Cancer is a disease that people can relate to and under. The causal head nod, followed by the “I’m so sorry” makes it so people understand that something serious is going on. People hear it and recognize that a person is going through one of the most difficult things to go through. One of our closest family friends is a cancer survivor. Eight years ago she got a terminal diagnosis. She says her first thought was “Thank God it’s cancer and not depression.”
Depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses don’t carry that same weight. People don’t understand and cannot see the changes. Family, friends, and even doctors all look at you and say “It is all in your head”. While they are not false, this makes it seem like I have the ability to change my illness and “Just feel and act better and you will BE better”. It is easy to forget that these illnesses can be just as deadly.
Here are some statistics on depression/suicide.
- Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US for all ages. (CDC)
- The suicide rates decreased from 1990-2000 from 12.5 suicides per 100,000 to 10.4 per 100,000. Over the past decade, however, the rate has again increased to 12.1 per 100,000. Every day, approximately 105 Americans die by suicide. (CDC)
- There is one death by suicide in the US every 12.3 minutes. (CDC)
- Depression affects 20-25% of Americans ages 18+ in a given year. (CDC)
- Suicide takes the lives of over 38,000 Americans every year. (CDC)
- Only half of all Americans experiencing an episode of major depression receive treatment. (NAMI)
- 80% -90% of adolescents that seek treatment for depression are treated successfully using therapy and/or medication. (TADS)
- An estimated quarter million people each year become suicide survivors (AAS).
- There is one suicide for every estimated 25 suicide attempts. (CDC)
- There is one suicide for every estimated 4 suicide attempts in the elderly. (CDC)
With all this data, why is there such a stigma around mental and neurological disorders? Why are people so quick to judge? Why is it so hard to believe it IS all in my head due to my head having an illness.
It is frustrating trying to explain why you can’t focus on the happy. Your mind looks and seeks the flaws. You go and find thinks to fill the gaps in your day so the anxiety doesn’t catch up to you. You just try to stay ahead of the wave that is threatening to drown you.
And people stare at you.
They wonder why you are so different. They wonder why you can’t just feel better. They just want you to be normal. They are tired of you and all the baggage that you carry. They get tired of you and how you act.
Believe me, if I could just “Man up” and be a better person, I would have done it years ago.
No, I would never want or wish on anyone cancer. It is a terrible disease and I am glad so much time and research goes into it. I just want people to understand that mental health issues can be just as dangerous and deadly. Keeping people’s mental state in order so they can live better lives should be a focus for everyone.
I’ll step off my soapbox now.
2 thoughts on “I wish I had Cancer”
Thank you. Thank you so much for having the guts to make a very true and very blunt analogy to get the point across to those with no understanding of exactly how serious and devastating a disease depression is.
For those of you who are offended, read it again. He is by no means belittling the tragedy that is cancer. He is using it as a bold analogy for the discrepancies in understanding and sympathy that the average person has when it comes to the suffering caused by different conditions. No one tells someone with cancer that there’s nothing wrong with them and that they should “take it like a man” but they have no qualms saying that to someone going through the unimaginable mental suffering that is depression. Do you enjoy sadness or heart ache? Would you intentionally do everything in your power to avoid that? Of course you would! Now imagine that there’s nothing you can do. That your own mind has turned against you and refuses to focus on anything but darkness and misery. That no matter what you do you can’t pull out of the miasma of your own mind. Just imagine the torture of that. You know how you see some people with depression who have cuts they have inflicted on their own bodies and the cruel judgment of others when they find out what they have done? “Oh why would you do that to yourself? That’s so stupid!” Or even worse,”They’re just doing that for sympathy, how pathetic.” You want to know the real answer to that action? It’s because causing physical pain to your body somehow helps relieve the poison in your mind. Because that physical pain actually feels better than the torment of a depressed mind. Can you imagine having so much pain in your thoughts that the only thing that helps is to physically harm yourself? Now let’s say that is you and people treat you like what’s wrong with you isn’t a real disease. They tell you to snap out of it or to cheer up or even to stop whining. If that really worked don’t you think you would have done it a thousand times already? Do you honestly think that they don’t try? Would you ever tell a cancer victim that they need to stop complaining or that there’s nothing really wrong with them? Of course not! Then why do people think it’s ok to do it to people with depression?
That point here is understanding. We all want to be understood and to be believed in. If I’m going to go through unimaginable pain that could lead to my death I’d rather it be something everyone acknowledges rather than something I’m ridiculed for.
I have major depressive disorder and fibromyalgia. Neither one can be seen on an x-ray or a blood test but my pain is real. I could end up dead from my disease. I live blamed, ridiculed, and doubted. I would rather have cancer. At least then the world would believe in my suffering and I could die with dignity or even have the possibly to be cured. As I am, I don’t have those benefits from the world or even the hope of a cure. Cancer is no joke but neither is the suffering of the mind. Both are deadly and both deserve equal respect.
Do not think to judge the pain of anyone. Unless it is your own, you are not qualified.
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Thank you for saying this.
I, too, wish I had Cancer. You can “see” cancer. You can point to it on an xray and say “see, here it is and this is how we can fix it.”
It isn’t like that with mental illness. It “might” be just depression, so you try this therapy and that drug. And that goes on… and on… and on, until you FINALLY get a diagnosis close to what they “think” you have and on a cocktail of medication that “might” be working. And you do that for the rest of your life. There is no cure for mental illness. You either get to a place where it’s manageable or you become a statistic.
So when Daniel says “I wish it were cancer,” I know exactly what he means. It’s not about saying that my suffering is worse than a cancer survivor. We’re saying that it is society that can understand and quantify the known. We know what a disease like cancer looks like. We know what to do to cure it and fix the body. We as a society don’t know how to handle the unknown. You can’t see PTSD. You can’t see Depression. You can’t see the crippling anxiety that doesn’t leave visible scars. Society sees antisocial behavior. Society sees a lazy slob. Society sees a paranoid weirdo. They don’t see a survivor that is battling unseen demons every day just to get out of bed… and some days, you lose.
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