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Does Cancer or MS Trump Mental Illness?

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On Jan. 1, I received a text from a family member: "Happy new year! Thank God 2014 is over! Hopefully we won't have to deal with this in 2015." The "this" being referred to is my mental illness, more specifically my depression.

Although not entirely shocked by the words, I couldn't help but wonder that if my illness was actually something visible; something where my baldness spoke to the severity of my diagnosis; something where the tremors in my hands and the twitches in my face suggested degenerative concerns -- I wondered if the person composing the text would have made it as lackadaisical as it came out sounding, especially considering that the same person who sent the text hasn't been able to look me in the eye since my diagnosis.

Although my family seems to be getting better at understanding my health issues; like why I stay in bed for days at a time; why my eyes brim with tears for no apparent reason; why they'll find me crying at the kitchen table -- I often wonder and will occasionally verbalize, "Would you do or say this if I had Parkinsons or Multiple Sclerosis?", both of which can manifest not only physical symptoms, but also psychiatric ones

Despite the fact that my illness is merciless in its tyranny, the pain on my family's face when they see the effects of my mental agony only serves to feed the bottomless pit of my sadness. On days when I'm not crouched so low that it's easier to crumple to the floor than to stand up, a sudden surge of strength will allow me to hide the symptoms; because honestly, their desire to flee in the other direction when they witness me in various states of obvious depression (my bathrobe trailing behind me -- a staple in my wardrobe as predictable to those suffering from depression as the little black dress is for fashionistas,) I will continue to bat away at the harassing trolls that continually gnaw at me. I will try anything in order to avoid seeing the forlorn looks on my husband and my children's faces.

And although I willfully decide to protect my family and friends from the image of the ghost of the woman that I've become, floating from room to room wondering when my mind decided that happiness was no longer an option, I still get annoyed. Yes, I'm annoyed at the world. I'm annoyed at our society.

Why do I have to hide and pretend that all is okay when in reality, walking from my bed to my couch is often the extent of my daily effort? If I were in between bouts of chemo, and resting on the couch when a guest came for a visit, I wouldn't feel ashamed that I haven't combed my hair or brushed my teeth. I'm sick. Some days are such that the pain in my soul is searing as the iron continues to brand it.

And honestly, who are we kidding? Unlike someone who, sadly, has been diagnosed with a physical illness, my family and I don't really speak out about my depression. They aren't told of of a chemo schedule or a doctor's visit where prognosis is discussed. My doctor's visits are quiet and lonely. I don't call friends and family to tell them that I've been put on new medication which doesn't guarantee anything but nausea, tremors, stomach aches, diarrhea and/or constipation. They aren't told, nor do they understand, that I have years....YEARS...of therapy and drug interactions to help in the stabilization of my moods. This isn't as news worthy as a biopsy or a mastectomy.

So no, I don't have to worry about propping myself up with pillows on the couch as people come to wish me well, and ask what they can do for me. There are no friends or family showing up at my door with casseroles in hand. Unlike my girlfriend who had an entourage when she was at the hospital undergoing her chemotherapy, when I walk out of my psychiatrist's office, a new prescription in hand, there are no people waiting at the door to hug me, and ask me how it went, and what can they do for me. Because it's just a doctor's appointment. There is no fanfare. Illness is never glamorous. But mental illness falls even beneath that. It can be managed. And if it isn't, there's something wrong with you. So on some days, when it's easier to pretend that you're okay than to mourn the death of happiness, you wonder if actual death would just be simpler.

Health is health. One disease does not trump another. But support goes a long way in raising spirits and causing one to feel less alone; less isolated. Depression is a state which has for its purpose to gnaw away at your mind bit by bit, until you have given up completely. And when that happens, the outcome is the same for someone battling from depression as someone fighting cancer.

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