Watch out for the crash: What they don't tell you when you're planning to run for office

·7 min read
Raymond Critch ran as the NDP candidate in St. John's South-Mount Pearl riding during the 2021 federal election. (Submitted by Raymond Critch - image credit)
Raymond Critch ran as the NDP candidate in St. John's South-Mount Pearl riding during the 2021 federal election. (Submitted by Raymond Critch - image credit)
Submitted by Raymond Critch
Submitted by Raymond Critch

This column is an opinion by Raymond Critch, a lawyer and former federal NDP candidate for St. John's South-Mount Pearl. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

I was asked to run in this past federal election in May, was vetted and approved as a candidate by mid-June, so I had a few months to prepare.

I assembled a team, started fundraising, scouted out headquarters, met with party members and possible volunteers

I spoke with people who had run before — friends, acquaintances, strangers — to get a sense of what to expect.

What I wasn't prepared for, however, was the toll the campaign would take on my mental health.

Emotionally demanding

I've been fortunate when it comes to mental health. I've faced hard times and challenges, and done some pretty exceptional and stressful things.

My work is known to be as one of the most stressful professions — lawyers have higher-than-average levels of mental health issues, including breakdowns. I have seen a counsellor before, and she did say I have a tremendous reserve of resilience.

But even the deepest reserves can be drained by stressful experiences without a break.

This campaign was the most emotionally demanding experience in my life. The reality is, while you're in it, as the candidate or as a campaign manager, it becomes your world. There is no waking moment when you're not working. Even while walking my dog in the morning — one of my few moments of solitude — I was still writing or rewriting speeches, lines, answers or talking points in my head.

Submitted by Raymond Critch
Submitted by Raymond Critch

When I got home at the end of the day, I'd sit and write out contact cards while listening to my wife tell me about her day.

It's hard on families. My wife was my fiancée at the start of the campaign, and by some miracle we managed to pull off a beautiful wedding three days before the election. The 36 hours I took off to get married were a lovely oasis, but I know that the preparations were extra hard on her because of how much else I had to get done.

Hard as that was, the campaign was even harder on my son. His mother and I aren't together, so we share him, and on the days I have him I like to spend as much time with him as possible.

During the campaign, though, even on days when I did have him, commitments would get in the way of our usual time together. While he understood why I was doing it, he still felt the strain of missing his normal life with Dad.

Dealing with guilt

I felt guilty that I wasn't being the husband or the father that I wanted to be. That guilt is tough to process and will weigh on you at even good moments. And there are plenty of good moments in a campaign.

While you're in it, there are many ways to keep yourself motivated. For me, I'd take the dog for a morning walk, and then make fundraising calls or respond to e-mails because I knew I'd be out on people's doorsteps later on. I hate fundraising, but I hated the idea of not paying my campaign manager, or not being able to afford the headquarters more. Every time I walked into my headquarters and saw my volunteer co-ordinator, campaign manager, or any of the friends who were helping, I would feel motivated again.

I always made sure my volunteers were all right. I didn't want to push them past their limits, but I didn't acknowledge whether I was pushing myself past mine, or if I even had any.

There are few experiences more humbling than taking down a sign with your own face on it.

As a candidate, you push yourself because you know all these people are doing this to help you. Even if their primary loyalty is to the party rather than the person, they're still focused on you. You carry the weight of their hopes and expectations. I didn't know how things would turn out, but more than anything — win or lose — I didn't want to let them down.

Then we lost, which, when you're up against a very popular two-term incumbent cabinet minister who was a household name before he was elected at all, isn't a surprise.

But the work doesn't end. You have to make sure everyone else is OK, make sure they feel appreciated, and do the hard work of closing up an unsuccessful campaign. There are few experiences more humbling than taking down a sign with your own face on it.

After that, I tried to go back to work and to my ordinary day-to-day life as a husband and father, but I knew I wasn't myself. I was tired, and in a way I'd never been tired before. I knew I was close to burnout, but I didn't really realize just how bad it was until one night when I was driving home.

I'm someone who sings in the car. Thanks to my father, my wheelhouse is classic soul, but I'll sing along to basically anything.

That said, I'm not a huge fan of Drake. Started From the Bottom is a jam, and that song where he samples Lauryn Hill's Ex-Factor is pretty cool, but overall it's not my thing. And I can't stand Hotline Bling. When it comes on, I usually change the station.

So when Hotline Bling came on and I didn't change the station, that should have been the first sign something was wrong. When I tried to sing along that should have been a second. When I started crying while singing along to it, well, that made it clear that I really needed a break.

Cleaning up

I'm fortunate. I work at a firm that has a clear and comprehensive diversity and inclusion policy. It's also a firm where someone else had recently run, so there were standards in place on how to treat people running for office.

So when I asked for two weeks off so I could recharge, they agreed. It probably helped that I had just gotten married and my wife wanted a honeymoon (she also was in desperate need of a break), but mostly they knew that I wasn't myself and wouldn't be able to be an effective lawyer in my current condition.

After a couple weeks of cleaning up my files, I went on a vacation. I had Thanksgiving with my new in-laws in Ontario, and then 10 days in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow — all cities I know well and am very comfortable in — to recover. We slept in a lot. We walked a lot. We ate a lot. We talked and laughed and enjoyed life.

When I came back, I came back as myself again. My reserves have been replenished, probably not fully, but enough to keep things moving and allow the regular small joys of ordinary life to top them up.

As I said, I'm fortunate. Not everyone works at such a supportive workplace, or has the resources to take a trip when they need to. But anyone who runs for office should be prepared for the crash. Running will be demanding in ways you cannot expect or be prepared for, and once it's over you will need to take some time for yourself to recover so you can be the person your family, your colleagues, your friends, and your community need you to be.

Each of us recharges in our own ways, but there are some common threads. Rely on the people close to you; more than even you know, they'll be aware of the struggles you're facing and will want to help. Take some more time for yourself than you usually would. Recognize that it's a very hard thing you've just come through, so cut yourself some slack (which, if you're someone who just ran for office, you probably don't usually do). Most of all, don't be afraid to ask for help.

And change the station; there will almost always be something better than Hotline Bling on.

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