The Power of a Public Life: Living Openly With Anxiety and Depression as an Elected Official
Well, let me start with a bit of a confession: My job requires that I talk about myself a lot. It’s something I’ve never quite been comfortable with, but, well…sucks for me.
Let me add a second confession: The title of what I wrote – “The Power of a Public Life” – means two different things.
And, a final confession, since I believe in being totally honest (again, despite my full-time job): I’m writing this in part to talk about a really public portion of my life. Now that the confessions are out of the way…
Hi there. My name is Mike Schlossberg. I’m 34 years old and lucky enough to be married to a wonderful woman, Brenna. We have two wonderful children: Auron (7) and Ayla (5). Bonus points if you know the origin of the names.
So, what makes me a little different? Well, three things. First, 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 had this job since 2012.
Second: I live with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. I have all my life.
And third, which you probably figured out: I’m very, very honest about my struggles.
That wasn’t always the case. I never really hid who I was, per se, but I never talked about it openly.
That changed with the suicide of Robin Williams.
Like many of you, I mourned his death, and wondered how a man with his resources and force of personally could ultimately lose the fight against his demons. On the day his suicide was announced, I was putzing through Facebook, and came across this status: “So sad Robin Williams committed suicide. Shame he didn’t have enough faith in Jesus!”
My damn head almost exploded. How could someone be so ignorant? 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. You can find that here. In it, I detailed my own struggles with depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation.
Since then, I’ve done more. I cofounded and cochair 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.
To my pleasant surprise, telling my story was… well, to be honest… an amazing boon for my career. I was so angry when I wrote the op-ed that I didn’t think of the political ramifications. I was floored when people began to call my office to say, “I have depression too,” ask for advice or just say thank you. 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’s my trademark issue. People want that — they want to see people for who they really are, not just their public face. I have this theory: Deep down, everyone wants a real person. They don’t want the mask. And if you are brave enough to show who you really are, they’ll be grateful.
That being said, as incredibly fulfilling as my job can be, I found myself wanting to do more. In 2014, I went through a particularly rough patch. I’ve always had a hobby: I write. And, during the worst of this bad spell, I decided that I wanted to write again as a form of therapy. I went with a young adult, science fiction plot about a group of teenagers who get put onto a spaceship and have to save the world. The twist: The main character suffers from depression and anxiety. Sound familiar?
To my pleasant surprise: The book is being published on June 5. “Redemption” is available here.
So. Back to my point. 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 from 18 on, 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 who they really are.
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Getty image via Bolsunova