Meet Iowa City duo cast members Kenda Stewart and Phil Steffensmeier

Kenda

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am originally from Kansas but have lived in Iowa City off and on since 2001. I did my graduate work at the University of Iowa and finished my doctorate in anthropology in 2012. Although I love knitting and weaving and all things fiber art-related, being able to garden, barbecue, and hangout outside during spring and summer are probably my favorite things to do in Iowa City.

How has mental illness affected your life?

My sister had a depressive episode in college, and after suffering panic attacks and depression in undergrad and grad school I was diagnosed with major depression in 2004. My boyfriend Phil has Bipolar 1 disorder, and while this is my first real exposure to the illness, I cannot begin to measure the ways in which my relationship with him has enriched my life.

Why did you want to be a part of This Is My Brave?

In addition to combatting stereotypes and stigma surrounding mental illness, I want to show the world that happiness, love, and humor can happen for people with mental illness too.

Who inspires you stay mentally healthy?

My relationships with Phil, family, and friends inspire me to be a healthier person.

What do you hope the audience takes away from attending the show?

Living with mental illness doesn't have to be all doom and gloom, as long as we, as a society, learn to reach out and care for each other when we see that others are struggling or sick.

Phil

Tell us a little about yourself.

I'm from Iowa City, born and raised. My mother and father both live in town. I have a brother with a family in Urbandale, IA and a sister with her family in Buffalo Grove, IL. I love to play bocce ball when the sun is out and scrabble when it's not. I'm the current president of the board of directors for NAMIJC. 

How has mental illness affected your life?

I was first hospitalized at 15 and diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. After having been hospitalized multiple times, I was diagnosed with Bipolar I disorder at age 21. So, I have been diagnosed as mentally ill for two decades.

Why did you want to be a part of This Is My Brave?

I wanted to be a part of This is My Brave because I have done some public speaking about mental illness, but think this is a fun new avenue to bring mental illness into the foreground of people's minds.

What helps inspire you to stay mentally healthy?

My relationships with Kenda, my family and friends are the main things that inspire me to be mentally healthy. My dog, Comet, also helps me to get through each day. Volunteering for NAMI has been instrumental in giving me a sense of purpose.

What do you hope the audience takes away from attending the show?

 My hope is that the audience will see that mentally ill people have more to offer than what they perceived before coming to the show. 

Phil and Kenda are performing a skit which reenacts broaching the topic of mental illness on a first date. Our entire Iowa City cast will take the stage this Friday at the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts to shine a light on mental illness through their storytelling. Join us in learning what it means to #LiveBrave.