My name is Mike Schlossberg. I’m 34 and living in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I’m a very lucky man: I’m married to a wonderful woman, Brenna, who teaches in the Allentown School District. We have two young kids, Auron & Ayla, and they are our pride and joy. My full time job is to serve the people of the 132nd Legislative District as a State Representative. I’m also a writer and have written a book called Tweets and Consequences: 60 Social Media Disasters in Politics and How You Can Avoid a Career-Ending Mistake. You can expect to hear more from me about my writing projects in the future.
But, my blog would be pretty boring if it was all about how lucky I was, right?
For more than twenty years of my life, I’ve suffered from pretty severe depression and anxiety attacks. Like any other illness, it has ebbed and flowed, but it hit a crisis point when I was in college, the only time in my life I’ve been so depressed that I seriously contemplated suicide.
Since that time, I’ve seen therapists on an as needed basis, and taken medication to control the worst of the symptoms; for the past fifteen years, not a day in my life has gone by without me swallowing a life-saving drug, prescribed by a psychiatrist.
Living with depression and anxiety disorders is a challenge, to put it politely. I’ve experienced no worse hell in my life than a full blown anxiety attack and the inescapable pain and terror that comes with it. Depression is a different but related animal, and on a personal level, the last five years of my life have seen more challenges with that than the anxiety. Depression, for those of you who have been lucky enough to always avoid it – well, there are many metaphors. The best one I can think of: Imagine depression as a randomized Instagram filter that you can’t turn off. Sometimes it’s super dark and affects each and every thing you see. Other times it’s so slight you barely notice it. But it’s always there, somewhere in the back of your mind, coloring everything that you experience.
While I’d never hidden my challenges from my family and friends, I never exactly stood at a street corner, screaming “I TAKE PILLS!” That changed on August 11, 2014: The day that Robin Williams killed himself. Williams’ suicide broke my heart, and like many who suffered from mental illness, I was floored: If it ended his life, why not me? Why was I so lucky to still be alive, and relatively okay, when someone like him killed themselves?
While scrolling through my newsfeed, I came across some schmuck who had written something to the effect of, “So sad Robin Williams killed himself. Shame he didn’t have more faith in Jesus!”
Umm, no. NONONONO that’s not how this works. Oh, and Williams was Jewish, you idiot.
That moronic Facebook status inspired me to go public, and one day later, my local paper published an op-ed I wrote, detailing my own struggles with depression and anxiety. That dramatically changed my career. Since then, I’ve spoken across the state and in Washington about my struggles and how to effective combat the stigma that surrounds mental illness. I’ve worked on legislation to help mothers to be treated for postpartum depression and started the Pennsylvania Mental Health Caucus. I also spoke publicly about my mental illness on the floor of the House:
That speech was…difficult. And necessary.
Anyway, after months (if not years) of putting it off, I finally came to the conclusion that a blog might be a good way to get information out. Mental illness is treatable. It is survivable. You can live a happy, wonderful, productive life despite mental illness …and yeah, I mean that. I can’t imagine my life without the suffering I’ve endured, because it made me a better person and a better public official. So, here I am, blogging away.
As for the reason I am blogging: Well, I’ve got two things on my mind, one I can discuss in detail, and one that will be discussed at a future date.
First, I want to discuss mental illness in general. I come at this from a few perspectives. First is the personal one. In my journey as a public official living with mental illness, I’ve been floored at my own personal effectiveness in telling my story – and let me clarify that, lest you think my ego is enormous. There is nothing more effective in supporting those with mental illnesses – and in beating stigma – than telling your own story. I want to keep doing that, to keep reminding people that they are not alone by putting a real face to mental illness. I want to make sure that people realize they are never.
I also want to discuss mental illness in a broader context. Among the things I will hopefully discuss here is the interaction of public policy and mental health, coping strategies, public views on mental health, and more.
Second, in a few months I’ll have a new project to launch. It is a personal one, and one that is deeply important to me. I’ll have more on that later.
Before I go, two quick disclaimers. First, as noted above, I’m a Pennsylvania State Representative, so it seems prudent for me to note this: This is a personal project. There may be times that I discuss public policy, just like any other person. That being said, all blog entries are being written on my own time, with my own computer and my own resources. None of this is being done on governmental equipment or using other legislative resources, and nothing I discuss will bring any “confidential” information to bear.
Second, please understand: I’m not a doctor. Any advice I give is based on my own personal experience and readings, NOT based on medical training. If you are ill, please see a Doctor. If you are in crisis, or worried about harming yourself, help is available. You are never, ever alone.
So, that’s it for now! I hope to have more to say later, but for now, have a wonderful day, and remember: As long as you breathe, there is hope.