When I heard reports of Heidi Cruz’s depression and how it’s being used to smear her husband’s campaign, I was very upset—not so much by the use of wives as pawns in political power plays, but by the exploitation of a woman’s dark night of the soul to gain political advantage.
Millions of Americans experience depression every year, with women facing the illness at double the rate of men. This fact alone should rouse our compassion, not our judgment, and certainly not our condemnation. Stigma for mental illness should be a thing of the past. Suffering with depression doesn’t mean you’re crazy or incompetent. To make that implication robs people of dignity and hope—the very things they need to find healing.
Broadcasting Cruz’s former struggle with depression, as if it is somehow a game-changer in her husband’s bid for the White House, perpetuates archaic notions about depression and heaps shame on people suffering from this terrible illness.
Cruz’s depression became fodder for the press when a police report surfaced about an incident in Texas more than a decade ago. Here is the account from Buzzfeed:
Around 10 p.m. on the night of Aug. 22, 2005, the Austin Police Department dispatched Officer Joel Davidson to an intersection a couple miles west of the Texas city’s downtown. A passerby had called to report that a woman in a pink shirt was sitting on the ground near the MoPac Expressway with her head in her hands, and no sign of a vehicle nearby. When the officer arrived, he found the woman on a swath of grass between an onramp and the freeway. She said her name was Heidi Cruz.
According to a police report recently obtained by BuzzFeed News, Officer Davidson proceeded to question Cruz, whose husband, Ted, was then serving as Texas solicitor general. He asked what she was doing by the expressway; she replied that she lived on nearby Hartford Street, and ‘had been walking around the area.’ She went on to tell Davidson that she was not on any medication and that she hadn’t been drinking, aside from ‘two sips of a margarita an hour earlier with dinner.’ He wrote that he ‘did not detect any signs of intoxication.’
The heavily redacted report goes on to describe that Davidson believed Cruz was a ‘danger to herself,’ and notes that she was sitting 10 feet away from traffic. He asked if he could transport her somewhere — the proposed location is redacted — but she was ‘reluctant, stating that maybe she should … get a ride home’ instead. Eventually, Cruz followed him to his patrol car, and they departed the scene.
When asked if she would comment on the incident and discuss her depression, Cruz said she would rather not “because she didn’t want to minimize the struggle of those who suffer from depression their entire lives by trumpeting her own happy ending.”
Jason Miller, an adviser to Ted Cruz, said the bout of depression was brief: “Like millions of Americans, she came through that struggle with prayer, Christian counseling, and the love and support of her husband and family.” The incident was “a rare moment of visible vulnerability for a woman widely known to the public and among friends as an unflappable high achiever with preternatural poise.”
Big Life Changes Can Disorient Anyone
The Buzzfeed article tells the story of Cruz’s professional aspirations and her journey from Wall Street and working for the Bush administration to moving to Austin to support her husband and work once again in the private sector. It was after she went through this jarring professional transition in 2005 that Cruz ended up alone that night by the freeway.
“This period had been a sharp detour for a woman who had carefully plotted a career path she believed would enable her to serve the public and do good in the world,” the Buzzfeed article says.
Many women can relate to this struggle. I know I can. I was raised to be a high achiever, to make a big splash in the world, and to do “great things.” The feminist movement had thrown open the doors of professional achievement for my generation, and I was determined to make the best of it.
Throughout my twenties, I worked hard in journalism, writing for newspapers, a wire service, and then producing for a top television station in Florida. I also worked for a well-known ministry and published a book at the age of 29. Achievement, success, ambition—these were engrained in me. I couldn’t imagine a life that didn’t involve the pursuit of excellence in the professional world.
That all changed in my 30s. I started a family, and my focus shifted away from professional interests to family responsibilities. As for many women, the change was difficult. But the real blow came when I went through a divorce and suddenly my entire life had been turned upside down. My professional aspirations evaporated, and my family life fell into disarray. The result was an encroaching darkness that I thought I would never escape.
What Happens When You Lose Yourself
Every woman’s story is different, but the common themes of change, shifts in expectations, feelings of loss, and even failure are all points we share. When your life has changed dramatically, when you’ve given up a lot and you’re not being replenished in the way you need, you often suffer. You grieve over the loss of dreams and plans you once had. This process can be difficult, and for some, it leads to depression.
Many factors contribute to depression: genetics, personal history, brain chemistry, hormones, lack of support, and life circumstances. Whatever the particular combination, depression can take a devastating toll. You feel like your life is spiraling out of control, and you’re adrift on a wave of emotion, fear, grief, and uncertainty. You lose yourself, and the despair that comes from that loss is overwhelming.
It’s this disconnect from one’s self, this despair, that drives someone from the safety of her home to the roadside of a busy freeway—alone, in the dark, her head buried in her hands. Some people might not understand her, but I do.
To Lose One’s Sense of Self
I remember one time, during a difficult period in my life when my depression was at its worst, driving with my husband along the winding roads of Asheville up to Pisgah Mountain. I sat in the passenger’s seat, staring as the trees and mountains blurred by. The world seemed like a dream as the forests fell away to the valleys, and the mountains filled the sky. As I stared out across the landscape, the roadways, the faraway towns, everything looked small, distant, insignificant.
It was a warm day in late summer, but I felt cold. There was a gnawing, painful feeling inside of me that drove away all attachments to this world. Nothing comforted me, not my family, not my friends, not even my God. I was alone, crying out within, but no one could hear. When I looked at the world around me, I couldn’t imagine me in it. It was as if I didn’t belong.
On and on, the drive up the mountain went, and with every bend, I wanted to open the door to the car and just fall away, drop off the side of the mountain and disappear. The thought of the road ripping my skin apart only increased the temptation. At least I would feel something besides this heartache before I died.
In those moments, I had no real sense of myself. I had become the despair that defined my life. For so long, I had been driving myself in a single direction, and now I was moving in another, up and down the winding roads of an unpredictable, uncontrolled life—and I was frightened. I was hopeless because I saw no end to it.
I was also in pain. I could barely breathe because of it—the guilt, the shame, the brand of failure that burned into my soul. But I had to suffer in silence, because no one could see the wounds. I couldn’t say to my husband, “Look, there’s the cut. There’s the blood. Don’t you see? Can’t you help me?”
There was nothing to see, nothing to make him understand. It also didn’t help that he was part of the pain, not because he was doing anything to me, but because he was part of the changes, the disruption that cast me adrift. In the sea of my despair, he was driftwood from the wreckage, just like me. I couldn’t cling to him, and he couldn’t cling to me. I was alone with my pain, that invisible gnawing, raw feeling that never left me. It consumed me, and I couldn’t bear to live with it.
The Road to Recovery
Like Cruz, I overcame through God’s grace, faith in his promises, counseling, and the patient support of family and friends who wrapped their arms around me and helped me find peace again. I also received the medical care I needed and professional guidance about how to rebuild my life.
As the deep shadows of depression receded, I began to see what I couldn’t see in the dark—myself as I am, not defined by my failures or my successes. I saw that my identity, my value, is not determined by my achievements or my dreams (as important as those are). My worth comes from being made in my Father’s divine image, loved and valued as I am—flaws and all.
Over time, I began to recover. This doesn’t mean the path has been easy. Depression is more than a spiritual trial. Like I said before, it’s related to chemical as well as psychological issues. Oftentimes, medical treatment is needed, and physicians can be a much-needed resource and support.
The journey out of depression is often a winding one with many detours and setbacks. You can think you’re fine one day, and then something happens that triggers you, and the next thing you know the dark walls are closing in and the pain is pounding in your chest, making it hard to breathe.
Don’t Knock What You Don’t Know
One thing I’ve learned through my own struggles with depression is those who don’t suffer from it can’t possibly understand what you’re going through. They think you’re just sad, but it’s so much deeper than that. Only you know the pain in your own heart. The window to your soul is closed to the world.
This is why exploiting Cruz’s suffering is so wrong. It cheapens the real struggles of millions of people and exposes the personal pain of a lovely woman who has struggled to overcome a terrible illness and has done it with grace. We should show her, and anyone else wrestling with depression, that same grace.
Women who have been told they can have it all, that their dignity and value is determined by their “success” in life, often struggle with depression when life takes unexpected turns. It’s also hard when you make sacrifices for others, when you give up your dreams, and disappointment in one form or another follows. You’re left grieving, and that grief can turn into despair, especially if you’re left alone to face it.
Heidi Cruz’s difficult, but courageous, story should encourage anyone who struggles with depression—and there are a lot of us out here. It should not be used to stigmatize them or make them feel ashamed. If anything, it should be a reminder that we never know what’s in the heart of another, what they’re wresting with in the privacy of their own lives.
Given that fact, we should show one another respect, tolerance, and grace. When we do that, we bring healing, not more brokenness.
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