Write this. Write what you see. Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run. This vision-message is a witness pointing to what’s coming.
Habakkuk 2:2 The Message
I have lived with depression for more than forty-one years. Over the last four decades, my depression slowly evolved from situational to chronic. However, whether situational or chronic, my depression is linked by one common denominator: an insidious suicidal ideation that I call The Voice. It stalked me daily for many years and demanded that I end my life. Some history about my depression is essential to understanding The Voice’s power.
I experienced my first depressive episode when I was 15 years old. Between 15 and 30 years old my depressive episodes were situational and short-lived. During this fifteen year period, I transitioned from high school to college, law school, and then a professional working woman. When I was 25 years old, I started practicing law. At 30 years old I got married and soon had my first child. By my mid-thirties I was a professional working woman, wife, and mother of two young children. My life was a whirlwind of diapers, daycare, and depositions. I was left to manage these demanding roles largely on my own. Because of this, I did not know that I was lonely and increasingly isolated. In the midst of the whirlwind, loneliness, and isolation, my depression began evolving from situational to chronic.
As the years slipped away, my depression formed a chrysalis that clung to my skin and encased me from head to toe. I was emotionally detached and did not feel the deep depression sinking into the marrow of my bones. At this point, I had lived steeped in that same deep depression for more than a decade without knowing it. Then in February 2006, the major life shift that is divorce jolted me out of my stupor. I have spent the last thirteen years wrestling with my insidious chronic depression, a different treatment regimen, and The Voice.
The Voice is embedded in the DNA of my depression. It is equal parts manipulation, seduction, shame, and power. Like a roaring lion, The Voice roams back and forth waiting to devour me in one bite. Talking about The Voice frightens my friends and family. To protect them I seldom disclose when I am suicidal. To survive I learned to take The Voice captive and reduced it to a low buzz. Over time that low buzz became white noise that I pushed to the back of my mind.
A few months ago, I noticed that the white noise and low buzz had disappeared. I scoured my mind but could not find or hear it. Initially, The Voice’s abrupt departure and the eerie silence that remained was unnerving. I panicked as questions flooded my mind. Why did The Voice leave? Where did it go? Will The Voice comeback? After several anxiety filled weeks, I stopped searching. It finally occurred to me that I was searching for something that has stalked me daily for years and relentlessly pushed me to end my life. I have lived with depression and The Voice for so many years that I assumed that both would always be with me. Now it seems that I have turned the page to a new chapter. I cannot predict how the new chapter will evolve or end. However, I can prepare an action plan to thwart attacks against my mental health and well-being including those hurled by The Voice. Writing my action plan out loud reinforces its seriousness and holds me accountable.
My Action Plan is built upon:
- Faith, prayer, and worship.
- The Voice of Truth. The Voice of Truth is my encourager, protector, healer, comforter, peace, guide, and strength. It breathes life into my spirit and soul.
- Bikram Yoga. Bikram Yoga is a ninety minute silent moving meditation through twenty-six poses led by a certified yoga instructor in 105 degrees and forty percent humidity. This demanding practice fully engages both my body and mind. Bikram Yoga helps me breathe deeply, quiets my mind, and teaches me to stand in stillness regardless of the circumstances. It strengthens my core, increases flexibility, and builds stamina. In short, Bikram Yoga is a beast. Only a beast can defeat another beast including one called depression.
- Establish firm boundaries to protect my mental and physical health. I simply do not have the capacity to absorb someone else’s dysfunction plus manage my own.
- Grace and mercy. Throughout my life, I have experienced an outpouring of grace and mercy. That grace and mercy continue to follow me. Because of this, I must generously extend the same to family, friends, and strangers alike.
- Gratitude. My life has not been one mountaintop experience after another. The valleys and hard spaces have taught me to be grateful even in the seemingly small things.
- Being mindfully present in my body and mind.
- Resilience and perseverance.
- Laughter and fun.
- Telling my story.
As with anything that I write take what you need and leave the rest.
I seek to respectfully disrupt the stigma and shame associated with mental illness within the black, faith, and legal/corporate communities.
My motto for living with depression is: #noapology #noretreat #noshame #nosurrender.
Stephanie Mitchell Hughes
Mental Health Resources
If you are suicidal or in crisis:
Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273-TALK (8255) to reach the 24-hour crisis center
Connect to Lifeline Crisis Chat at crisischat.org.
American Society for Suicide Prevention https://www.afsp.org
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Text NAMI to 741741.
Call the NAMI Helpline at
(800) 950–6264 Monday through Friday 10 am to 6 pm EST
Bipolar Faith: A Black Woman’s Journey through Depression and Faith by Dr. Monica Coleman
The Beast: A Journey Through Depression by Tracy Thompson
Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron
Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk
An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Johnson
Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
Safe People by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Darkness by Elyn Saks
Welcome to My Breakdown: A Memoir by Benilde Little
Can I Get a Witness? by Dr. Julia Boyd.
Voices of Hope for Mental Illness by Jackie Goldstein