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Mental Illness Put My Political Dreams on Hold... Then Herschel Walker Showed Up

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Ever since I was a little girl, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “The President of the United States.” My dad was a lawyer, and I was going to be a lawyer and then move into a career as a politician. I wanted to start my political career on a school board and then move my way up. My dad ran for city council when I was 16, so it was in my blood.

When I was 23, I was diagnosed with bipolar, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and dissociative identity disorder (DID). My dreams of being a politician were dashed. I felt no one would vote for a person with mental illness, especially for someone with dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder).

I have watched how those with metal health conditions are treated. We are discriminated against and mistreated. We are thought of as less than others, dangerous, incompetent, unintelligent and second-class citizens. Society also views the those with mental illness as irrational and ill-equipped to make sound decisions, and this would impact our leadership in the political world. They are thinking we are lazy and could not possibly hold down a job.

None of this is true about those with mental health conditions. It is true we can struggle with day-to-day skills, but we are also doctors, lawyers, dentists, grocery store clerks and teachers. We have relationships with significant others, raise children and make and maintain friendships.

The more I have learned about my own mental health condition and those of my friends and others, I know we are competent and capable of so much more than what society expects of us. Society is also changing and learning more about those with a mental health condition as more of us come out of the proverbial closet about our conditions. It is becoming more mainstream to talk about one’s condition and get support from the community. This, however, has limits. You see famous people talking about their anxiety, depression or eating disorders, but you be hard-pressed to hear about a diagnosis of schizophrenia, bipolar or DID. There is still a lot of stigma around these severe conditions and society does not appear ready to confront these just yet.

Maybe until now.

Herschel Walker is an American retired football player, bobsledder, sprinter and mixed martial artist. He played college football for the University of Georgia, earned consensus All-American honors three times and won the 1982 Heisman Trophy and has just announced his political run for Georgia’s U.S. Senate seat in 2022.

Mr. Walker is well known and has emerged as an instant favorite in the race for U.S. Senate. Mr. Walker also has some challenges ahead of him. In the local paper, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, they are already speaking on his mental health, violent past and fitness to serve. “Walker says he suffers from dissociative identity disorder, which he traces to an isolated childhood in rural east Georgia where his speech impediment made him a frequent target for bullies. Voices in his head that once calmed him steadily transformed into distinct identities that shaped his actions.”

Mr. Walker has stated publicly and has written a book, “Breaking Free: My Life With Dissociative Identity Disorder,” about his DID back in 2008. I read this book and he speaks of being bullied in school and his community and how this triggered a lot of anger and the splits that occurred. I read the book because I was curious to see a famous Black man publicly claim such a stigmatized mental health condition. His book was compelling and triggered a lot of thoughts about if I could I tell my story publicly, too.

Now, here he is running for one of the highest profile positions in public service in our country. I wonder if anything has changed. Is the country ready for this? Will the media handle this issue appropriately or will this dissolve into stigmatizing those with mental illness further? I am worried where this may be headed. In addition to having a mental health condition, Mr. Walker was found to have held a gun to his ex-wife’s head. Will we now hear abut how those with mental health conditions are violent?

I do not support Mr. Walker’s run for Senate for issues of principle, but I am intrigued that society maybe ready for this. This is a big test, and our chances of failure are high. I will be watching intently to see how he handles the pressure and how the political world treats him based on his mental health diagnosis. I know this will be an issue, it just remains to be seen how high profile and damaging it will be.

Stay tuned.


Lead image via Wikimedia Commons

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