Last week I had lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile and her husband.
They had only been married one year with a 3-month child when Husband was diagnosed with cancer. As the conversation came around to something about doctors, I replied ‘oh yeah, I know how that is.’ to which Husband exclaimed ‘you had cancer?’ I laughed and nodded.
So we got into the nitty-gritty of the cancer experience.
Many memories came rushing back – the fear, the frustration, the appreciation of every moment. When I came home I watched more reports on Hurricane Harvey and started to see the similarities between that disaster, cancer, and mental illness.
Such events are unexpected and devastating and put you into crisis mode.
Those around you jump in as superheroes giving you support, love, and prayers. At the same time, people stand by feeling helpless because what they can do doesn’t seem like enough – they cannot be in your shoes.
We form a bond with fellow survivors. Talking with my friends going through cancer, they were relieved that I too was familiar with having diminished patience when others complain about “trivial things” and the lack of interest in things that once brought joy (for me it was the television show Grey’s Anatomy).
A trauma forces a shift in your worldview; you find a clarity of what you value. It reshapes you.
I am lucky (knock on wood) that my cancer was cured.
However, the effects on every aspect of my life – body, soul, mind – lingers. Physical wounds visibly heal. Mental wounds are more difficult to triage. Everyone can understand the common pain of a bruised knee. It’s harder to understand the pain you’ve never personally known.
Having a mental illness is much like cancer.
It’s a serious medical illness that affects every aspect of your life. It can keep you out of work, requires treatment, and sometimes hospitalization. It’s very disruptive, chaotic, dangerous. Yet, the suffering of mental illness is invisible and hard to understand.
My personal hurricane –
I had cancer followed by a major manic depressive episode. My expectations of the future and trust in others weakened. My grief, anger, and feelings of loss deepened. My faith was twisted; grateful to God for the life I was given, angry at God for the life I worked for taken away, and confused as to the purpose of it all.
I was blessed to work with many soulful, intelligent, kind young people who helped restore my faith. They gifted me with a great hope for the future. I wish everyone such a life-saving experience.
As we’ve witnessed with Hurricane Harvey,
There is good, there is kindness, there is love, there is light in this world. Most importantly, we are all survivors and we are not alone.