January 2016 – This month, both The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and The Mighty published Allyson McAndrews’ most recent piece about the power of small acts of kindness. While she discusses an honest perspective on mental illness, the article also serves as a reminder of ways we all can better our lives in 2016. Click here to read it on NAMI or Click here to read it on The Mighty!
Growing up, my mother always enforced two rules with me and my sisters. The following must be completed on time: Homework and thank you notes. When we were children, I understood the reasoning behind homework. If you didn’t turn it in, you’d get a bad grade, which would lead to failing out of school, which would leave you out of work forever (at least that was the thought process of an elementary school student.) But thank you notes weren’t on my bucket list of things to do after gymnastics practice. As far as I knew, none of my friends were running to the mailbox two days after my birthday party to see if they received a thank you card for the beanie baby they had gotten me.
Flash forward to over a decade later. I refer to this period as “The Dark Winter.” Because I had been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder years before, I knew that tough times could always creep in. I understood that my OCD wouldn’t just decide one day to get up and walk away forever, and thanks to continual years of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), I practiced and learned exposure tactics to combat the OCD. But even these weapons didn’t diminish the pain that can come along when fighting a battle with mental illness. And I certainly felt like that winter was a war. Juggling school and work full time seemed like a piece of cake compared to what I was feeling inside. It was as if I was on a deserted island – all alone – even though I was around so many people each day. What made it even more difficult was that I had zero explanation for why I felt the way I did. There was nothing to justify why I was hurting. This alone made it clear that it was time I went into treatment again. I had to surrender this battle.
That winter, before I left every morning, my mother and father would leave a Post-It note for me with some sort of line of love and encouragement. These notes took them about 10 seconds to write, but felt like 10 extra breaths of fresh air for me. When we were little, my sisters and I often saw Post-It notes around our house saying anything from “I love you”, to “Don’t forget to take your medicine and vitamins and brush your teeth!”, or even ones stuck to the back of the door reminding us to lock up when we leave. But this winter, the Post-Its meant more than they’ll ever know. They served as a symbol of hope and that I wouldn’t feel this way my whole life – and these Post-Its only took my parents a moment of their lives to write. I saved every note that winter.
I finally understood why my parents emphasized these little things in life – because they knew a “little goes a long way”. The simplicity of a handwritten note can change a person’s day in ways the writer may not even realize so it’s important for all of us to keep in mind that the word “simple” doesn’t mean “thoughtless”. It can actually mean the opposite. So as we begin 2016, let’s all take those few seconds of our days to do something simple for someone – whether it’s holding a door open or picking up a dropped cereal box at the grocery store, never forget that these small things have the power to change a person’s day for the better in ways we may never know ourselves.
By Allyson McAndrews, M.Ed.
First submitted early January 2016 to “The Mighty”