THERE ARE few things I am sure of in this world, but one is that I could never run for office. Not that the idea has ever crossed my mind, but it is maddening to realize that, despite other good reasons to question my qualifications, one certain bomb would be detonated by opponents and press.

It lurks in my medicine chest: Every morning after breakfast I swallow a little green-and-white capsule. So do 2 million other people, one of whom is former Sen. Lawton Chiles, now running for governor of Florida. For his admitted use of this medication, Chiles has faced -- and faces -- press and political bombardments.

The pill is Prozac -- the most widely used anti-depressant. If its track record has been somewhat marred by recent reports involving a small number of users, its efficacy and relative lack of side effects has made Prozac the drug of choice for doctors who treat depression. Depression afflicts an estimated 15 million Americans.

This is not a testimonial to Prozac, the longterm effects of which are unknown. And unlike some writers, who would have to cease work if the "I" key broke on their keyboard, I find first-person confessionals painful. But as I read about the grenades lobbed at Chiles, I wanted to speak out.

In the American political arena, it is easier to take graft than a pill, easier to shred state secrets than see a shrink. Chiles had quit the U.S. Senate because of "burn out" and later admitted that he suffered from depression. When the news broke that he had gone back to using Prozac, Republican Gov. Bob Martinez and Chiles' primary opponent Bill Nelson, raced for the microphone. Nelson sanctimoniously said that Chiles's continued use of Prozac "raises serious questions about his ability to perform the duties of governor." Nelson, by doing so, was questioning the stability of anyone who suffers from this common, and highly treatable, condition. Nelson's running mate went even further: "I don't want to have a suicide during {Chiles'} term of office or during the election."

If Chiles wins the primary on Tuesday, Martinez intends to make an issue out of the fact that by resuming Prozac against his doctor's orders, Chiles demonstrated some fatal irresponsibility. But doctors themselves are unsure how long one should stay on Prozac, and Chiles did what thousands of Prozac users have done.

Polls had shown Nelson steadily closing the wide gap between him and Chiles, and the Prozac flap surely played its part. But Chiles failed to respond quickly to attacks and raised suspicion -- as well as a degree of media hysteria -- when he did not immediately release his unsensational medical records. (Nelson's proudly released medical records alerted the people of Florida to the former astronaut's hemorhoids.) At week's end, however, the polls had Nelson slipping again; the public had wearied of his negative campaigning, Prozac-related and otherwise.

The lessons of this are -- no pun intended -- depressing. Above all, I am reminded that American politics has always been dominated by a macho mystique that views emotionalism as a form of weakness -- unless it comes in the synthetic form of, say, Ronald Reagan's catch-in-the-throat patriotic tableaus. God only knows what yesteryear's merchants of mud would have done if Abraham Lincoln's severe melancholia had been revealed in 1864.

In 1988, some in Bush's camp floated a rumor that Michael Dukakis had seen a psychiatrist following the death of his brother. Asked about it, President Reagan cracked "Look, I'm not going to pick on an invalid." The better question is this: Why Dukakis didn't seek help at such a wounding time? Given Dukakis's uptight personality, it might have been a salvation.

Still lurking are the specters of Ed Muskie's tears in New Hampshire and Thomas Eagleton's admission that he was treated with electroshock therapy (which led George McGovern to dump him from the presidential ticket in 1972). One can only wonder at the numbers of qualified men and women who do not run for office for fear of the backlash due to psychiatric treatment or use of anti-depressants. Waiting for them are such cruelties as Lee Atwater's crack in the 1980 South Carolina congressional race. Reviving the issue of Tom Turnipseed's teenage electroshock treatment, Atwater said, "In college, I understand they hooked him up to jumper cables."

Such is the woeful level of politics that critics in Florida are less concerned by kick-to-the-groin attacks than by Chiles's inability to block them better. Yet when it comes to politics and psychiatry, countering health questions is like striking something from the record. The jury has heard it. And if labels -- Commie, liberal, racist -- can devastate in politics, psychiatric labels remain the most destructive and difficult to combat.

That is why opponents will expend effort, trying to assist Chiles in "losing his cool." Martinez and Nelson, on the other hand, have no such burden, no matter the wildness of their statements or actions. They don't take Prozac.

Which brings me back to someone else who does: myself.

My own story of depression isn't exiting reading. I never contemplated a high dive from the Ellington Bridge. I can count on one hand the number of days when I wanted to pull the covers over my head and rip the day off the calendar. I never missed a deadline because of depression, and found much joy in my children and friends.

At various times in my life I could point to definable external reasons for anxiety and depression. Yet, even after a new marriage, when my life was about as perfect as anyone could ask for, I still had these waves of depression. I developed a terrifying hopelessness that this was simply "the way things were."

As a reporter I had written with concern about overmedication -- Betty Ford's bout with tranquilizers, Vietnam veterans spaced out on Thorazine. I was very wary. The wooziness that came with only one dose of Valium was enough; I never tried tranquilizers again. Reluctantly, I went to the doctor, and haltingly tried to explain my symptoms. As he probed and questioned, as the tears streamed down my face, as I spoke of insommnia and anxiety, I felt as if I was auditioning for Prozac.

For the first few days I felt as if there was a glass barrier between me and my emotions. I could recognize that I was having them, but I was not in touch with them. Then for a few days I felt very tired, as if I was letting go of a lot of heavy pressure.

Then one day I woke up and felt not just okay, but happy. In a society that places so much emphasis on being "happy," I hesitate to use the word. Those who can't see anything to be depressed about in this world are the ones with clouded vision. But there is a difference between a realistic acknowledgement of the unpleasant and an unshakable, unreasoning depression. Perhaps contentment is a better word for what I felt -- a certain serenity. Appropriate reactions to sorrow remain, as I found out in my tears at a funeral for a friend. But so do appropriate enjoyments of life.

It is uncertain why a drug like Prozac -- which helps restore chemical depletions in the brain -- works better for some than for others. But I have learned that enduring misery is nothing to be proud of. Neither is hiding it. Getting help is. There may be justifiable reasons why Lawton Chiles should not be governor of Florida, but taking a green-and-white pill every morning is not one of them. Longtime Washington Post reporter Myra MacPherson is writing a book on journalist I.F. Stone. She is married to Jack Gordon, a Florida state Democratic senator.