Why My Mum Would Rather Have Cancer Than Bipolar Disorder

This post was sent to me to be shared anonymously. As someone who has family members who deny the existence of mental illness in our family, I can sadly relate to this idea of her mum's "accident". Even though mental illness is so prevalent in our society, people are still afraid to talk about it and there remains an enormous stigma around it. I hope to see a shift in this thinking in my lifetime.

When I was a kid my mum told me that she would rather have cancer than to be “crazy” because at least if she had cancer no one would blame her, or mock her, or tell her to ‘just snap out of it’; people would have sympathy for her, and would care for her¹.


Then when I was a teenager my mum quietly rode a bus to a bridge. When she got to the bridge she took off her jacket, folded it and set it down at the side of the road. She took off her purse and her shoes and placed them on top of her neatly folded jacket, and jumped feet first off the bridge.


My mum survived the fall. She was even conscious and lucid enough laying on the concrete below the bridge to be embarrassed when a passerby asked if she needed help, and so she said no, she was fine.


In my family my mum’s last suicide attempt is referred to as her “accident.” People in my family say things like, “before your mum’s accident” and “since your mum’s accident” as though it were the most accurate and natural description of what happened. But it isn’t. My mum didn’t have an accident. She was ill, and she tried to end her life intentionally, not accidentally. The word “accident” is a cover, a screen, a way to avoid the shame and disgrace that mental illness carries. It’s also a slap in my mum’s face because it denies her illness, obfuscating the pain and duress at the root of her jump.

My mum has found a level of normality and comfort since her last suicide attempt but she will always be medicated, she will always be fighting depression, her feet will always hurt from the moment she wakes up until the moment she falls asleep, and everyday is a journey.


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¹This is not meant to minimize the enormous challenge, pain and heartbreak that people who have cancer (and their families) experience. It is only meant to illustrate the added layer that the stigma surrounding mental illness adds to the experience of sickness.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As someone who has a history of both cancer and depression in her family, I completely understand this thought. This does not minimise cancer in ANY way, however cancer patients are not shamed or made to feel bad if they seek help. They are rightly encouraged to seek help. Somehow, if you suffer from mental illness and try to seek help it is viewed as something shameful. Society needs such a huge shift in thinking on this matter. Thanks for this post! - Michelle