Years ago, after I had my first bout of depression, I wondered if that is what the Greeks meant by the hero’s journey: going into the darkness (labyrinths, hell), fighting monsters and demons, then coming back to the light, victorious. As I contemplate depression and cancer, I’m beginning to see the similarities. The bleakness. The inability to plan for the future. The obsessing. The lack of control. Feeling lost and disconnected. Knowing that I need to do something, but not knowing what it is. Traveling to meet Hades.
However, this journey is different from the one Greek men and demigods experienced. I may be floating down the Acheron into the Underworld, but I’m not pushing away or pulling into the boat the swirling figures in the water. Rather, I am quietly observing my demons with curiosity: cancer, familial relationships, failed friendships, heartbreak, depression, regrets, mistakes, sorrows, the past, the future. I am sitting still, lest I fall into the river and drown amongst the monsters of my creation. The boat keeps propelling me further into the unknown, and I’m not trying to turn it around or stop it—that would be futile and folly. This is the voyage I’m on, even though I didn’t opt to step off the dock.
The last time I saw my medical oncologist, he made a comment about me going back to my life after radiation therapy was finished. I didn’t tell him this, but there is no returning to my former way of being. My body and outlook have changed, and my priorities have shifted. The plans I made for this year have dissipated—at least, most of them. The two that remain, ironically, are my health and writing. And, ironically, both force me to sit still. Radiation leaves me fatigued, and it’s difficult to write while in motion. So, I wonder what lessons are to be learned, and ponder how to shape my life—do I dry dock and disassemble, or do I stay on the boat and flow with the currents?
This conundrum currently has no resolution. Charon is rowing, while I maintain balance. We still haven’t reached the light.