The time to stigmatize bouts with depression is over. Millions share Heidi Cruz’s story, and it doesn’t delegitimize her or her husband one bit.
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.
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