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Big Table Conversation to Focus on Mental Illness

Stephanie Mitchell Hughes Stephanie Mitchell Hughes Big Table Conversation to Focus on Mental Illness
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“Well darkness has a hunger that's insatiable, and lightness has a call that's hard to hear.” — Closer to Fine by the Indigo Girls.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adults in the United States — which equals 43.8 million or 18.5 percent of the population — have experienced a mental illness over the last year. I am amongst that one in five adults.

I have lived through insidious bouts of depression for at least 39 of my nearly 54 years. During these bouts, death stalked me daily. I was constantly tortured by a loud voice inside my head that pushed and taunted me to end my life. My depression has repeatedly pounded me into submission, driven me to my bed for days, and pushed me past the end of myself. Though paralyzing, for many years my bouts of depression never lasted long enough to completely destroy me. That is until 2006.

In 2006 my marriage ended and I found myself starting over with two children, two months of outstanding mortgage payments, an empty refrigerator, and 120 dollars. That sea change event caused the pain, poor self-esteem, betrayal, rejection, and feelings of worthlessness that I had held inside for fourteen years to explode forth like champagne from a bottle. The empty vessel that remained revealed a depression so powerful and deeply rooted that for the first time I needed medication to treat it.

I hate taking any type of medication. In my case finding the right medication to treat my depression was a process made more difficult because I was uninsured. It took roughly eighteen months of trial and error to find a combination of medications that worked. At that point, my ego took over. I began what became a destructive cycle of taking depression medication as prescribed for four or five months only to abruptly stop because I felt better. I did not want to rely upon pills to manage my depression. This practice proved disastrous. Abruptly stopping depression medication can trigger other life threatening conditions. Once the medication was out of my system, I mentally unravelled and broke down. Trust me, mentally unraveling is scary. I would cry and completely fall apart. I became overwhelmed and could not think straight. On a few occasions I even became suicidal.

Eventually, I hit a wall and stopped functioning in any meaningful way. As a single parent raising children entirely on my own, I do not have the luxury of falling apart. It took a few years of repeating this cycle over and over before I finally got tired of unraveling and all of the drama that comes with it. I decided, or perhaps realized, that I should not be ashamed because I suffer from depression. The real shame or tragedy lies with all of the time that I spent neglecting and not accepting my whole physical and mental self.

The last ten years have been a journey of coming to terms with my depression and need to treat it. Because I am still here, I have a responsibility to tell my story to help my fellow mental illness road warriors silently soldiering on while weighed down by shame and stigma. I am committed to using my voice to respectfully disrupt that stigma by the truth of what it really means to live with a mental illness. It is in the spirit of my commitment and responsibility that I am hosting an hour long conversation about mental illness in our community as part of The Big Table.

Initiated by The Columbus Foundation, with the support of several corporate and community partners, The Big Table is a day of community building and engagement through hour-long conversations that will take place across Central Ohio on August 30. The purpose of The Big Table is not to create immediate solutions. Rather it is to give our community the opportunity to connect and engage in an authentic conversation in an effort to build a bridge of understanding in these challenging times.

So, I am extending an invitation to join my hour-long Big Table conversation about mental illness to the first ten people who RSVP on my Facebook Page. There you will find the location of the conversation.

Until then, I will end with my personal mantra for living with #depression: #noapology, #noretreat, #nosurrender

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