How My Depression Made Me A Better State Representative
When I first told the world I suffered from a major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, I miscalculated. I was angry at the time, and I didn’t realize it would actually have a positive impact on me and the people I represent.
I’m a full-time elected official. I have the great privilege of serving as a Pennsylvania State Representative for the people of the 132nd Legislative District, representing parts of Allentown and South Whitehall township. I’ve held this elected position since 2012, and it is one of the greatest honors of my life.
I never planned on “going public” with my depression and anxiety. Certainly not in a loud way. My family and friends knew, but it wasn’t something I wore on my sleeve.
That changed with the suicide of Robin Williams.
Like many of you, I mourned his death. I wondered how a man with his resources could ultimately lose the fight against his demons. On the day his suicide was announced, I was scrolling through Facebook, and came across this status: “So sad Robin Williams committed suicide. Shame he didn’t have enough faith in Jesus!”
Did people really think this way? Apparently, given the guy’s statement and all the “likes” it had, yes.
So, I decided it was time to tell my story, and wrote an op-ed in the Morning Call, my local paper. In it, I detailed my own struggles with depression and anxiety. A few years later, I went into more detail about the darkest moments of my life, when I considered suicide.
To my pleasant surprise, telling my story was, to be honest, an amazing benefit for my career. I was so angry when I wrote the op-ed that I didn’t think of the political ramifications. But I won awards and accolades from across the state. I don’t mention this to boost my own ego, but to make a point: Living a public life wound up being the best thing for my career.
It became an issue that my constituents knew I could speak about with the credibility of someone with lived experience. I have been approached by hundreds of people who also suffer; sometimes to ask for advice, sometimes to say thank you and other times to simply express solidarity.
Since then, I’ve done more. I co-founded and co-chair the Pennsylvania Mental Health Caucus. I spoke about my own challenges on the floor of the House of Representatives. I’ve appeared in PSAs and spoken at countless events. Legislatively, I’ve fought for funding increases and introduced legislation to help poor mothers get access to treatment for postpartum depression, as well as reduce suicides.
My job requires I live a public life. Every success and every mistake—and believe me, I have made them—are for the whole world to see. The ultimate anecdote to that? Pure, unadulterated honesty. Even with my so-called “flaws,” like the depression and anxiety that periodically rear their ugly heads. I’m still in therapy. I’ve taken medication every single morning since I was 18. And I talk about that all the time, because I want the world to know who I really am. I have publicly said I don’t think I’ll ever “get over” my depression. Recovery is a journey, not a destination. I will always struggle.
But I’ll do it for the whole world to see. That honesty—that willingness to live a public life—is beyond freeing. In a very public job, the whole world knows who I am.
My point is this: Embrace the freedom that living a public life can bring. And help others show the rest of the world their authentic and true self without the fear of negative repurcussions.
Mike Schlossberg is an author, advocate and Pennsylvania State Representative. He has suffered from major depression and a generalized anxiety disorder since he was 18. Check out his blog and his book, “Redemption.”
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Dec. 17, 2018