Michelle Obama: ‘I know that I am dealing with some form of low-grade depression’

Former first lady Michelle Obama has a podcast called simply The Michelle Obama Podcast. This week, her guest was NPR’s Michele Norris and the two Michel(l)e’s took time to address mental wellness during quarantine. Michelle O admitted that she’s been feeling the effects of everything and that it’s messing with her overall well-being. She explained what she’s doing to to keep herself from falling too far down that rabbit hole.

The same way physicians have warned the novel coronavirus “knows no bounds,” the emotional impact of quarantine is being felt by people across the U.S.

While a third of Americans have reported feelings of anxiety or depression during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to one government survey, former First Lady Michelle Obama also says she’s among those learning how to balance her mental health in isolation.

“There have been periods throughout this quarantine where I’ve felt too low,” Obama, 56, said during the second episode of The Michelle Obama Podcast, released on Spotify on Wednesday.

Obama — a bestselling author and newly christened podcaster as well as a voting-rights and girls’ education activist — said that those exhausting feelings have been a “direct result of just being out of body and out of mind” while mostly being stuck at home during the pandemic.

“Spiritually, these are not fulfilling times,” Obama said on her podcast, “So, I know that I am dealing with some form of low-grade depression.”

The former first lady added that those emotions are “not just because of the quarantine, but because of the racial strife” amid protests sparked by George Floyd’s death and that “just seeing [President Donald Trump's] administration, watching the hypocrisy of it day-in and day-out, is dispiriting.”

Obama said she has “had to give myself … those days, those moments” where she accepts that she’s not feeling normal and takes a break from what she’s doing — whether that means shutting off her phone and taking a moment to sit in silence by herself, or spending time with her husband, former President Barack Obama, and their two college-age daughters, Malia and Sasha.

[From People]

Micelle O said keeping a regular schedule helps. She said her sleep pattern has been affected, waking throughout the night worrying about one thing or another. As many of us know, a disrupted sleep pattern only feeds anything working against our mental health, which leads to further sleep disruption – it’s a vicious cycle. So Michelle is trying to get in a workout (of course!) every day and she’s having the family keep regular dinner schedules. She acknowledged that they live a different sort of existence and that the White House years trained them to operate as a unit, but her advice is still solid. I think schedules keep the days from seeming endless and having the family come together without any outside influences is a good way to take a beat.

The part that stood out to me the most was Michelle O saying she, “has had to give myself … those days, those moments.” Allowing myself “moments” is an idea I’m trying to lean into. Part of the issue with, you now, everything, is that everyone is suffering. In addition to simply being a miserable statistic, I feel like I shouldn’t really complain or give into self-pity because so many have it the same or worse. I need to find a way to give myself permission to have a moment.

Photo credit: Instagram and WENN/Avalon

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39 Responses to “Michelle Obama: ‘I know that I am dealing with some form of low-grade depression’”

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  1. april says:

    me too. I have 4 kids that have been home since march. I need to go back to work, but am not feeling great about my decision to send them to school. Were all around each other all day… we don’t go too many places. Its rough, but I’m appreciative that my husband is working. I also feel like we all need a break from the monotony, each other, our house, etc.

  2. Who ARE these people? says:

    She has done us a great service by being open. Again.

    • Esmom says:

      I know, right? She is so gracious, too, even as she speaks of the atrocities occurring that warrant a much stronger tone. I love how real and even keeled she is.

      I love that photo of them in the basement, I find myself just drinking in the humanity, connection and love.

    • ooshpick says:

      Totally agree. Many people look to powerful people like her for leadership. It makes me feel better to know I’m not alone and there is no shame in struggling during this time. Admitting her humanity helps all of us.

    • minx says:

      I love her, love her candor. My depression is not low grade, it’s in my face everyday, and has been escalating since November 2016.

    • Tiffany :) says:

      Yes! I think it rings true for so many, and you can’t really deal with something until you acknowledge it.

      I love that photo of Barack and Michelle lounging together. They are so vibrant and full of life, even in black and white. I can feel the energy between them.

  3. Eleonor says:

    I am sorry to hear this, but I think it’s important to talk about it.
    I had a low depression in my mid ’20s and for me it took a lot of self discipline that I still have: cleaning the house, cooking regularly, exercising regularly all of this helps keep me on the right path, and also it makes me understand when I am not doing good and then I take one of “those moment”.
    I hope she will be ok.

    • Case says:

      I so strongly identify with what you said. It takes a lot of work for me to stay on top of things that keep me mentally well — as you said, cleaning, exercising, cooking, etc. Being productive and maintaining a schedule does wonders for me. It’s amazingly a lot of effort to continue doing things that make you feel whole and happy. But when I remain disciplined, I see such a different in my mental and physical wellbeing.

  4. CROOKSNNANNIES says:

    Good for her! People need to address the mental health issues we’re all facing as a result of the pandemic. I have many people close to me who are trying to downplay the effect it’s having on their mental health. This isn’t just a mind over matter situation. We need to be compassionate with ourselves.

  5. Jay says:

    She has a real talent for getting right to the heart of what people need to hear.

    I’ve been watching a lot of Obama White House YouTube archive, just to remind myself how abnormal the current situation is, and here’s what really stands out: There used to be soooo many people invited to the White House! Kids with science projects, military moms, trick or treaters, elderly people…and the Obamas put in the time and effort to connect with them all. You can also tell how much everybody working there feels like it’s a huge dream job, and how much they respect their boss. The difference is palpable.

    • Esmom says:

      Have you read the book To Obama: With Love, Joy, Anger, and Hope by Jeanne Marie Laskas? It’s a compilation of letters people wrote to Obama and many of his replies. It also tells the story of the staff who sorted through the correspondence he got and decided which ten to show him EVERY DAY, which he read EVERY NIGHT. It’s just an extraordinary book and shows how much he took his duties as being a President for all people, those who loved and hated him both, seriously. I read it over a year ago and I still think about it a lot. We have lost so much of just basic decency and humanity in this era of Trump.

      • Jay says:

        Yes! I first heard about the 10 letters a day on Slate’s Working at the White House podcast, which celebrated a lot of people who worked to make the white house run smoothly, from the parks maintenance staff to the social events planners. As a logistics nerd, I highly recommend!
        https://slate.com/podcasts/working/12

      • Esmom says:

        Thanks! I have been looking for new podcasts and my friends mostly recommend true crime, which is not my thing. :)

      • lucy2 says:

        I had forgotten about this. Thank you for reminding me. We are all in such a low right now, I hope we can come back to a time closer to that.

  6. Watson says:

    Michelle obama is a gift.

    • tmbg says:

      Michelle is still the First Lady in my house. I’ve been displaying a 2016 InStyle she was on the cover on for four years now in my magazine rack. It’ll only be changed when there’s a worthy successor!

      • Watson says:

        I hear you. I don’t know if we will ever have a First Lady as eloquent or intelligent though. She is a true gem.

      • laura-j says:

        So much so that, when my dad and I got in a fight, his way to make up with me was to tell me Michelle Obama was on the cover of People magazine. And when my ex was asked around Christmas time, what does she like, his astute reply, “Um She really likes Michelle Obama.” I was then gifted two Michelle Obama books. :)

        This podcast is another gift.

  7. BlueSky says:

    I’ve been dealing with depression and anxiety for the past few months. The anxiety kicked in when the BLM movement kicked into high gear and seeing police officers continue to brutalize and terrorize black people. As a black woman there are days where I am afraid to go out even to the grocery store. I live alone so I try to keep busy. I’ve been working from home since March and working out at home. She’s right about having a routine which is why I have made a point of keeping up with my workouts. I’m also reading and doing arts and crafts, and journaling. I’m so thankful for streaming services so I have a variety of shows and movies to watch. I can’t imagine being at home with kids who don’t understand why they can’t go anywhere or see their friends. I talked to a lot of my friends who have kids and it has been a challenge for them.

    • StartupSpouse says:

      I am dealing with anxiety and low grade depression for the first time in my life. I work and have 2 kids home since March. We’re probably going to homeschool them in the fall because we don’t think the schools will be able to stay open. I’m talking about leaving my job, which is 60 hours a week. I’ve been financially independent my whole life and I’m terrified of being financially reliant on my husband (who is amazing and hardworking).

      I’m also terrified at the idea that I can’t keep my family safe.

      I’m also terrified about what might happen in November in the US.

      I’m trying to exercise regularly and practice mindfulness, but it’s not helping that much. I’m grateful that Michelle O has said this part out loud because it’s a reminder that I’m not alone.

    • Christine says:

      Sending you a huge cyber hug. ❤

    • Anna says:

      Same. Single Black woman in an area of high-risk with a building management telling us to be nice to people who don’t wear masks. The stress of my weekly trip to Trader Joes is unbelievable and it’s largely the only time I go out now. Checking the mail is scary and my heart breaks for our dear postlady who does her best in an increasingly broken system. I give hand sanitizer and other protective items when I can. I just feel so bad for the front lines employees and how badly they are treated by this country’s administration but also by the people in this building who think it’s okay to ignore the many warnings about wearing masks. No care for the many elderly who live here either.
      Life feels like a game of roulette.

  8. Ela says:

    I absolutely love her podcast. I went in a bit sceptically, even a bit recultantly. But it is soothing, informative and heartfelt.
    I really felt her pain when she spoke about how everyone invested in America.

    • lucy2 says:

      I’ve subscribed but haven’t listened yet. I’m in a low right now too, and have been listening to more comedic stuff, but I’m definitely going to check it out soon.
      I’m very grateful that she’s doing it, and willing to share.

  9. tmbg says:

    I had anxiety and higher grade depression before this hideous plague hit, and now it’s only worse. I truly do not believe SSRIs or other antidepressants will ever work for me. The game Animal Crossing has been a lifesaver this year. I’m in a Facebook group with other adults who play and it’s just such a relaxing distraction.

    I’m glad Michelle has a solid support system. This year would make even the happiest person depressed (unless they love Trump and believe Covid is a hoax 🙄).

  10. Pam says:

    My depression was so bad in January I couldn’t get out of bed. By March my ex took me to the hospital. I was referred to an amazing three week program. I was finally diagnosed with bipolar and am actually thriving despite covid. I’m so thankful.

  11. Marigold says:

    Me too, sis. Me too.

  12. Ariel says:

    Please give yourself time to feel sad, depressed, even to wallow for a bit. Its okay. Of course then the trick is, you can’t live in those feelings- b/c the downward spiral is real.
    But allow it, go through it, sit with it.
    Then, do what you need to do to pick yourself up. Different for everyone.
    A walk in a pretty place, a mental list of things that you are grateful for (cheesy- but so important).
    But please don’t feel guilt about feeling sad, depressed, hopeless.
    We all need to process the crappy feelings to get through them.

    And occasionally, have some ice cream.

  13. salmonpuff says:

    Same, Michelle, same.

    I walk to the top of the hill in the park by our house every day, and I feel like that is the one thing keeping me from teetering off the edge. I have been knitting a lot and I do workouts, and we try to go hiking or kayaking on the weekends, and those things help, too. But in order to function, I have to really compartmentalize my personal life, which is fine, and try my hardest to keep it separate from the outside world, which is NOT FINE. I wish all of us well…

  14. Boo says:

    Low-grade depression creeping here too. My college-aged daughter has been here since March instead of May like planned (we live in CA, she goes to school in OH) and she goes back next week. I know I’ll have to adjust all over again to her absence. I’m not too worried about her getting the virus because she rooms alone and is an Olympic level social distancer. Just gonna miss her after this extra time together.

  15. Michael says:

    I have literally been losing track of what day it is. Only been a month of being Furloughed but been working out of the house in isolation since March. Googled to find out what day it was in July and found out it was Sunday I thought it was Wednesday. Insane times

  16. jferber says:

    Oh, my God. She’s speaking for me. Also, my anxiety about this cluster fuck is off the chart. I love you, Michelle. Do whatever you need to do for yourself (and the country).

  17. adastraperaspera says:

    It makes me angry to think that someone as luminous and meaningful as First Lady Michelle Obama is being brought low by this vile quagmire.

    • KK2 says:

      I love Ms. O so I’m not happy she is having a hard time, but it actually makes me feel better. Like even Michelle Obama is struggling. I appreciate her sharing it for that reason.

  18. El says:

    Is the second lady in the photo Michele Norris? Can I be shallow for a second and admit to having major hair envy. That hair!

  19. Dara says:

    2019 was a dumpster-fire year for me personally. It was just one horrible event after another, I’m honestly amazed I made it through with my sanity mostly intact. As bad as that all was, I’m starting to think the universe was sending me a warning to finally address my mental health. If those tragedies hadn’t forced me to seek help for my crippling grief and anxiety six months before the world fell apart, there is no way in hell I would have survived 2020.

  20. Delphine says:

    I feel like I’ve been through a whole grieving process since lockdown started. I was just starting to feel better when they announced we would be homeschooling. It’s going to be another full time job everyday. I don’t want to send my child to school if it’s unsafe, I’m just mad as hell that the Trump administration screwed this up so badly. We could be in a much better place with this pandemic and it aggrieves me to no end. I’m grateful to Michelle for sharing about her depression, it validates what so many of us are feeling. The open ended nature of this, not knowing when we will be on the other side of it just makes it harder to bear. I remind myself to be grateful that we have a safe home, and I clean and do my chores everyday, and take time to meditate.

  21. Hildog says:

    Seeing the comments on this thread, I realize just how huge her reach is. We are all having these same feelings right now (even more than usual for me) and by her opening up about her struggle she helps remove the stigma associated with talking about mental health issues. I love this woman! I am recently unemployed, pregnant with my first baby and just recovering from mild (thank goodness) covid.

  22. BnLurkN4eva says:

    I love this woman. I miss this woman. I wish we had even a fraction of the wisdom, kindness and intelligence she and her husband displayed while in the white house.

    I too have moments of struggles with depression, which is not entirely new for me, but where before it was few and far between episodes, I am now struggling regularly. I think while this storm persists, I will be struggling to cope with my depression. This site has helped a great deal lately be serving as a distraction to all the bad stuff going on. I used to just lurk, but getting involved has been good for me.