The sound of sorrow

Documentary focuses on singer/songwriter Meg Hutchinson’s battle with bipolar disorder

Meg Hutchinson’s bipolar disorder went untreated until she suffered a breakdown in the wake of a 2006 European tour.

Meg Hutchinson’s bipolar disorder went untreated until she suffered a breakdown in the wake of a 2006 European tour.

Photo courtesy of Meg Hutchinson

Enloe Medical Center will present the film Pack Up Your Sorrows, followed by a Q-and-A session with Meg Hutchinson, on Saturday, Aug. 22, at 6:45 p.m., at Enloe Conference Center, 1528 Esplanade.

At 19 years old, Meg Hutchinson experienced her first major bout of depression. For the young woman, who is now an award-winning singer-songwriter, the disorder didn’t manifest as sadness, but rather as total exhaustion.

“My brain felt really foggy and I was struggling to do my schoolwork,” Hutchinson, who is based in Cambridge, Mass., said during a recent phone interview. “It was all so surprising to me because I’d always been a classic overachiever, so it was very unusual to just want to lie in bed watching movies all day.”

For the next nine years, Hutchinson managed to hide her recurring bouts of depression and hypomania, until she suffered “a complete breakdown” following a whirlwind music tour in Europe in 2006. Her younger sister convinced her she needed to be hospitalized, at which point she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, an often debilitating form of mental illness that affects approximately 5.5 million Americans age 18 or older, or 2.6 percent of the adult population.

“Medication stabilized my brain,” Hutchinson said about her subsequent treatment.

In the ensuing years, she’s found that, “Meditation, yoga, good nutrition, therapy and hours every day walking in the woods with my dog have allowed me to heal on a much deeper level.”

Today, Hutchinson is committed to educating people about bipolar disorder and advocating for those with the illness. Though initially hesitant to take up public speaking and advocacy, she overcame her reluctance because, “At the outset, I felt so much shame and fear about my illness that it made me feel very suicidal. Now I feel a deep responsibility to share my story in the hope that someone else going through that suffering will gain hope and not feel alone.”

Messages in her music have led to invitations to schools, hospitals and conferences. She travels the country playing songs, talking about the illness and showing a documentary about her experiences titled Pack Up Your Sorrows, which she will screen at Enloe Conference Center this Saturday, Aug. 22. Hutchinson said the film developed after she met filmmakers Rob Stegman and Todd Kwait while participating in another documentary the duo made about the Cambridge folk music scene.

She described feeling an immediate emotional connection to the men and how further meetings and discussions with them about her journey led to the conception of Pack Up Your Sorrows, which Hutchinson said “has been an amazing and very organic collaboration. We knew that we wanted to inspire more conversation about these issues and tell a story about mental illness through the lens of my personal experience.”

Filled with images of the natural world and imbued with Hutchinson’s music, the film explores a wide range of issues related to bipolar disorder. In the course of making the film, Hutchinson and the filmmakers also conducted interviews with many of the leading minds researching the illness and how it can best be managed and treated.

“The thing we’d like people to take away from seeing Pack Up Your Sorrows is a wish to continue the conversation,” Hutchinson said. “By talking about these issues, we can help end discrimination [against those afflicted with mental illness] and promote a culture where everyone feels safe to get help when they need it. We want people to walk away feeling empowered and hopeful that things can change.”

Asked how she chose Chico as a destination on her tour, Hutchinson revealed her personal connections to the area: “My father’s family is from Chico. My grandfather, W.H. ‘Old Hutch’ Hutchinson, was a beloved professor and historian at Chico State, and we’re bringing the film to Chico on Aug. 22 in honor of my uncle’s birthday.

“We lost my uncle, who also went by the name Hutch, to suicide this past April, and the film is dedicated to him.”

—Carey Wilson