Do I Wish I Had Cancer Instead?

Is recovery from a mental illness possible? All day during daytime tv (oops! the truth is out that I watch it!), there are ads for Cancer Center of America and other organizations for cancer, where a person – usually a woman – talks about her recovery from an aggressive cancer. They don’t use the term remission, but recovery. I know not everyone has that story. On the news we hear every night about so-and-so losing his battle with cancer. I know many who have dealt with remission and then recurrence, several times sometimes. But there are also many folks who deal with cancer, and because of aggressive tactics such as mastectomy, or from sheer luck, find themselves in remission, or even so many years into remission that they can claim recovery. Cancer is something you can fight and win. Language surrounding cancer includes “survivor,” “battle,” “recovery.” And even though the memories and scars last, you can put the experience behind you and open a new chapter in your life.

Instability Always Around the Corner

Not so mental illness. New chapters don’t open. Mental illness is a chronic medical illness, and like other chronic illnesses, it doesn’t go away. It can be managed the way diabetes or chronic pain can be managed, yet instability can always be right around the corner. Medication can stop working, sending you into a deep depression, a dangerous manic episode, or into psychotic realities. Good or bad stress can send you into a tailspin where anxiety rules your decision-making. And all of these unstable reactions can lead to harming oneself, particularly through suicide. Suicide rates among those with mental illness are much, much higher than in the general population.

Because of the constant fear of this cycle of stability and instability, I often find that I would rather deal with the acute illness of cancer. Even the aggressive kind. I can battle the illness and hope for an end to it. I can live a life without cancer once treatment is over. I could share with people that I have cancer, or had cancer, and they wouldn’t respond with “Is that all?” Mental illness is permanent, dangerous to one’s self when unstable, and stigmatized so that it’s hard to get support from one’s community.

I wish recovery from mental illness was possible. Daily I fight it, and will continue to fight it ad infinitum.


11 responses to “Do I Wish I Had Cancer Instead?

  1. I don’t know one single cancer survivor who truly believes that recovery/remission is the last word. Many have described life following a pronouncement of remission as like waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    Also, the stigma of mental illness and the joy of discovering renewed mental health is not what our newscasters would choose for us to hear.
    When we erase the stigma of mental illness, we’ll also be able to celebrate the lives of those who’ve forged a new path to health, one step at a time.

    I think the key is sharing information and good news wherever we can find it. It’s out there. That would be a great form of support for those on the road.

    Oh, and one more reason to forego daytime tv: don’t believe everything you see on it. I’ve heard mixed reviews of CTA)

    • I think the big difference I feel between the battle language and remission/recurrence cycle of cancer vs the stable/unstable cycle of mental illness is
      that with cancer there is something foreign in your body and you can externalize the fight. It’s not your body turning on itself to kill you from the inside out.
      That’s been my experience with both cancer and mental illness. I know that each person who has cancer has a different experience and story, and same with those with mental illness.

      And I always take daytime tv and news with a huge grain of salt. Just that the CTA and other ads really bug with the recovery talk.

  2. yeah. I hear you. And there is not a lot of good consumer education. I do, however, like the CBS Cares spots done by Mark Harmon of NCIS. He talks about bipolar being a brain disease.

    Search CBS Cares, then bipolar.

    • I look for that! Thanks!
      I’m getting really tired of tv and movies chalking erratic or pathological behavior as mental illness or a specific mental illness. Perhaps UNTREATED mental illness. 🙂

  3. I have said the same thing about mental illness after dealing with my son for so many years… Not, about wishing him to have cancer…a most devastating illness…but, in that…we can’t see the pain and symptoms with a mental illness like we could if you have another disease…and people do seem to brush it over…like it’s not real…and as we know it’s so real, it scares us…it debilitates us… it makes us suffer unbearably…it’s a wish for death at times…it takes all of your energy just to endure… it’s a feeling of hopelessness…All I can say is to find people who understands your pain as you are doing here with your blog…surround yourself with loving people… and try to listen to those you can truly trust to be truthful with you…

  4. Never for a minute would I suggest that your experience is not valid or real. You’re so honest and you’re so helpful in shining a light on how journey feels and occurs to you. I’m sorry if I misread or misunderstood you. Not my intent. It’s been a very long day/week/month.

    • I didn’t take it that way at all. Just thought you were challenging me – a good thing. Be well, my friend!

      • Absolutely! Your feelings are valid and your journey is your own. May your blog always be a place to share your views and opinions and honest feelings, and may you always feel accompanied by loving friends. Honored to be one of your many friends and colleagues who are the better for knowing you, in joy and in struggle.

  5. I can honestly say I have felt the exact same way at times. After dealing with Bipolar for over 20 years it does get old when the medicine stops working or you get a very bad cycle of depression out of no where. I have heard the “just snap out of it” more times than I can count. I guess my outrage is more at there being so little awareness about mental illness and the stigma against it not much better than when I first found out I had it back in 1989. I guess insurance coverage also is treated different with other illnesses. It covers so much less and I know one of my meds was not even covered at all for my illness but for other medical conditions it was. And too when you are battling something like depression you don’t have your good positive outlook to push you through. So I would lying if I never thought of having another illness being easy to get through. I do have RA as well and that pain is nothing compared to the mental pain. I do wished they had more positive messages out there about living with mental illness and being a survivor. That is what I say on my Bday each year that I fought another year and won. But I think by you and others putting their own stories out there is a huge step in the right direction.

    • Thank you! I’m so glad that others have felt the same way I do and have come forward about it. I’m getting comments elsewhere from folks who haven’t lived with mental illness saying I don’t really want cancer. But it’s a lot easier to live with an illness that is respected by the community so they can support you.
      Thanks for reading!

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