Cancer versus Crazy
When my dad first got diagnosed with lung cancer, he told me it was something of a relief because for so long in his head he felt like something was wrong. Now he was glad to have the confirmation. I heard every word in slow motion. I felt hot bile push up my esophagus into my mouth as I tried to hold it in. He would rather have cancer than a broken mind, he says to the girl with the broken mind.
I’ve talked at length about my diagnosis (PTSD, Anxiety and Panic disorders), but this side of the story I’ve kept to myself. To date I’ve had what I and probably anyone else would consider two breakdowns. These are different from panic attacks which last only a handful of minutes. Breakdowns are just what they sound like. The most recent one, I called my mom. It was day three of being in my bed inconsolable. I ached, literally physically ached all over and all I wanted to do was fall asleep and never wake up. It was the only way I saw out of the pain, was just to sleep forever. I needed to call and schedule doctors appointments because my disability depended on me getting WEEKLY paperwork filed to continue my services. However, I was in Southern California alone. I couldn’t get out of bed let alone file paperwork. I was useless. So everything fell to the wasteside while I cried and tried desperately to tell myself that this would all pass.
It wasn’t passing. My mom, who doesn’t quite understand what it means to have mental health issues, told me she didn’t know what to do other than tell me to come home or have me committed. I chose to go home. I left bills unpaid, paperwork unfiled, and I went home for about five weeks to get my mind back in order.
Over the course of five or six months, because of the strain of the process paired with my diagnoses, my credit score dropped from 760 to somewhere around 600. Now I’m barely at 540. I went from paying every single bill in full on time to having things in collection and eventually be completely and entirely delinquent.
When I tried to tell friends about it, I felt the hot sticky shame of judgment. Everyone felt I should have simply been better with my money. Stop eating out so much. Stop smoking so much. Do more of this or less of that. I tortured myself over whether I truly needed the advice or whether their remarks were just more of the same things I already knew, but paired with my illness proved to be a difficult task.
Somewhere in the time of my recovery, one of my friends and former students got diagnosed with brain cancer. Immediately our community rallied around her with support love and a GoFundMe so she didn’t get behind as she fought for her life. As happy as I was to support her, I was also deeply jealous. Not because she had a GoFundMe me and I didn’t, but because there just seemed to be so much immediate love and understanding that having cancer means every bit of strength you have goes to fighting cancer so your community steps up to help cover the other bases. Meanwhile here I was wishing for death in a mind that had fractured and what I got was “it’ll pass soon.” “Hang in there Jess” “sending love and light”. I don’t want fucking love and light, I need HELP. I need the same kind of help someone with cancer needs. I’m hurting too. I’m fighting too. I’m trying, too!
Sometimes the rage is easier to recall than others. Today, it’s palpable. I made myself remember the feelings to be able to accurately write this piece. Often struggling with mental health issues, you live your life with your mind stuck on a loop repeating unhelpful things. Here are some of my favorite lies I tell myself:
- you are irresponsible
- you are lazy and do not try hard enough
- you are ungrateful
- you are weak
- you will never succeed because you are weak, lazy and irresponsible
So, when I ask for help and someone says to me anyone of those things? I shut down. Because it is like the very worst of my dears is confirmed. And of course, since I have a mental issue people don’t always have to say those words for me to hear them. Though, I have gotten better at listening to what people say and hearing what they intend rather than what they articulate.
Still, it is a struggle. The stigma around mental health is deeply engrained in our culture. Somehow despite the prevalence of its occurance, we are better at supporting cancer than crazy. There are patient advocates, social workers, ribbons, and most of all a general sense of understanding that we have and a grace we extend to those fighting cancer. I tell my stories so openly and so candidly because I want the same empathy for people like me. HELP US.
- I want to see disability paperwork become less difficult to file and benefits easier to receive.
- I want companies to extend grace periods to people suffering from any mental or medical emergency that allow them to ge their finances in order to avoid disruption of services or serious long term credit implications
- I want people to understand how incredibly difficult it is to fight depression and anxiety. It is JUST AS HARD AS CHEMO. Stop telling us to shake it off. Stop telling us it’s only temporary, it’s not. This is how my brain works and every day of my life I have to work at my thoughts. Stop trying to “help” by assuming you know what is best for me. If you do for others what they can do for themselves you rob them of the opportunity to learn (or relearn) their own strengths.
- Listen when I speak. Don’t listen to answer. Don’t listen to problem solve. Don’t listen to take notes and be informed. Listen to HEAR ME.
Losing my job, I realized there’s still a long way to go in terms of understanding mental health. Being seen and treated as deficient when really, you’re just different, is incredibly difficult. And it only fucks with your mind more. But I say this to my fellow crazies, do not let anyone gaslight you. You know your truth. Stick by it. Get you a crazy crew of friends who also carry diagnoses and manage multiple meds per day. They will save you when the whole world wants to question your sanity. You are not weak. You’re fighting a battle people can’t even imagine. And as long as you continue to fight, that’s a win. Because this enemy just wants your surrender, but we can’t offer that. You do not belong to depression. You are not beholden to anxiety. Tell them both who you are and proclaim yourself sovereign. Then fight like hell until you can feel that truth.