and north star gave me the opportunity to explore them
Can you pinpoint that moment when you found your passion? You feel that little flame, it lights, and you feed it with singing, dancing, writing, or whatever you love. You’re always searching for more, and seeking out knowledge. Maybe you have more than one thing that keeps you going. You want to make this part of your life, and you need to. And maybe if you’re lucky you hold on to that fire and feed it, little by little, for the rest of your life, even through all of the crap that life has in store. You always find that safe, warm place where you can indulge your mind in that one thing. Finding your passion is special and life changing. Certain places and people influence you, and give you a new view on the world. North Star has done this for me. North Star helped me find and explore my passions, which helped me save my life.
To put it bluntly, public school beyond sucked for me. It was hell. I never fit in. I was always a little different from everyone else. I was very sensitive to everyone else’s emotions, and I didn’t understand that a lot of the people I was around weren’t like that. I always felt distant, and I never felt that I had something to work towards. Kids were mean, and teachers didn’t do anything about that. I was bullied. We all know the ages of 12-14 are difficult, and quite honestly you couldn’t pay me to be 13 again. And to be even more honest, some of the worst and traumatic moments of my life happened at school. Those years at school still affect me to this day.
My family knew my depression and anxiety would get worse the longer I stayed in school. I was self- harming and that was getting worse as well. There was nothing left for me at school. I remember one time walking through the halls, lockers passing me by, and there was this heavy weight on my shoulders. I knew I wouldn’t last much longer at school, but there was nothing I could do to leave. Fortunately, my mother knew about North Star. We had known someone who went there and we decided to check it out. It couldn’t hurt to visit, right?
When we walked through the front doors of the building there was a sense of excitement and enthusiasm that never existed at school. It was special. I had no doubt this place was different. The rooms had a different feel to them. They were welcoming. I walked away that day feeling a little bit of hope. We didn’t know it yet, but this was the best decision of our lives.
My first year at North Star was something of a trial period. I took two classes, one on each of the two days I attended. I just needed a chance to breathe and I found some peace in being free from homework and the high expectations of school. I didn’t really know what I wanted out of life, and I truly had no idea of what to do with myself. I hadn’t thought about my short-term future, never mind the long-term. But I was assured that not knowing was okay. You don’t always have to know what you’re doing, you don’t always need to be doing something. I chose to take the time to shut off my mind and focus on things that made me happy. I dove into trying to feel better. I found solace in art and music again. I had always loved these activities, and pursuing them heightened my love of painting, drawing, and singing. Recapturing the little spark of hitting the first note just right, and the moment your hand twitches right before the first stroke of the paint brush. My first year, though it was short (I joined in February that year) was the quiet, freeing place I needed it to be.
Over the next two years, I started finding my place. Taking more classes, I cultivated knowledge. I wanted to write, so I wrote poetry, short stories, and I tried to learn some essay writing skills as well. I wanted to sing, so I sang. I found my voice singing with new friends, and we performed together. I knew what I wanted so I went out and did it.
I watch a lot of football. Watching football is my escape: four hours of big, tough athletes laying it out on the field. I admire their dedication and conditioning, and the concept of team is something I wanted to implement in my own life. “Football convinced me that life is a team game.” - Joe Namath. That quote has stuck with me. I taught myself everything I wanted to know about NFL history, and then taught it in a class to two lovely and dedicated fellow North Star members. I had found what I was passionate about, and I felt I had a sense of direction. But even though all of this looked great on paper, I was still fighting my demons.
At some point, everything you brush under the rug needs to be swept up and dealt with. I had pushed so much, so far down and it had to come out. There was a day when I was 16 when I confided in someone my darkest secret. I had shoved it so far back in my mind and it had resurfaced. I needed to say it out loud. It felt good to get it out, but the worst part was that it was now out! And when something is right in front of you, you can either save it for later or you have to do the dirty work of dealing with it. It took years to face it and I thought just saying it was all I needed to do. I was wrong, and I didn’t want to deal with it yet. Then during my third year at North Star, I was starting to fall again. Just changing your situation doesn’t change your life. You have to work to make your life better. North Star gave me a solid foundation to build something beautiful, but I had to build it.
Depression, anxiety, disordered eating, and trauma were waging a war in my mind. It all came to a head one night and I went to the emergency room, because I wanted to die.
I was in the hospital for thirteen months—three different hospitals. So many new faces and new places. Even though it was one of the most difficult periods of my life, I got to meet amazing people and share things like the Patriots winning the Super Bowl, and making jokes that are probably only funny in mental hospitals. I also missed out on things I wished I could have been there for. At first I didn’t want to get better, but I learned that I needed to. You learn a lot about yourself in a mental hospital, and I found out what I really loved in life—the tiny things you overlook but desperately miss when they are gone. It’s all the little things that tide you over until you can be with the ones you love. My family, friends, they were all back home and I deeply missed them. North Star was over an hour away, and I deeply missed the smiles and laughs and energy.
Coming home was the best and strangest feeling. It’s incredibly hard to explain the feeling when you reunite with your whole life outside of your brain, after a year of being away. I had visited home every weekend for months before discharge but there’s the understanding that nothing will be the same when you go back for good. And things will always change no matter the circumstances. But when you have something to hold on to inside yourself, change will suck, but you won’t be sucked down the grief spiral. Things changed, my family changed, my house even looked different. But nothing that was gone from my old life was terribly missed. The things that mattered most to me boiled down to football, family, friends, music, and North Star.
Returning to North Star when I was eighteen was somewhat of another homecoming. I walked in on the first day singing a little song under my breath. It felt exciting and nerve-racking and absolutely right. And since coming back, I’ve found one more thing I love: History, specifically English history, and local/Pioneer Valley history. The old teaches us about what might be to come. And an understanding of our history helps us understand ourselves. I currently co-teach a class called Local History Explorations with Loran Saito (who is an amazing teacher and a great mentor.) I teach American History as a one-on-one tutorial and enjoy it immensely. And my newest interest (here’s to hoping it becomes a passion!) is horses. They are beautiful beasts and have so much to teach you. I currently ride and learn from Moka, and she is a sweetheart—a lovely black quarter horse. Working with horses brings me the same joy as watching football or playing music.
I know what I love and I know what matters most to me. My family, friends, North Star, and mental hospitals let me realize all of these things. And I now know where I want to go and what I want to do. I hope to attend Greenfield Community College next year and figure out where I can go next! I hope to go to school for social work, or possibly European history.
I like to say that I have my family and I have North Star, and not just the people but the building. North Star moved from the Hadley to Sunderland for my third year. The old building was what I first called home, but moving was a change I appreciated. The staircases that take a year (or longer) to figure where they go are something you can’t find anywhere else. The people are too. We have a crazy way of being individuals in a family-like community. And even when you don’t always feel like you fit, there are still people who want to make you feel welcome.
If there’s one thing to take away from what I have said it is this: Pursuing my passions helped me in my recovery, and North Star gave me the opportunity to explore them.