The Key to Motivation When You Live With a Mental Illness


It was about four months ago. I looked around my apartment and didn’t have the energy to clean it. I had to be to work in 20 minutes, and didn’t have the energy to go in. I had spent seven years battling to get a job after being homeless with a mental illness, suicidal and miserable. I work at a local gas station. It’s a great job, full of good people and fun tasks. I love to read, but I hadn’t done that in months. I didn’t have a set schedule to break the malaise. Was I depressed? Ungrateful for the blessings in my life? Somewhere, somehow, I had lost the thread, the purpose to my existence. I was in tremendous pain from an ankle injury, and had no one to turn to since my mental health treatment team was in-flux.

For the first time in nearly 11 years, I was living without purpose. I went to work, hobbled home and slept. I ate pizza from the local delivery service and gained weight, since I couldn’t stand long enough to cook after eight to 13 hours on a severely-sprained ankle. I had no goal in mind, just tasks to do and no energy to do them.

How did I get this way? More importantly, how do I fix it? This wasn’t melancholy, this was being numb. People asking for time from me drew scowls and grunts of displeasure. I realized I needed a Dream, a goal, a purpose, again.

I have achieved small, incremental steps since that hot night I finally woke up. I asked for some time off from work, I made a list of things to appreciate in life. I made a bucket list, long-term spending goals and forced myself to endure the pain in order to have a clean place. I sat a lot as I cleaned. I took many breaks, but it worked. The apartment was cleaner, and moving around helped me regain strength, endurance and wind.

The goals are simple in concept: make my apartment a new dig, mine, by finally unpacking. Be exceptional at work. Live a more well-rounded life. Count my blessings. Lose weight to manage pain. Make a memory every day.

I made a checklist of those things that are important to me. I started entering them in my computer every day. It’s still a tender time, but it works. Life can be challenging at times. And how quickly we can lose ourselves to being exhausted, in pain and overwhelmed with stress. I am not perfect, but I am better.

I faced a crisis when I tried to do things on my list and still struggled. Where was the motivation? The list is made, but it’s not getting done! I was panicked. Was I going to lose everything again? Homelessness! Job loss! Suicide!

So, I turned to about everyone I could think of to ask, what is the key to motivation. I got blank posts on Facebook, and calls that were not returned. I had to meditate (and sleep).

So, what is the key? Rome wasn’t built in a day. You don’t eat a five-course meal with one bite. I had goals, a list to achieve them, but, I roamed like a lost child, unable to make myself do something difficult. There were no consequences, at this point, except my own self-respect. I didn’t have manageable sub-goals. I didn’t break a task down to its most basic points, into manageable steps. I felt overwhelmed looking at all that needed to be done. I didn’t work on them every day, making success a habit. That meant, the easiest things were done, the harder stuff was put off. But, achievement flows in the other direction: it is in accomplishing difficult things that gives us confidence, moving forward, to try something new, challenge ourselves and work harder than the day before.

One of my favorite songs is “The River” by Garth Brooks. I listened to it every day, sometimes, before I journal, sometimes before my to-do list. Dreams are important, as is a sense of purpose. Luckily, I only missed four months, and not four years, or 40, because I was just surviving, not fighting to live the life I wanted. I love being alive, and I have, since 2009. But what I got out of this: put one-foot in front of the other. Make plans. Work every day to maintain what you have, while building a Life you will miss when it is over. Press on, and I hope you never forget who you are, but if you do, too often you have to pick yourself up, and learn what makes you tick.


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