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What Sparked the Fire – A look back at my personal history with mental health issues and finding the will to live

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(Illustration by Abby Haywood)

By LJ Nicholson

I was formally diagnosed with depression and anxiety when I was 14 years old. When I first started treatment, I was in a hard place. I had to visit rehab three times in a two-month period to help control my continuing emotional chaos. 

Part of the reason why I had such a hard time recovering was from the wrong “cocktails” of medications I was on. Prescription drugs are always trial and error. You must work through some hardships to find out what is best for yourself, both with medicine and life. 

I encountered a lot of professionals during my recovery process. Each one of them gave me a different message of encouragement to help me along my way of healing. One psychiatrist I had reiterated that because my emotional traumas were caught “early on,” I could recover, and move on to a brighter and happier life in the future. I am 22 years old now. And looking back at what he said, he could not have been more wrong about my future. 

Even after recovery, your mental health does not “bounce back” to a good place. Once the correct medications were in my system, all they did was just remove the dangerous desires I had. The hopes to hurt or kill myself went away, but the drive to be alive never came to me. 

No one ever told me where to find the motivation, just that it should spark in me sometime. And once I had it, the flame would help me keep going. But for myself, I waited a long time before truly finding the joy and motivation to be alive. 

For most of my life, just trying to make sure other people were okay with my choices were what kept me going. I’ve had a hard time caring about things in life. For example, I didn’t want to get good grades on a test because I wanted to feel validated as a student, I just wanted to make sure my parents never got mad at me. I didn’t need the gold star or “A,” I just wanted to make sure everyone else was satisfied with my accomplishments. I would hate to be a disappointment to those that care about me, especially after all my challenges in the past. 

It is good to not want to disappoint those around us, but it should not be the thing keeping you alive. You need to be alive for yourself, and not for those around you. Living life like this only prevents you from feeling bad about yourself, but never feeling good or proud of yourself. 

So, how does one find the joy in life? That is the great question I ask myself every day. I’ve asked myself this for as long as I can remember, and I might always ask myself this for as long as I can think. But after a recent discussion I had with my mother, I know I’ve found at least one answer. 

Less than a year ago, my mom had caught me in a moment of great sadness. I was out of breath, tears were streaming down my face, and my eyes and cheeks had never felt redder and inflamed. It was a moment when I was screaming inside to talk to someone about my feelings. And my mother, being extremely loving and caring, immediately sat me down to talk and try to help me feel better. 

I told her my struggle of having a hard time finding the will to keep moving. For so long, my life has felt only partially fulfilled, and living a life at 50% is impossible to keep you running smoothly. 

She knew what I was going through. She understood my pain and wanted to help me feel better. Not only because she was there by my side during recovery, but also because she had felt this way before. She too has had hardships in finding the fire of life. So many people deal with the same struggles as I, and it’s hard to remember that when you’re stuck inside your own head. 

My mom said that because she knew how hard it was for herself to find the drive, she understood my pain even greater. She wants what is best for me, and what will allow me to live my life at 100%. 

That feeling she has for me, the desire to help me grow and feel safe and fulfilled, is love. Love is what keeps her going. Love is what allows her to help others, as well as herself, grow. Her love for me is what drove her to want to help me find happiness in my life. And by helping me find happiness, she felt happiness as well.  

Love is what everyone needs. Love is what drives us. Love is what makes us feel whole. 

Looking back on the times I was struggling with my mental health, I was never focused on love. Love was what was missing from my life. Not just receiving love from other people, but also being loving towards others. 

My mom wanted me to understand that life for her really began to feel the fullest when she felt love the strongest. I needed to incorporate being loving into my life, for love is where all life feels celebrated. 

After our talk had ended, I knew that she was right. I need more love in my life to keep me going. This was one of the few instances when one of those gut feelings hit me so hard, I knew it was time for immediate change. 

A change to make room for love did not mean a switch in scenery. I could find ways to be loving in the world I was already in. Everyone in my life like family, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances all need to feel love. Going out of my way to make sure people I already cared about feel love was not hard. I just needed to be there for them. 

To be loving with others, I let them talk to me. I listen to their stories about their pain. I let them feel safe with me so they do not worry that I would make them feel bad for their history and actions. I try my best not to judge them. It’s important to remember they should never feel judged. 

A lot of the time, I have felt the same things they say cause them stress, just like how my mom had felt my pain before. 

I try to celebrate their joyous moments, too. I support them on what makes them feel the happiest, even if I think it is weird or not for me. 

One of the worst feelings in life is when you feel guilty for being yourself or feeling happy. You are what you love. I want someone to feel safe to be themselves with me because I know how terrible it feels when you’re shamed for just being yourself. 

The deep pain from my past is my greatest strength with others today. I’ve been in the trenches, so I know how it feels for other people. So, when I try to help others get out, I find myself coming out with them. 

Since I began trying to be loving towards those around me, I have found myself happy to be alive for the first time in what feels like forever. 

Once you start to be loving with others, people notice it, too. They are happy to be around you. They are grateful you are there for them. Being told that you are appreciated for your place in someone’s life is one of the best things to hear, and it finally feels like life is worth living. And being able to say it back to them is what makes you feel fulfilled. 

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