Into the Light: Suzi Mitchell

Local artist and freelance writer Suzii Mitchell. (Photo by John F. Russell)

Suzi Mitchell had an unconventional childhood. She grew up in Scotland in a hotel owned by her grandparents surrounded by people — close family, extended family, guests and a large network of friends.

“I was used to this really busy, busy world and a hugely social type of environment,” Suzi said.

She chose a career in the hospitality industry and landed a sales job that involved traveling and meeting more people. It was during this time that Suzi also met the man who would become her husband.

“It was love at first sight and a very fast courtship,” Suzi said.

Chuck and Suzi were married and immediately moved to Steamboat Springs, where Chuck lived. Suzi continued to work remotely, alone in the condo the couple shared. At the time, Chuck worked for TIC and traveled during the week, so Suzi found herself living in a new and beautiful place but feeling very alone and isolated.

“I just could not find my way here,” Suzi said. “Going to the post office was this great highlight of my day because I was seeing people. Then we moved out to a house toward Sleeping Giant, and it was just further isolation. I got incredibly lonely, and I found living in the mountains, so far from the sea suffocating. And it’s not because I wasn’t thrilled to be married to Chuck, but I felt sad, like I’d had to sacrifice so much to be with him.”

Four years after moving to Steamboat, Suzi had her first child, and she continued to struggle. Without the network she’d been used to at home, she said she felt like she was living on an island all by herself. Her OB at the time told Suzi she needed to regulate her sadness, so she began taking antidepressants — a decision she kept a secret.

“I felt guilty,” Suzi said. “I have a roof over my head. I don’t struggle for food. And I live in this beautiful place.”

The medication helped, but after having her second child, Suzi had reached her “breaking point,” so the family moved to Scotland, where Suzi assumed she’d find happiness again. She enjoyed living there, but it was a hard transition to go from a quiet to a hectic life again, and it was challenging for the family unit.

“It was almost sensory, and I hadn’t realized I’d started getting used to a quieter pace,” Suzi said.

After two years, the Mitchells, who added a third child to the family in Scotland, decided to move back to Steamboat.

Upon her return, Suzi took a writing class and discovered the joy that came with telling other people’s stories.

“Through writing, a second world opened up,” Suzi said. “I started to find my people.”

And just when she was beginning to hit her stride and was finding her place, Suzi’s dad died, and she returned to Scotland for a summer.

“He was the most loyal, giving, loving man you could ever meet,” Suzi said.

His death was a turning point for Suzi. The family received hundreds of letters about the impact he’d had on their lives.

“The letters that came in were about these stories of generosity and kindness — small things he’d done for people that obviously meant a lot,” Suzi said. “I thought, ‘That’s it. I’m going to heal by giving like my dad did.'”

And that’s why Suzi now spends a large amount of her time working on projects that benefit the community — volunteering at the school, substitute teaching during COVID-19, coaching sports and organizing fundraisers to support various causes around town. She does these things to keep her dad’s legacy alive while also boosting her mental health outlook.

“It’s important to help someone else along the way — to pay it forward. I’m teaching my kids and those that come to our house you don’t give to get; you give to give.”

And while giving to others is still a huge priority for Suzi, she said she realized she also needed to find something that was just for her, and that is when she began painting — a gift she gives herself.

“I can shut everything out, and I can go back to the sea (in Scotland),” Suzi said. “I don’t have to be at the sea, but I can feel it, and I can paint it, and I can look at it.”

She said she also finds solace in nature, which became her family’s retreat during the isolation of a pandemic.

“It was COVID that gave me a sense of place. It made me put my roots down, because I started seeing that this is my children’s home,” Suzi said. “And me hankering after something else wasn’t healthy. And now I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”

Suzi is realistic about the place she now calls home and said Steamboat can suffer from an “everything-is-great” culture that needs to be challenged.

“I think we’re doing our children a disservice to pretend everything is great,” Suzi said. “So many of them are consumed with the false sense of life through social media, and we are compounding that.”

“I tell my kids that when things aren’t great, it’s OK to say they’re not great.”

During COVID-19, there was a suicide in their family, and Suzi and Chuck chose to share it with their children.

“We agreed as parents, that even if other members of the family didn’t want to acknowledge what happened, it was important for us to tell the truth to our kids and talk about it and to honor that person,” Suzi said.

Suzi also believes there should be no shame or sense of failure when someone makes the decision to take antidepressants. And it’s a fact about her life that she no longer hides.

“I’ve heard people say that depression is simply in your head; it’s not a real thing,” Suzi said. “Until you experience that dreaded black cloud of despair that stops you from wanting to get on with your day, you have no idea how debilitating and extremely real it is.

“How we choose to deal with it is a personal journey,” Suzi explained. “For me, it is a combination of medication, mindfulness, giving to others and appreciating the gift of nature on a daily basis.”

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