I think I have been a helper most, if not all, of my life. That seems like it would be a good thing, but it hasn’t alway been. I would say that pre-stroke, the way I helped others was more for myself than for them. I was miserable. I felt hopeless and lost. I didn’t know how to live. I didn’t know how to be happy. I felt joy through others’ joy, not my own. That was a problem. I had no guidance and didn’t know how to ask for help. The depression that came along with being that way was crippling. I didn’t know how to fix myself so I tried to fix others - friends mostly; family was more difficult. It was easier to listen to a stranger most of the time than to my own flesh and blood. I put myself out there for anyone and everyone, any chance I got. I went out of my way to bring joy to others. I spread myself thin, but those moments of joy I received from helping someone was priceless. That meant everything to me. It was the only joy I felt so it was what I continued to reach for. This was one of the contributing factors to my stroke - I put a lot of pressure on myself to help others, while I was disregarding my own health and happiness.
After my stroke, I started going to therapy. I gained the tools I needed to function as any “normal” adult would. I gained skills that I missed out on previously in my life like being able to process situations and feelings more effectively. I never did that before. I would just shove things down and bury them. Once I learned how to process things out, it was like a light switch was turned on in my head. I had been living life in the dark. I am able to now see a better way. A healthier way. I see the joy in life now. Not just life, but my life. I’m happy. I mean, I still get depressed and anxious often. I am constantly overwhelmed, but I am here to feel all of these things. I have been depressed and full of anxiety most of my life. Now, it’s different. Now, I acknowledge and understand my issues. I don’t shove them deep down inside and try to gain my joy through others. I talk about what I’m feeling to my therapist, to my girlfriend and most importantly to myself; not like a crazy person, but I check-in with myself to see how I’m feeling.
I am at the most mentally healthy place that I have ever been in my life. I am now happy and comfortable being that way. I can now really help others. I have helped others before, but not in a healthy way. Before, I was helping others to help me bridge the gap between myself and happiness. Now, there is no gap to bridge. I’m just happy and healthy. Now, I can help people while knowing that no matter what I am in a good place. I can help because I want to, not because I need to. No matter what, I can feel some sort of happiness. It all starts with me. It’s taken me almost dying to realize that. Yes, there are reasons for why we are the way we are, but as adults we have the choice to not just accept that. We have the choice to change the narrative. Bad things happen, yes, but good things happen too. I choose to focus on the good. I can’t ignore the bad, but I also can’t dwell on it. I acknowledge it and move on. I can sit back and complain about how terrible things are, but that’s boring. That’s not how I’m going to grow as a person. That’s not how I want to live my life. The glass can appear half empty, but I am going to focus on it being half full. That is growth. Changing the way that I think and choosing to reframe things to focus on the positive has been the most helpful thing I have ever done for myself. Life is beautiful. We all want to help others at some point, but we can’t really help anyone if we can’t help ourselves first. I can now help people; truly help others because I have been able to help myself. I’m a work in progress like the rest of us, but my progress has been massive. I look forward to continuing my journey for myself, as well as with many others, on my way to recovery.