Catholic faith tested during leadership stint

Catholic faith

Todd Muller says his Catholic faith was deeply tested during his ill-fated 53-day stint as National leader.

He “really struggled” during a self-described mental breakdown, saying his prayers “weren’t being answered”.

But Muller, who will retire from Parliament after this year’s election, says hundreds of people reached out to him after he spoke publicly about his mental health struggles.

That shows “maybe there was a plan after all” he says.

Speaking in an interview on Newstalk ZB’s Real Life with John Cowan, Muller described his Catholic faith as something “I protect and hold very, very tight”.

He found it tested during his brief tenure as leader of the Opposition in 2020. He had been “praying vociferously to be released from the spiral that I was in” to no discernible effect, he said.

“I would pray to be able to get some sleep and couldn’t. I’d get two hours of sleep and then wake up and just simply could not go back to sleep.

“It was, frankly, a terrifying slide. I was really struggling with the fact that those prayers weren’t being answered.

“But interestingly, now when I look back over the last three years, hundreds and hundreds of people have reached out and talked to me – because they can, through Facebook and in the street and in emails – and I think maybe there was a plan after all.”

Muller’s opposition National Party leadership in 2020 lasted just 53 days before internal leaks and mental health issues prompted his resignation.

He says his leadership stint and the subsequent public fallout “fundamentally changed me”. It ultimately contributed to his decision to leave politics.

“These things aren’t like flipping a switch. You don’t have a week off and then suddenly it’s all back to normal again – it takes a while to rebuild and build up resilience,” Muller told Cowan.

“The scale of the roles that you take up if you’re sitting around a Cabinet table, and the commitment that you have to give in terms of your energy and your time, I felt was just too much.”

At the same time though, Muller says he has been buoyed by the New Zealanders who are encouraged by his openness about his struggles.

“The impact for me of having a breakdown, as severe as it was, and climbing slowly out the other side and being willing to share it, has meant that so many people have reached out,” he told Cowan.

“I’ve had these one-on-one conversations and it’s been really powerful for me.”

Right now Muller says he feels “pretty peaceful” about leaving Parliament.

He’s looking forward to using his “energy and skills to assist people” while “managing a bit of work-life balance at the same time”.

Political work is off the agenda altogether.


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