By Eddie Whitlock
I was surprised that John Fetterman won his U.S. Senate race. Our nation has embraced charlatans in the past, and Dr. Oz certainly fit that category.
Fetterman is what we here in Georgia would call “a big ole boy.” He chose not to dress in a coat and tie on most occasions. He preferred shorts and hoodies. Dr. Oz said this was like kicking authority in the balls. I think that phrase wound up on a Fetterman campaign tee-shirt.
He had a stroke early in the campaign. His opposition suggested he wasn’t up to the job. The voters thought otherwise.
This week, John Fetterman checked himself into the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for treatment of clinical depression. Donald Trump, Jr., son of our nation’s most loathsome charlatan, referred to Fetterman as “the vegetable Senator from Pennsylvania.”
I’m hoping Fetterman gets the treatment he needs and returns soon to Washington. I have other opinions on where the Trumps should go.
I had started writing that piece on February 15, a few days prior to Fetterman’s news, but this column is about my own mental health experience. I am on medication for depression, and I am in therapy.
When my mama found out I was in therapy years ago, she said, “Honey, if you’re having problems and you need to talk to somebody, you can call me.”
Were my life the situation comedy I sometimes treat it like, I would have replied, “Mother! You ARE the problem!” and the laugh track would have roared.
My mother was not the problem. Neither was my father. My relationships with them were problematic at times, but they were not the problem.
At some point in the late 80s, I found out that we were all on anti-depressants. FWIW: my parents remained on them until they died, and I am still on them today.
My father had some serious mental health issues when he was younger. I remember sitting with my mother at the dining room table, writing a letter to my father. He was in the state mental hospital at Milledgeville, undergoing shock therapy.
I was very young, and I can only remember that when he came home, I was supposed to be quiet around him.
I’m surprised that he gave in to treatment. He saw a psychiatrist briefly after that. I don’t remember how long that lasted. I guess I could say “not long enough,” and it would be accurate.
My father was born in 1935 into a share-cropper family. He quit school to take a job in a textile mill, and his fate seemed cast. He met my mother in the mid-1950s. They married in 1957, and I was born the next year.
Some bad things happened in my father’s life. These things left him with what was probably post-traumatic stress disorder or something similar.
That he went for treatment in the early 1960s still amazes me.
On my mother’s side of the family, I must mention my beloved Grandma Rosie, born Rosie Vale (after Teddy Roosevelt) Maner in 1914. My maternal grandparents were also sharecroppers who later worked in the mills.
My grandmother developed severe migraine headaches in the 1950s. Her doctor recommended a lobotomy.
Grandma Rosie didn’t lose her mental acumen. She lost her sense of smell. It was an odd deficit to deal with. Her main concern was that she might not be aware of a gas leak in her home.
Grandma lived to be 86 and was a sharp cookie on her deathbed, telling us untold tales of her eloping with my grandfather and a failed effort to unionize the textile mills. She had a small divot in her forehead as a visible reminder of her encounter with the medical community of that time.
My father seemed to be better by the latter 1960s. He managed to open a business that struggled, survived, and then thrived.
During my childhood years, mental health issues were referenced as a person’s having “nerves” or “nerve trouble.” I think everyone in Grandma Rosie’s family – except Grandma Rosie – was on nerve pills. If my father was on medication for mental health at that time, I am not aware of it.
I was a smart kid. I was in the gifted program! (Please recognize this as the sarcastic comment it is meant to be.)
I really had the idea that I could out-think mental health issues. Depressed? Positive thinking! Manic? Focused thinking! Confused? Slow thinking! Obsessed? Calm thinking!
Wow. Was I ever full of shxt.
By the time I was in a high-pressure job in my late 30s, I was starting to realize I couldn’t out-think my depression. I wound up on medication that helped. I started seeing a therapist who helped.
Over the years, I have been a patient of four different therapists.
My first was a nice lady with whom I already had a professional relationship. We had put together a successful grant proposal that provided mental health services to a group of low-income women. The project went well.
I was leery of becoming a patient. Part of my hesitance was fear that my secrets revealed in therapy might become a document that could come back to haunt me in the future.
This lady told me that an insurance company could indeed request documents from my therapy, but that she specifically never wrote down personal information.
I don’t know if this is still the case. I have had other therapists tell me similar things.
My second therapist came when I was trying to pull myself together about ten years after that. There was a little dog who came with that therapist. The sessions were very helpful, but I also really enjoyed spending time with the dog.
I went through a divorce in 2015 that rattled me. My ex- did the right thing in divorcing me. I was a mess, and I wasn’t trying to get better. The divorce forced me to do so.
I wound up seeing a good therapist in downtown Athens. This was an emergency. I did better, thanks to therapy. I should have been there sooner.
As is too often the case, I ran into problems with my insurance covering what I needed. I had to quit seeing that person. A little while after, I found my current therapist.
Gradually I was able to feel hope again. I met Joan and fell in love with her. Love wasn’t easy at first. I was still falling into depression and letting it affect my behavior. My therapist met with Joan and me.
The meeting generated guidance for communicating honestly and for accepting communications. I keep notes from that session, and I look at them every day to keep myself on track.
I meet with my therapist every month or so. I’m not going to mention her name, but if you contact me and ask, I will tell you. She guides me by listening, offering strategies for dealing with specific issues, and assigning me homework in the form of behavioral exercises or reading suggestions.
So many of the issues faced by our society could be improved if mental health therapy were more available and were utilized. I really believe in the combination of medication and therapy.
John Fetterman is the latest public figure to seek out help. His opponents may try to say he has a weakness, but I believe he is showing true strength. I hope he becomes a role model for getting mental health help.
I wish more people would do the same. I can vouch for the benefits.
Eddie Whitlock is a Georgia native, a graduate of UGA, and a wannabe writer. He retired in 2021 from the Athens-Clarke County Library, where he worked as coordinator of volunteers, community service supervisor, and vending machine scapegoat.