The effects of Depression are debilitating and no one is immune. Stephanie Mitchell Hughes wants everyone to get the help they need.
I have suffered debilitating bouts of depression since I was about 15 years old. 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. Though paralyzing, for many years my bouts of depression did not last long enough to completely overwhelm and pull me under; however, in 2006 my marriage ended and I was on the road to divorce. That life-changing event caused the pain, poor self-esteem, betrayal, rejection and worthlessness that I repeatedly swallowed and held inside for 14 years to burst forth like a volcanic eruption. This volcanic eruption also revealed a depression so deep and powerful that I needed medication to treat it. At the outset I admit that I hate taking any type of medication. In my case, finding the right medication to treat my depression was a process made all the more complicated because I was uninsured.
You may ask how I continued practicing law while in the throes of such a deeply rooted depression. The short answer is I didn’t. Eventually, I hit a wall and stopped functioning in any meaningful way. At the time, I was a sole practitioner representing children who were abused, neglected and dependent. I took my job as an attorney guardian ad litem very, very seriously. Although it was financially difficult, I withdrew from all of my cases so that I could focus on finding the appropriate medication to treat my depression. I would rather suffer than fall short of my obligation to zealously represent children who were already in such difficult circumstances.
It took about 18 months to find a combination of medications that worked. At that point my ego took over. I then 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 on pills to manage my depression. This practice proved disastrous. Abruptly stopping depression medication can be life-threatening. Once the medications were out of my system, I would mentally and physically unravel and break down. Trust me: mentally unraveling is scary. After multiple instances of unraveling and being patched up, my then treating physician asked me how many more times I intended to repeat this mentally destructive cycle. She told me that I needed to accept the fact that, at least for the time being, I had to take medication to treat my depression. By then I had grown tired of mentally unraveling and all of the drama that comes with it. So after months of resisting, I began taking my medication as prescribed and have not looked back.
There are members of the bar who suffer from mental illnesses. Unfortunately, fear, shame and stigma prevent these courageous men and women from stepping out of the shadows to obtain the treatment they desperately need. They are why I continue telling my story about living with depression. I want them to know that they do not walk alone. My decision to come out of hiding has been both scary and empowering. I have chosen to openly embrace my depression without apology or shame; however, I cannot do all of the heavy lifting alone. It is imperative that the bar fosters an environment that allows authentic discussion about acceptance of attorneys with mental illnesses in our community.
A loud collective silence will not save anyone. It will only cause attorneys to hold their mental illnesses inside. Holding a mental illness inside requires so much physical and emotional energy. That hidden mental illness reveals itself as drug abuse, gambling, alcoholism and other negative behaviors that adversely affect the clients we serve.
As a person living with depression, every day is a battle. I cannot fight my battle effectively while carrying secrecy, shame and stigma. I must fight to be honest and transparent with myself about the state of my depression. I battle my disdain for taking any type of medication by taking it as prescribed. I fight the urge to consume and participate in that which is not good for me. Instead, I choose that which feeds my body, mind and soul. I fight against an ego that hates to rely on anything or anyone. This daily fight requires energy and focus so that I can fully embrace and cherish my whole self. My new mantra: #noapology, #nosurrender, #noretreat.
As always, be empowered, encouraged and enlightened.