Michelle Obama Opens Up About Coping With 'Low-Grade Depression' During the Pandemic

Savannah Walsh
·7-min read
Michelle Obama Opens Up About Coping With 'Low-Grade Depression' During the Pandemic


Michelle Obama got candid about how she's surviving 2020 in second episode of her new podcast, which features NPR's "All Things Considered" anchor and journalist Michele Norris as a guest. During the conversation, the friends spoke about their mental health during both a global pandemic and racial unrest in the U.S.

"So I know that I am dealing with some form of low-grade depression," Obama disclosed when asked about her current highs and lows, adding, "Not just because of the quarantine, but because of the racial strife and just seeing this administration, watching the hypocrisy of it day in and day out is dispiriting."

Obama later revealed how the Trump administration's response to Black Lives Matter has impacted her mental state: "I'd be remiss to say that part of this depression is also a result of what we're seeing in terms of the protests, the continued racial unrest that has plagued this country since its birth. I have to say, that waking up to the news, waking up to how this administration has or has not responded, waking up to yet another story of a Black man or a Black person somehow being dehumanized or hurt or killed or falsely accused of something, it is exhausting. It has led to a weight that I haven't felt in my life in a while."

Below, some of the other highlights from their conversation.

On Quarantine Routines with Barack, Malia, and Sasha

"For Barack and I, we've lived outside of the norm of regular life for quite some time," she said. "And what we learned early on in the White House is that in order to stay sane and to feel like the human that you once were is that you have to have a schedule and a routine that's pretty lockstep."

During her months at home, Obama says her sleep and workout routines fluctuate. "You know, I've gone through those emotional highs and lows that I think everybody feels where you just don't feel yourself," she explained. "And sometimes there have been a week or so where I had to surrender to that and not be so hard on myself and say, 'You know what? You're just not feeling that treadmill right now.'" Still, she says the family congregates after their work days to do puzzles, eat dinner, and play spades tournaments. As for her beauty routine, Obama says she's taken to doing her own waxing and manicures.

Photo credit: Mark Wilson - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mark Wilson - Getty Images

On Wearing Masks and Flattening the Curve

Obama also spoke about her disappointment in those who are not taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously. "That has been one of many frustrating things to watch in this pandemic, is people who aren't willing to make the sacrifice of even wearing a mask or staying at home because they don't see the virus," she said.

As for states prematurely opening as cases around the country rise, Obama doesn't have time for that either. "(The virus) has behaved in the way all the scientists have predicted—that staying at home can only flatten the curve if we continue to remain vigilant," she said, adding, "and it's not enough if one city does it and the neighboring town doesn't because the virus doesn't know boundaries. It doesn't know parts of the country or even parts of the world. So having one state enact stay-at-home orders while another state is gradually re-opening, while another state isn't employing any precautions has led us to this state where we don't know when the virus will be curved."

On Providing Essential Workers With Healthcare

Norris and Obama also spoke about protecting our precarious essential workers. "They don't have health insurance," Obama stated plainly. "If they were to get sick, as essential as they are, we have not as a society deemed it essential to make sure that they can go to the doctor and get the care that they need."

On Nationwide Racial Injustice Protests

Obama had moving remarks for those protesting racial injustice after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others at the hands of police. "I am heartened by the depth, the sustained vigor, the diversity, the peaceful nature of these protests," Obama said. "That is, that helps me sleep at night, that reminds me of the truth. You know that, no matter how I feel or what my lull is, that we are making progress." She later added, "Because all these kids wouldn't be out in the streets if they weren't hearing something that made the sight of these killings or the knowledge of these killings intolerable to them. Where they are taking to the streets at the expense of their health in the middle of a pandemic."

On Facing Racism In The White House

The former First Lady also addressed the racism that she and Barack faced during his presidency. As for signs of injustice, Obama said, "We saw it in just how adamant Mitch McConnell was and how he treated the first Black President." She recalled "the vast discomfort with the notion that a Black man could be sitting in the highest level of office."

Obama also said she'd "tried to do" her part in bridging racial divide while serving as First Lady by "representing every American." She said that often came "at the expense of our own community, who felt like we were a little bit too accommodating to people who were not Black." She added, laughing, "We weren't Black enough."

On Voter Suppression in the 2020 Election

Obama also spoke about how the country moves on after a challenging year, particularly with regard to the next election. She referred to the presumptive race between Trump and Joe Biden this November as "another milestone of reckoning." As for widespread voter suppression, including Trump's recent claims he may delay the election, Obama had strong words.

Photo credit: Pool - Getty Images
Photo credit: Pool - Getty Images

"Do not listen to this propaganda about your vote not counting, that people are saying with clear intent on trying to suppress the vote," Obama said. She added that up until Election Day, "The hardest work that you can do is to confront the racism and equality in your own life." Obama said meaningful conversations and decisions surrounding diversity is "harder than going to your basement and finding a piece of cardboard and writing some kind words on a sign."

Obama closed her second podcast episode by ensuring listeners it's OK to not be feeling OK. "We are in a unique moment in history. We are living through something that no one in our lifetimes has lived through," she explained, joking, "What more do you have for us, 2020!"

Listen to the entire episode here:

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