'There Is Light at the End of the Tunnel': Michelle Obama Talks Mental Health and Quarantine Coping Mechanisms

Illustration for article titled 'There Is Light at the End of the Tunnel': Michelle Obama Talks Mental Health and Quarantine Coping Mechanisms
Screenshot: People Magazine

Michelle Obama’s new show Waffles + Mochi drops next Tuesday on Netflix, and as she promotes her new gig, the mom-in-chief also gave some insight into the Obamas’ quarantine coping mechanisms during an exclusive video interview for the newest issue of People magazine.

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“These have been challenging times. Many people have struggled: jobs lost, people going hungry,” she said, acknowledging that as she’s spent the past year primarily in lockdown with husband Barack and daughters Malia (22) and Sasha (19), “We’ve learned to count our blessings, the importance of health and family.”

The forever First Family reportedly divided their time in isolation between their homes in Washington, D.C., and Martha’s Vineyard. After growing up before our eyes, unbelievably, Malia is now in her final year at Harvard, while Sasha is a sophomore at the University of Michigan. Both attended college virtually after their campuses were closed due to the pandemic and for their mom, the experience of having them back home was unexpected, to say the least.

“Our girls were supposed to have emptied out of my nest,” she told People. “I was sort of celebrating that they were out building their lives and allowing me the emotional space to let them go. Well, they’re back!”

Nevertheless, after eight years spent in the spotlight of the White House, “This time has allowed us to get some stolen moments back with our girls,” she added. “Those recaptured moments have meant the world to us and I think they’ve made our relationships with our children even stronger.”

As many parents can no doubt attest, it also presented an opportunity to shift the relationship into more of a “peer-oriented” dynamic, as Obama noted.

“There’s something about witnessing your children become adults and developing a different relationship with them,” she said. “They didn’t come back into the house into the same set of rules, because I didn’t want them to miss out on independence.”

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When not homeschooling, the Obama daughters found a new outlet for creativity in the kitchen, cooking for the family. “[T]hey love the freedom of being in the kitchen, creating, experimenting,” said Obama, who took up knitting as her own newfound hobby, as well as swimming—which no doubt keeps those famously toned arms in shape.

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“Over quarantine, I actually did teach myself how to be a better lap swimmer, because what I’m finding in my old age is that the high-impact stuff that I used to do, as I’m approaching 60, it just doesn’t work,” she explained, adding: “So I thought, well, swimming is one of those low-impact, good cardio things...I worked myself up to almost a mile of swimming laps. Now, can I do that right this second? No. But this summer, I’m getting back into the pool.”

Obama also referenced her earlier admission of experiencing the same “low-grade depression” many of us have this past year.

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“That was during a time when a lot of hard stuff was going on,” she recalled. “We had the continued killing of Black men at the hands of police. Just seeing the video of George Floyd, experiencing that eight minutes. That’s a lot to take on, not to mention being in the middle of a quarantine. Depression is understandable during these times. I needed to acknowledge what I was going through, because a lot of times we feel like we have to cover that part of ourselves up, that we always have to rise above and look as if we’re not paddling hard underneath the water.”

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“This is what mental health is. You have highs and lows,” she added. “What I have said to my daughters is that one of the things that is getting me through is that I’m old enough to know that things will get better...There is light at the end of the tunnel.”

What’s next for the Obamas? With Netflix shows in development, Chicago’s Obama Foundation Center under construction and more to come, plenty—including eventual retirement. “We breathe for a moment, but there’s still work to be done,” she told People. “That’s why Barack and I are focused on developing the next generation of leaders through the Obama Foundation … so that each year we step further out of the spotlight and make room for them.”

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?

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