Pennsylvania Democratic Senator John Fetterman, the bald, goateed, year-round shorts and hoodie-wearing guy who beat Mehmet Oz in last year's midterm election after suffering a stroke, is severely depressed.
Ordinarily someone suffering from deep depression would elicit sympathy from everybody who heard about their condition. But given the nasty state of our national politics, I won't be surprised if some Republicans take cheap shots at Fetterman.
After all, they made fun of his difficulty with understanding speech and speaking himself after his stroke, a problem that has continued. So joking about his depression would be in line with previous attempts to make it seem like Fetterman is incapable of being a United States Senator.
I'll try to be optimistic though. Hopefully Fetterman's openness about his battles with depression will help people around the country realize that depression isn't an emotion, like sadness. It's a serious disease.
It may not even make sense to call it a mental illness, since depression can be kicked off by physical problems, including a stroke. And treatment often includes taking an anti-depressant that affects brain chemicals.
This subject is close to my heart because I was diagnosed with a major depressive episode back in 2017. That happened after my bladder became dysfunctional, requiring me to use a urinary catheter five times a day to pee.
Since that had major negative effects on my life, I started off sad and ended up depressed. Getting painful leg cramps that woke me up 4-5 times in the night caused sleep deprivation, which made my depression worse until I went to a sleep doctor and was prescribed gabapentin for the cramps.
In September 2017 I wrote a blog post, "Too depressed to do anything else, I'll write about my depression." This was when I first realized that what I thought was ordinary sadness actually was something much different: clinical depression.
It's a new experience, being depressed. Now, to be honest I haven't actually gotten a depression diagnosis. But my wife, Laurel, is a retired psychotherapist. And she tells me, "Brian, you aren't just tired. You're depressed."
At first I didn't believe her. But Laurel gave me a Psychology Today article, "Depressed Without Knowing It," and that helped to change my mind.
I knew that several health problems had made me anxious, sad, worried, nervous about the future. I also was feeling a lack of energy, and was having trouble doing things that I used to enjoy. But since I'd never suffered from depression, being a pretty damn optimistic person, it took a while for me to realize that something different was happening to me.
...During the past few weeks I'd have occasional (OK, frequent) crying spells and near-panic attacks when I'd think, or tell Laurel, "I feel myself slipping away." Yet obviously there was still a Me able to say that. What I really meant is that the Brian I was used to being was feeling more and more foreign to me, like a person I used to know well, yet now was fading from memory.
If you've never been depressed, it's difficult to imagine feeling like the bottom has fallen out of your previously fairly content psyche. Again, depression isn't like the opposite of happiness. It's much worse than that.
It's feeling like there's no meaning to your existence, or at least very little meaning to it. It's feeling so down, you can't find any hand holds that would let you climb out of your despair. It's feeling like you've got no hope of ever being the person you used to be, because that person is a distant memory.
Fortunately, all of those feelings turned out to be temporary, even though at the time it seemed like they'd be with me forever. I was able to see a psychiatric nurse practitioner at my primary care physician's office, who prescribed me Mirtazapine, an antidepressant.
It took quite a few weeks, but eventually my depression lifted. As I'm confident John Fetterman's depression will. He deserves all the compassion that the American people can send his way, as does every other person suffering from clinical depression.