Mental Health Monday – John Fetterman Edition


It’s extremely difficult to ask for help. No matter how big or small the problem, for many of us our reaction is often, “I’m good, I can do it, It’s fine.” Is it really? Whether we like to admit it or not, this can be more difficult for men, especially a man who is considered the head of his family, who just went through a health crisis, who is adjusting to unexpected changes in diet and lifestyle, who is being ridiculed for seeking help for a serious medical issue, whose family is mocked for nothing more than being his family, who went through a tough political race, and began a new job mere weeks ago.

It’s a lot.

It can be a lot without all of that going on.

For myself, I ignored a lot of my anxiety and depression. It didn’t occur to me that there was a problem. When you feel that something is off and search for help (today through Google), the wrong questions are asked. Do you skip out on work? Do you sleep a lot? Do you want to harm yourself? If your answers are no, you’re fine.

But you’re not.

I’m talking about myself, and not suggesting any of this is true for Senator Fetterman. Please don’t use this as an implication to some secret knowledge or diagnosis of the Senator. It’s not.

I never felt suicidal. I thought my anxiety over little things was normal. Growing up in the 80s there was still a (as somewhat today) feeling of misogyny – women can be hysterical, they’re sensitive, go on holiday, try a valium. I was a teenager, sitting on the stairs, waiting desperately for my parents to come home. This was normal for me. It wasn’t until my official diagnosis that I realized this was not normal.

I never wanted to kill myself. That thought never crossed my mind. I was never a big fan of death, and getting there sooner rather than later was ludicrous on its face. I would not want to die. Therefore, I wasn’t depressed.

Looking back after diagnosis, I saw a lot of signs throughout my life. Sitting on the stairs, waiting for my parents to come home in a safe, suburban neighborhood with the door locked was definitely one of those signs that I’ve had this all of my life. I remember sitting in the back seat of the car with my siblings while my parents went into the drug store. I was hysterical, wondering when – or if – they would come back. I was the oldest and I wound my siblings up with my hysteria. To the point that passersby were concerned for us. After my second child, I thought I might be depressed, but in answering the question, “Do you want to harm yourself or your baby?” the answer was always no, of course not, never, and so I moved on. It might have gotten worse had I not gotten pregnant soon after and my hormones kicked in and made everything all better. For a while.

But it wasn’t better.

My depression took me away (mentally and emotionally) from my youngest child that I still feel regret and guilt over. I loved her and do love her beyond anything I could imagine (as I do my boys as well), but it was a lot. I love her independence, but I hate that I know some of that is because of my lethargy through undiagnosed depression.

I started becoming very emotional, crying for little or no reason.

I started forgetting things, like an important letter for my son’s class project. That teacher picked up that slack, but I cried over it. I still feel it.

When I began to really think of ways to kill myself, I knew there was a problem. You know, because of that whole “not a fan of death” thing I’ve had my whole life. I also thought that if I wrecked my car, our only car, it would leave my family in a mess, so that obligation to my family stopped me. While I was pregnant with my third child, I began to write a will for my special things on scraps of paper. I did not think I was getting gout of that third delivery. My husband had noticed this and stayed with me while the nurses cared for the baby, something he usually (two times before) assisted with.

I thought it was a thyroid problem. It wasn’t.

I thought it was something else. It wasn’t.

It wasn’t any of the things WebMD said it might be.

I finally went to my doctor and for the first time I was honest. I was diagnosed with severe depression. I was immediately put on medication. I was given the name of a therapist. My doctor programmed my phone for the Suicide Lifeline, now conveniently easy to remember at 988.

It took a while for the right medicine to work. We changed medications at least twice. We changed doses. It took a month or more. Even more than a year later, we needed to adjust the dosage.

Asking for help is only the first step; adjusting medication, lifestyle, adding in therapy and other coping skills, and it’s a lifetime of recovery as I’ve discovered.

During that first year, I began to watch a television series, Supernatural. There was a scene with the main character, Dean Winchester, who’s been drugged. His brother was trying to get him to listen, to pay attention, and Dean reacted by saying, “I don’t care. And you know what, I don’t care that I don’t care.

And that was me. I didn’t care that I didn’t care.

I could not remain in this state.

I found an offering of a memoir writing workshop and my days became filled with Catholic mass (even though I wasn’t Catholic, or even Christian), physical therapy, talk therapy, and memoir writing or writing therapy. I kept a tight schedule during the week, and on the weekend, I would look forward to Monday when the kids would go to school, my husband would go to work, and I’d go to church, therapy, and writing, and get through another week. And then I’d do it all over again.

At this difficult time, I found that making and keeping lists was a very effective way to make sure I didn’t forget anything important; or anything not important. I would list normal, everyday things, like shower, breakfast, call car insurance, shopping list, menu, everything.

When I’m having difficulties, I still use lists.

Now, that I’m in a more settled space, I can cope when the depression takes over again. I’m very self-aware of how I’m feeling, and I do the things that work for me.

I also talk about it. A lot.

Probably too much for some people, but I want my kids to see that there’s nothing wrong with talking about our mental health. They know it’s okay to take mental health days. They know it’s okay to be aware of how we’re feeling and to talk about it with me or their friends, their dad…or even a doctor.

I try to live my recovery without letting the stigma of mental illness take it over. It can get bad if it hides in the dark, so we bring it into the light. We face it. We own it, and we don’t let other people make us feel any way about it.

I’ve recently developed a weekly form for myself to be something of a master list for the week with important items put on the days themselves. I can glance at it when my kids ask if I can drive them somewhere. I’m also developing something similar for my Lenten journey this year. I’ll talk about that more on Thursday.

Do not be intimidated by the list of links below. You are not meant to do them all in the same twenty-four hours. They are suggestions that have worked for me and others. At different times.

However, they don’t all work for everyone, and more importantly, they all don’t work all the time. Even if they’ve worked before. I do not want you to get frustrated. They’re merely a resource: something to keep in your tool kit for when you need to pull a trick out from up your sleeve.

The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. There are many of us out here living with depression and moving forward. It’s okay to be hesitant, but the rest of us…are here to help.

You can visit my previous posts about mental health through the following tags and links:

Mental Health Monday

Mental Health Monday – Lists

Lists & Listmaking

A Coping Skills Toolbox

What’s in my (Coping) Took Kit? (Includes other related links)

John Fetterman is using his campaign email list to raise money – not for him or his future campaign, but for mental health organizations. If you are so inclined to contribute, the organizations he’s supporting are:

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers’ Association

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