U.S. Sen. John Fetterman keeps fighting off Republicans and naysayers while championing a better national understanding of mental health. He fired back at Fox News in particular for shots they’ve taken criticizing Fetterman for missing words following a stroke that’s affected his speech.
In a long interview in Men’s Health magazine’s December issue (which took place in July), the U.S. senator from Pennsylvania takes on all the mockery thrown at him by opponents. Fetterman, 54, throws it back as he describes overcoming extreme medical and psychological challenges.
After getting back to work at the end of April and showing an almost miraculous recovery from both the stroke and his depressive episode, Fetterman has constantly found himself the butt of jokes from Republicans and right-wing media. He has been called names and watched as Fox News Channel constantly plays old clips of him slurring or stumbling over words during his campaign.
He minces no words in talking about Fox News.
“They love it,” Fetterman said. “They’ve never lost their hard-on for trying to point out that I missed a word or two. It was like a narcotic for (Fox News). It’s such recreational cruelty for them.”
“It’s not that it’s hurtful, but it’s dismaying,” Fetterman added. “I would never make fun of [this]. I don’t understand anyone that gets their jollies off that, because it could be your brother, it could be your father, it could be your child. It’s almost like middle-school kind of obnoxious. Don’t you reach a certain age where you’re just like, ‘Yeah, we don’t be like this’?”
Fetterman balances humor, blunt sarcasm and political trash-talking with a serious and confident message about how a person can beat tough odds by confronting mental health and getting proper medical treatment. That’s what he did after suffering a stroke during his Senate campaign, winning the race but then battling crippling depression that had him barely able to get out of bed.
As he took office in January, Fetterman found himself facing severe depression and near-suicidal thoughts. Wanting to come through for his wife, Gisele — as well as their kids, his state and his country — he checked into Walter Reed Medical Center last February for six weeks of treatment. Fetterman credits that treatment with saving his life.
“I was failing as a father and I was failing as a husband. And if I can’t deliver for my family, how the hell can I start delivering for the people in Pennsylvania?” he said in the interview. “Finally, I had an opportunity with Walter Reed. [Without] that kind of intervention, I don’t know where I would be at. And I am so grateful for that.”
While Fetterman was mayor of Braddock, Penn., a town that faced economic devastation as the coal and steel industries crashed, he had a sign put up that read “DESTRUCTION BREEDS CREATION.” That is how his life has been going since confronting his medical issues, Fettermain said. He joined the Senate Mental Health Caucus last week and said that he’s happy to put himself out there as an example of achieving victory with mental health.
“Anyone reading this story: Don’t ever, ever, ever, ever consider hurting yourself. Get your help,” he said. “I never thought it would work, and I was skeptical. But don’t ever give up. Get help.”
Many political observers thought Fetterman had no shot of winning his Senate seat after the stroke that had him battling slurred speech and fuzzy comprehension while debating his opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz, the polished talk show host who made his living appearing before live and television audiences. Fetterman managed to hold it together and win the race for a seat held by Republicans since the 1960s.
He has continually moved forward since his treatment and now has no problem trash-talking with Republicans on social media and in live interviews. He has stuck to his refusal to abide by Senate dress codes and can be seen daily in shorts and hoodies — all the more noticeable on his 6-foot-8 frame.
Just days before the magazine interview took place, Fetterman’s father Karl suffered a near-fatal heart attack — one day after his uncle died from stomach cancer.
Visiting his dad every day in the hospital, Fetterman said he might not have been able to handle the tragedy six months ago. But with his renewed mental energy and attitude, he is able to be positive for his father and everyone else around him, Fetterman said. His father made a full recovery.
“Thankfully I’ve been able to be back to 100 percent, at least in terms of feeling good about everything. I’m able to pay it forward and to visit with my father all the time and be there for the family,” Fetterman said.
Discussing his future, Fetterman said he looks forward to serving his state while taking care of his family. He has no fear of slurs and mental health jabs from his opponents and said he welcomes every opportunity to advocate seeking help for mental health issues. Quite the opposite of depressed, Fetterman said he fears no one and nothing in this lifetime.
“People in their middle age talk about their mortality. I’ve experienced my mortality, so I’m not afraid of it anymore,” he said.
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