While not related to depression, I have in the past written about my own issues with anxiety. The different traumatic experiences in my life, from being there when cancer related pneumonia took my grandpa, to various accidents, to the ups and downs that imprint themselves on our brains uniquely, have shaped me.
I believe they have made me more empathetic. But they have also made me more acutely aware of the fact that human beings, regardless of title or status, are not machines. We are not ChatGPT, because we internalize our experiences and hopefully, reconcile our emotions. One of the reasons AI could never truly replace quality writing is that I believe a passionate speaker or writer is able to paint a picture with their prose with authenticity only the path of life could inspire them to create.
What we know is that Senator Fetterman, a devout humanitarian who happens to be a Senator, has decided that the era of hiding imperfections needs to conclude.
Gone should be the days when a politician is expected to have the health of a tri-athlete and a bravado masquerading as a strength that is presented as if forged out of steel. John Fetterman, Senator from Pennsylvania, is first John Fetterman, human being, who happens to hold the title and office of United States Senator.
As it applies to depression, we should not look at John’s plight as some sort of debilitation. It is not some kind of deal-breaker. In fact we need to take a minute to acknowledge, each and every one of us, the realities of our own nightmares perpetrated upon us by neurochemical or stress-related antagonists. Yes, all of us.
I was depressed for years after my grandpa died. Years after losing friends, family, and kitties, I still am hit with waves of sadness.
Sitting there in a doctor’s office going from wondering if I will need shoulder surgery to I might lose a kidney in five minutes did a number on me too. One day prior to sitting in that emergency room, I was at a Spring Training baseball game with my brother, which I believe one of the last ones played before Covid stopped the season cold. Then the train we naively named “Normalcy” went off of its tracks.
I was diagnosed with cancer, as Covid was shutting the world down, leaving me very little place to vent the toxic worry accumulating in my mind. If only it was so easy to be like Artificial Intelligence. If only there was a delete button against traumas. But then, we would not be human.
In fact, it is believed a good portion of substance abuse stems from what is called self-medicating. And some of that is from at attempt to bury the truth of our own vulnerabilities. The John Wayne mentality that infected this nation dictates that “real men” don’t cry or show fear, or show signs of wear.
They don’t waver. They are soldiers, as emotionless as a robot, ready to take on any challenge no matter what is going on. The inability to live up to this standard still holds us back today.
It was standard expected of my grandpa.
But before he died, my grandpa gave me a tremendous gift. Despite being born in 1925, he allowed me to see his vulnerability. He took me into his world of guilt. He painted the picture of walking to the side of the ship when the wind would blow smoke away from his face, separating from his best friend that he entered the Navy with. Seconds later, that separation would be permanent, as a Japanese pilot crashed his plane into the bow of the carrier.
His friend since childhood was obliterated. His cigarette was not even half-finished.
It is called survivor’s guilt. Grandpa did not know why he was meant to live, but he lived the rest of his days torn up by the guilt from not being able to save him.
And so it would be that a few months before he would die, my grandpa gave me the gift of allowing me to see him cry.
So comes now John Fetterman, a lovable everyman that exudes power and strength. The kind of man that other men look up to. But unlike the right-wing world, where toxic masculinity is a badge of honor, John lives on earth, as a human, not a caricature of a movie character trading off the insecurities of his fans.
John Fetterman is a human being. And human beings laugh, yell, worry, and cry. They feel a range of emotions. They get sick. And eventually they die. In between are all sorts of experiences and memories, good, bad, terrifying and invigorating. Some of us live in a world where the line between irrational and rational blurs, whether that is through depression, or OCD, or other illnesses.
And make no mistake about it-John Fetterman is not the first high-profile elected official to struggle with depression, he is just one of the few to be open about it.
Another one you might have heard of who was open about his struggle, lives in the White House. While perhaps not designated as clinical depression, when President Biden lost his wife Neilla and infant daughter Naomi to a car accident, and later his adult son, Beau to cancer, he went through stages of profound grief that strengthened his dedication to humanity. It takes a great level of maturity to trust one’s own emotions, and then to allow them to propel their personal growth.
Someone like that makes a great President.
We will hear of course, questions about John’s fitness, or whispers about his sanity, or all sorts of despicable propaganda from the usual suspects. But when you do, don’t forget, these are people who decided to build their lives around a false projection of strength, and they are as frail and troubled as any of the rest of us. They suffer too. They just decided being phony is more beneficial to themselves.
Senator John Fetterman decided that publicly acknowledging the truth of his own struggles in life, would be more beneficial, to us.