Clark Countians share personal stories at art exhibit
Published 11:16 am Tuesday, May 21, 2019
Nearly 10 years ago, Melissa Elliott pulled into an Applebee’s parking lot.
She was depressed and overwhelmed with grief. Her mother had been ill for some time, and following a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Elliot’s mother’s health took a turn for the worse.
She passed away, and Elliott’s world stopped.
Email newsletter signup
Elliott, a native of Olive Hill, began to tell her story at Hope & Healing Thru Art, hosted by the Clark County Mental Health Task Force, Friday at the Leeds Center for the Arts.
The event, made possible by a “What’s Your Ambition?” grant by the Greater Clark Foundation, featured an art exhibit and reception followed by an hourlong program during which various speakers told their stories, shared poems and sang songs reminiscent of their journey.
Elliott shared her story in detail.
Elliott went into that Applebee’s, parked herself up on a bar stool and ordered herself a drink.
That’s how she spent the next seven years of her life.
“I didn’t really care,” Elliott said. “My mom’s not here.”
Elliott’s self-medication of her depression with alcohol began to consume her.
She went to jail not once, not twice but three times for driving under the influence. She lost her job at the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry of 27 years. She owned her home, her car, and lost it all.
Her friends, co-workers and father and brother encouraged her to check in to rehab, and she did, but the first stint at rehab wasn’t successful, she said.
“It was like there was nothing in my life that could get me jump-started again,” Elliott said.
Her father and brother eventually broke contact. They didn’t speak for nearly three years.
“I was totally on my own, so it got to the point where honestly, I would look in the mirror and wouldn’t even know who I am,” Elliott said. “And really, I didn’t care.”
Patricia Stewart-Hopkins, chair of the Mental Health Task Force, thanked Elliott and the other presenters and artists who shared their perspectives and life experience with mental illness.
Stewart-Hopkins said the mission of the task force is to ensure access to resources and support so that mental illness is adequately addressed promoting recovery, hope and healing in Clark County.
“There’s good news,” she told the crowd Friday. “Stigma is 100 percent curable. Compassion, empathy and understanding are the antidote. Your voice can spread the cure.”
There was good news in Elliott’s story, too.
It was that last DUI in 2011 that things began to change. Elliott had heard about mental health court, and Judge Earl-Ray Neal allowed Elliott to participate. It was there she met Brenda Harrington and Ron Kibbey and became immersed in the local National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) chapter.
She was finally becoming a part of something again, finding meaning and purpose. She finally had a support system, and people who told her that she was not her mental illness. She could heal, and there was hope.
“For the first time in probably about 10 years, I’m back to becoming my own person,” Elliott said.
Her sobriety and a newfound sense of self led her to reconnect with her father, who is now diagnosed with stage four cancer and is in hospice care.
“If it weren’t for NAMI and mental health court, I would’ve never reconciled with him,” Elliott said. “And we would have never had this time together.”
Elliott now works in the lawn and garden section at Lowe’s. She hopes to become a peer support specialist in the future to help others as many have helped her.
“It’s right where I want to be right now in this time of my life,” she said.