Rep Jamie Raskin’s son’s frequent bouts of depression were often brought on by moments of political strife, the Maryland Democrat writes in his new book.
Mr Raskin, a Maryland Democrat who served as the lead impeachment manager in 2021, writes in his book Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy about his experiences both during the January 6 insurrection last year and the trauma of losing his son Tommy to suicide.
Mr Raskin’s writes searingly about how he and his son Tommy spent his son’s last night alive together, since his wife Sarah Bloom Raskin and his daughters were out of town. He also writes about how his son grappled regularly with depression, beginning around the transition from high school to college.
“It entered his life like a thief in the night and became an unremitting beast,” he writes and chronicles how his family worked to try to help him combat the symptoms.
While as a boy, Tommy Raskin frequently had nightmares and night terrors, he said the real trouble came when he went to college.
“He would worry intensely about whether something he had once said long ago to a classmate in the middle school had hurt the boy’s feelings, or whether a remark he had made in class the prior week might have been misunderstood by classmates,” Mr Raskin writes. “He would ruminate over past relationships and whether he had said anything unkind or untoward to his girlfriends.”
Specifically, he highlighted how during his sophomore year at Amherst College, he got into an argument with right-wing provocateur Dinesh D’Souza. Afterward, the Amherst College Republicans demanded that he be disciplined for violating intellectual property rights for posting the interaction online.
“The subsequent protracted investigation by the dean of students – apparently meant to show that Amherst would take the grievances of Republicans seriously no matter how spurious they were – dragged on for a year,” Mr Raskin writes, noting how Tommy Raskin had to write briefs about his innocence before the dean dismissed the complaint.
“It was an outcome that Tommy had hoped would occur in the first week of the complaint’s being lodged,” Mr Raskin writes. “Instead, he spent many months in emotional turmoil and was badly distracted from his studies.”
In turn, he began seeing a psychiatrist who urged him to exercise, eat well and sleep, as well as avoid alcohol. Still, he occasionally had trouble with alcohol and would worry his drinking would affect his brain.
The younger Raskin was horrified by the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017, but Mr Raskin writes that he recovered relatively soon. But when he went to Harvard law school, his father and mother’s alma mater, he was admonished by an instructor for not taking a pass-fail course seriously, which led him to drink and be hospitalised.
He eventually recovered and and seemed to thrive before the coronavirus pandemic, which the congressman says threw the young man for a loop.
“With in-person school closed, social life was reduced to a fragile and masked minimum,” the elder Raskin writes. “Relationships were strained, forced into a premature or awkward intimacy, or more likely, into a melancholy virtual oblivion.”
At the same time, Mr Raskin writes how his son was despondent at the death of George Floyd.
“He was in our kitchen when he handed me his phone,” Mr Raskin writes. “Tommy looked heartbroken and astonished, as though his mind and heart could not assimilate the reality of so much viciousness and cruelty being densely concentrated in one man, a lawless agent of the state. He was shell-shocked. I tried to comfort him, and we talked about what to do in response.”
The two Raskins marched in a Black Lives Matter rally, which was the last protest the two would attend together. Mr Raskin notes how many young people like his son also dealt with depression and suicide has spiked in people in his son’s age group. This in turn led to Mr Raskin not speaking of his work as a congressman lest he upset his son.
“In the fall of 2020, I was many times conscious, while at dinner with Sarah and Tommy, of censoring stories on the tip of my tongue about the ordeals of immigrants or refugees that we had heard in the Judiciary Committee, because I knew how much they would upset and pain Tommy,” he writes. “I would report to him about our work on the Hill to try to address the pandemic, always providing positive a spin as possible.”
Mr Raskin spent his son’s last night on earth with him, before finding him dead the next day in his basement apartment.
“He left us this farewell note on New Year’s Eve day: ‘Please forgive me. My illness won today. Please look after each other, the animals, and the global poor for me. All my love, Tommy.”