I love picking on my dad. I love to remind him that he has a bald spot on his head and that his hair is more salt than pepper. When he says something that's not super smart, I call him Clemson, where he went to college (in turn he calls me Chapel Hill, where I went to college). And when his birthday comes around, I call him first thing in the morning to say happy birthday . . . but I never forget to add "gramps" or "grandpa" at the end.
But despite all of the teasing that goes on between the two of us, my dad has gotten me through a lot. When it comes down to it, there's so much I couldn't have handled without him. I've dealt with a myriad of struggles, ranging from depression and anxiety to relationship issues, perfectionism, academic stress, and insecurity. And in the midst of any of it, I would call him, sobbing, hopeless, and he always knew what to say.
One of the most valuable lessons he ever gave me — probably while I was stress-crying — is the importance of perspective. This lesson has stuck with me and often helped me feel better. And as someone whose emotions often overpower logic, this was quite the feat. So when I made a bad grade, he'd say: "It was just one test in one class. In the big scheme of things, it doesn't matter. You have plenty of other good grades, more than just grades matter and you won't even remember this in five years." When I dealt with a lot of relationship issues my senior year of high school, he'd say: "You're only X months away from going to college, and I really believe things will be so much better there. You've just got to hold out a little longer." When I couldn't find a job, he'd say: "You're getting there and doing all the right things. Just keep working hard like you are and it'll pay off. You have an impressive résumé and I have no doubt someone will want to hire you."
While I still haven't gotten a full-time post-grad job yet (probably due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, like he's reminded me), all of his other perspectives rang true. My high school GPA was perfectly fine and got me into a good college. And college, in several ways, was a better time than high school. This wasn't due to luck, either. His logic and perspective were sound.
As someone with anxiety, looking at a problem with a different, more well-rounded, and experienced perspective is crucial. And talking with others can help, especially when you're young. Changing your perspective personally isn't easy. It requires rewiring your brain. Through this rewiring, you'll be able to see your past or future self more objectively. This will help with the racing thoughts and emotions that come with anxiety and don't always tie in with reality.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is often utilized for helping people handle their anxiety and it deals with seeing how thoughts influence emotions that influence behaviors. By changing that first level, thoughts, you can save yourself from unhelpful emotions and behaviors. Instead of feeling stressed and crying, you may feel comforted.
I wasn't aware of ways I could change my thoughts, especially as a middle school student. I didn't have the capacity or life experience to see my situation in any other way. And that's where my dad came in. I'm so grateful for his unwavering support, even as my parents divorced. He never stopped consistently caring for me or acting upon his love.
While I hate that he's been through a lot of messes, I'm grateful for what it taught him — because it meant he could then teach me. One of my main goals quickly became helping others in the ways I'd been helped, and using my experiences to serve my future children. So here's to my dad, who says he loves me in every text and includes hearts and random fun emoji. Here's to my dad, who puts up with my teasing and helps me anyway. Here's to my dad, who gave me perspective that saved me in my lowest moments.