When I Felt the Most Alone, My Dad Taught Me to Be My Own Best Friend
In every Father's Day card I write, I always mention how grateful I am to have a dad who is not only an incredible, supportive parent but also someone who I consider a friend. When I was really struggling with anxiety and depression while away at school this past year, my dad showed me kindness, empathy, and love, and he taught me that I need to treat myself with the same and, in doing so, become my own best friend.
My dad and I have always had a fairly strong relationship. When my two brothers and I were growing up, my dad was a stay-at-home dad while in graduate school working toward his teaching certificate, so we spent a lot of time with him. He taught us everything from how to check out books from the local public library to how to tell which Beatles member sings which verse. Along with these lessons, he taught us to be kind and empathetic people through not just our words but also our actions.
As a kid, I noticed the small details in my dad's behaviors that make him the good-natured, likable person that his friends and family know him as. I picked up on the way he makes sure to thank everyone from the person who delivers the mail to the local pharmacy cashier and the way he holds doors open for strangers even if they're still decently far away from him. I watched the way he always respects people even if he doesn't receive the same treatment back and the way he is forgiving to those who make mistakes. Because of my dad's influence and my own desire to be like him, I carried these same behaviors and values with me into adulthood.
I've always gone out of my way to be the kind, giving person that my parents raised me to be. Unfortunately, my giving and forgiving nature, in combination with my anxious tendencies and insecurities, have taken a toll and repeatedly left me drained from putting so much effort and love into my relationships with others.
About halfway through my second year of college, my body responded to the strain that had built up from years of prioritizing everyone and everything above myself. My depression, which I hadn't experienced so strongly since high school, returned, and my anxiety got much worse. I would wake up already short of breath and move through my days without feeling much of anything. I started talking to a therapist again for the first time in years. I was at a low, and I had no idea how to even get started on the climb back up to being OK.
One morning during all of this, I received a call from my dad. We talked for an hour about everything: school, my living situation, my long-distance relationship, and everything in between. At the end of our conversation, my dad reminded me that small acts of kindness go a long way and that it's OK and even necessary for these small acts of kindness to be directed at ourselves. He told me to try to do at least one nice thing for myself every day whether that be buying a snack from a local coffee shop or even just listening to music that makes me feel good.
While this advice sounds simple and even obvious, it is exactly what I needed to hear to feel motivated about taking care of myself, especially because it came from someone who has always gone out of his way to help others. In the weeks following, I woke up to texts from my dad wishing me a good day and reminding me to do something nice for myself, and I listened to him. I started to build a healthy relationship with myself by prioritizing my own wants and needs, even in the smallest ways, and it made a really big difference. I learned that it's OK and normal to do things for yourself, it's important to set boundaries with others, and it's possible to be giving without giving away all of yourself.
Anxiety and depression are long battles, and I would be lying if I said that my struggles with them miraculously disappeared once I started treating myself the way I was taught to treat others. Despite this, I would also be lying if I said that my dad's advice hasn't had a really positive impact on me. I still try to do something nice for myself every single day, and like my dad has always proved to me, these small acts of kindness go a long way. Treating myself the same way I would treat a friend has allowed me to have more compassion for myself and my circumstances and to forgive myself when I don't meet my own or someone else's expectations. No matter what, I'm always going to be someone who says thank you and holds the door open for strangers, but I'm also always going to try to be someone who treats myself with this same kindness and empathy, and I owe both of these values to my most supportive and consistent friend, my dad.