on the wall, my cramped and filthy room on Bowen Tce, the tiny room i inhabited in canberra for years, barely able to walk on either side of the bed: a space filled with such a heady collection of emotions and memories i can’t even place them in any sort of order. they are slides in my failing memory bank.

i don’t want to think i’ll never stand on that black sand beach again. i want to entertain a fantasy of going to Iceland in winter next year, of walking through a cave in a glacier. of standing in that whiteness, of being obliterated out of the frame with that white noise.  i don’t want to think that this time in my life is now nothing more than a series of memories, that nothing of this continues on, and that i am here now, away from it all, away from those moments stolen and suspended outside every aspect of the life i live and inhabit in reality.  i know, as a realistic human being, that i probably won’t. that when my doctors tell me to do the things i want to do now, it is because there’s not some mythical future ahead of me where i get to do world tours, and see Japan, or Spain, or southern France, or Poland, or Iran (seriously read about travelling to Iran; it sounds breathtaking).

i want to go to Chernobyl because i have this intense terror of nuclear weapons and i am strangely attracted to the places that i fear most.  i shy away from them and i am drawn towards them in equal intensity which often renders me useless and silent and unable to plan. i want to go into those ice caves in Iceland the most, though, and i want to see what it is to travel in a country where it is almost always dim.  i want to see those impossible skies and impossible colours.

and i feel selfish for this, like i want to consume more than i deserve to, more than i am lucky enough to have achieved.  i want more, i want more life, i want more substance. i want to somehow fit this into these finite terms that aren’t in any sort of dark felt tip pen, but are shifting constantly, the boundaries and plans forever changing, destabilised.  i want to pull off all those figs from Plath’s fig tree and i want to gorge on them until i am ill, because what is illness in my context?

and i am going to be a ghost, you know, a ghost, and i will be a series of memories like that slideshow of every apartment i’ve been in that has shifted my life in some way. i am that slideshow, and i will be those fragmented recollections of someone else’s life, and where i fitted into that narrative, and how the memories of me will fit in there too. that doesn’t make my death less substantial to me. it contextualises it thought. i will be the moments that people spent with me, the ones they remember, the ones they half hold onto, the ones they are unsure if it was me or someone else telling them that story. i’ll be that fading image of a skinny little thing with oversized glasses and bird tattoos and, the memories that come with my life now, and the world that’s yet to come as my cancer takes the energy to survive that the rest of my body needs.

i feel selfish wanting anything i want. i feel selfish that i want to go back to Iceland, i feel selfish for every relationship i want, and for whatever it is i want, even when i don’t know what it is that i want.  and i don’t even know how rational i am right now, because of the radiation and the exhaustion.

but look at the at picture. what does a set of numbers, median survivals, or five year survivals or anything like that, mean? the fact i want to go back there and lie on the steps on the church on the hillside staring at the sky, or stumbling over moss covered volcanic fields, or crawling through ice, my hands prickled from nerve damage, my leg bleeding, and so, so alive.



About elizabeth

various things.
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3 Responses to melancholia

  1. roughghosts says:

    Hello new twitter friend. This is a tragically beautiful piece of writing. I have friends who went to Iceland this summer (your winter). Rugged, bleak, gorgeous. And cold – even in summer.

    Hope you are able to go.

    Selfish? If you can’t be selfish now, when?

    I understand the desire to travel. I am not facing down a death sentence but when a blood clot earned on my flight from South Africa traveled to my lungs, I would have died in my sleep had my son not heard me. I came face to face with just how easy it is to fall asleep and not wake up. I am certainly much older than you – I just turned 55 – and I have spent all my life with a mood disorder, fighting with a body that didn’t fit, trying to fix that mis-fit and raising (or fucking up) two kids along the way. And all I want to do is travel, shed everything but my books, sell my house and live – maybe if I’m lucky even love – because I can’t help feeling that I don’t know how much time I have left. Maybe I have lots. Maybe not.

    Selfish? In that, I understand how you feel.

    • elizabeth says:

      iceland is spectacular – i was lucky to be there in icelandic autumn and it was so beautiful.
      i get the blood clot horror — i had one caught JUST in time in my groin, before it’d spread. thank christ.
      that’s the thing, living a life with chronic illness deprives us of so much. you aren’t selfish to want good things.

      i’m super delighted you read my blog BTW. it was so good talking the other night.

  2. You are an amazing writer, truly. And you articulate many of the same thoughts I entertain, though I am fortunate enough to be in good health at the moment (following a diabetes diagnosis and a few scary nights in the PCU). Heard you on the Death, Sex & Religion podcast a couple of weeks ago and have been reading your blog ever since.

    You are not selfish for wanting, by the way. We all want. I hope somehow, some way, your dream of the Iceland cave becomes reality.

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