Cancer sounds ominous and miserable, as it is, but it is not messing with my brain or my heart. My cancer is, as cancers go, manageable. My prognosis is very good; I am plodding through several months of chemotherapy, but I know when to expect it will end and that helps me cope with bad days.
Cancer is also a public illness, where depression is largely private. Everyone in our congregation knows I have cancer and they have some idea how to talk to me about it and how to help me. They bring me meals, they care for my children, they pray for me. I can talk about feeling crummy or being sad that my hair is falling out.
Depression was a completely different experience for me. I felt isolated and always uncertain with whom I might talk about my depression. Mental illness is hard to understand. For someone who has never suffered from depression it is hard to figure out how to be helpful.
In the midst of depression I lacked perspective beyond my own experience. The world seemed dark and hopeless and I found it hard to understand the hopeful things other people said to me. It felt like they were talking in fairy tales and I was living in the real world, a dark tiny world of endless sadness.
The couple of times that I felt vaguely suicidal, usually in the form of wishing someone else who was more competent could live my life for a while, my therapist told me that was not normal. Healthy people, she'd say, see unpleasant circumstances in their lives as a challenge, but one they take on because it's their life. I could hardly imagine it. Who would want to live the life I was in then?
Now I understand it. I hate cancer, but it is part of my life and I will cope with it the best I can. God's grace is sufficient, one day at a time, and someday this will end.