Disease Wars

From Wildflowers Movement blog, by Jenny Westberg

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” George Orwell probably wasn’t thinking about health conditions when he wrote this, but that’s one of the ways it’s played out.

In physical health, every serious illness is difficult. Every life-threatening crisis is terrifying. Every survivor is brave.

Some equally difficult life-and-death struggles, however, have a little more cachet.  Some survivors are more celebrated for survival.

See my pink ribbon? That’s right, I’m heading to the breast cancer fun run.

Oh, did I sound flip? Actually, I consider it unimaginably loathsome to minimize, in any way, any person’s struggle with breast cancer.

But right now, my sister is making an effort against a form of cancer that will never get a parade.

Why is this? Every person going through cancer has a terrible journey, and everyone who survives should be celebrated.

Of course, some cancers have names people don’t like to say.  “Breast” is nicer than “rectum.” It’s more interesting than “skin,” and certainly sexier than “bladder.” Breast cancer, unlike lung cancer, doesn’t cause anyone to think “it was all your own stupid fault.” So it’s easier to come forward, to say you have this. It’s likelier you’ll find support.

Breast cancer, compared to some other cancers, is more likely to be detected at an early stage. Compared to some cancers, there are more effective treatments. And compared to some, overall, it might even be more survivable.

It’s a horrible thing. It’s not more or less horrible than any other horrible thing. Surviving it is no more wonderful.

Yet – see my pink ribbon?

A crisis is a crisis is a crisis.

But disease vs. disease one-upmanship really gets down and dirty in the area of mental health.

My friend has told me, in a reassuring way, “I don’t think you have schizophrenia at all. I think you’re really bipolar.” Why is that preferable?

Someone told me about her time in the state hospital, making sure I knew that, unlike so many others, she never, never cut on herself. Finally I asked if she really looked down on this as much as it sounded. There was a rush of wind, followed by a great noise of backpedaling. Okay. But I’ll hear this again.

When proposed revisions to the DSM-5 were announced, many “Aspies” loudly objected to being called “autistic.” Seriously?

But it gets even sillier.

Some of these same people, if pressed, would agree that, fundamentally, all these terms – “bipolar,” “Asperger’s,” everything –  are meaningless labels. They would agree there’s no basis in science or sense; that they are attached by fancy or the phase of the moon; and that their only clear merit is providing better, more effective ways to demean and destroy.

Random example from cyberspace: “The DSM-5 proposal will do Aspies a disservice, not a favor, because it will only exacerbate the damage that labels do.”

How’s that again?

You want this particular nonsense word, not the other nonsense word?

My label is better than yours?

You’re not better than me if I cut myself, while you only make “real” suicide attempts. I’m not worse than you if I hear voices and you never have.  I’m not somehow superior because the DSM says I have a better prognosis. I’m not tragic or gifted if you give me a list of great people who supposedly have similar experiences.  And no matter what “common knowledge” says, no matter what I go through, I’m never a lost cause.

Folks, in this barn we’re all just animals.