Since finishing An Impossible Life, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about a question, that has led to more questions, that came to mind while reading a specific part of Sonja’s story. Her sister Allyson gets diagnosed with terminal cancer and Sonja is there when her sister’s Doctor tells Allyson that, “this is going to be a nasty fight, but you can decide when you’re done.”
Why is it acceptable for physically ill patients to decide when they want to be done but not for mentally ill patients? Why can physically ill patients stop fighting but mentally ill patients are frowned upon if they stop? One is physical, one is mental, and I believe they both have some overlap but why is there such a difference?
I cannot stop thinking about this. And I believe that part of it is because of the stigma that still revolves around mental health. I know a lot of has to do with the fact that physical illness can literally kill and attacks your body. I get that. I get that physically ill patients can be dying. They are fighting for their lives, but so are some of the mentally ill.
Jane Clayson Johnson also talks about this in her book, Silent Souls Weeping. She tells a tale about two sisters – one struggled with mental illness to the point she has been hospitalized, and the other was diagnosed with stage-four cancer. For the sister with cancer, there has been nothing but love, support, donations, and thoughtful phone calls and messages. For the sister with depression, there hasn’t been anything close to that reaction. Instead, there is frustration, judgment, and harsh comments. The sister with depression wishes she could be in the shoes of the sister with cancer. Then she could die in an acceptable way, no one would judge her, and her kids and family would be taken care of.
How twisted is this?!
Why don’t we take meals to those working through seasonal affective disorder during the winter? We do when someone has their appendix or gall bladder removed. Why don’t we offer to help watch someone’s kids when their depression makes it hard to get out of bed? We do when someone has a broken arm or leg and can’t do as much. Why don’t we offer to hang out with someone whose anxiety makes them nervous to be alone? We hang out with friends and family all the time.
I have never made an attempt to take my life, but I have thought about it ending it. (Did you just judge me for admitting that?) And not because I feel that the world or my family and friends would be better off without me, no, because I just want to escape my mind. I want to escape the panic attacks that make me think I am going to die. I want to escape the depression that consumes me to the point that I can hardly bring myself to get out of bed at the beginning of each day and causes me to wonder what my purpose is. I want to escape the fear that I constantly live with. I just want relief.
I’m not downplaying physical illness and the nightmare that it is, I’m asking you not to downplay mental illness and the living Hell it is. They are BOTH illnesses, so why are the people that suffer from them not treated the same?