Becoming Your Own Best Friend for Your Mental Health
I have often said that perhaps the thing in this world at which I am most accomplished and skilled is choosing friends. My longest-standing friendship began at age seven, when Sabah Quadir, a gangly young girl from Bangladesh met a gangly young Jewish boy from around the corner at the bus stop. Sabah and I have been friends for thirty years—I flew across the country for her wedding not too long ago, and I would fly around the world, if she asked me to. While I’ve made some lovely, lasting friendships in my life, I haven’t excelled at being my own friend. And this was on my mind recently, so I asked our staff, and myself, to think about how we can become our own best friend in 2018. Here’s what we came up with. Happy New Year to you, friend.
— Gabriel Nathan; Editor in Chief
BUD CLAYMAN – PUBLISHER
Being my own best friend is healthy. By listening to self-compassion meditations three to four times a week, and by doing forgiveness meditations when I have erred, I am cultivating a better me and, ultimately, a better society.
I have found it helpful to turn to forgiveness and self-compassion experts like Tara Brach and Kristin Neff. If I make a mistake, and my guilt ensues, I can play Brach’s meditation on forgiveness and kindness. The meditation always speaks to my problems because of Brach’s universal message: even though our mistakes are not condonable, we are not at fault. There are many factors that may have contributed to our missteps.
The goal here then is not to punish ourselves, but to have our own backs. We learn from our mistakes not by beating ourselves into submission but instead by showing ourselves kindness, love, and understanding. Kristin Neff’s groundbreaking self-compassion research has proved this benevolence to be a fact.
As children, many of us have been shamed into behaviors that our parents saw as correct or appropriate. Our parents needed us to comply. We all, however, are imperfect and fallible. If our parents had only treated us with understanding and kindness, we would not have resented ourselves every time we acted imperfectly.
To soften this harsh mindset, self-compassion helps us be less angry. If we are less angry, we will have more compassion for ourselves and ultimately for others. We can definitely cultivate this healthy feeling in the New Year.
GABRIEL NATHAN – EDITOR IN CHIEF
Sometimes, I think my therapist is fucking with me. I was talking to him a few months ago about my relentlessly confidence-slashing, achievement-desecrating monologue, and about how powerless I feel confronting such a strong and brutal inner voice. He shifted in his chair, crossed his legs, and furrowed his brow a bit. Jesus, I thought, he really looks like Steve Martin when he does that thing with his face.
“Why don’t you try,” he intoned, “responding to this voice of yours with, ‘I love you’?”
I immediately felt a surge of vomit scurry up my esophagus, rapidly making its way toward the Exit sign.
“Oh, my God,” I said, “you can’t be fucking serious.” He smiled, and nodded his head indicating that, yeah, he was serious.
I love you. Three little words that carry a big punch. Eight letters that I have no difficulty writing or saying to my wife, my children, my dog, my old friends—but to the mirror? To the nasty little neurotic hate-monger inside my cacophonous head? No thank you. I’d rather he’d suggested that I chew glass while listening to Wagner.
But, of course, that’s why he suggested it. Not because he’s fucking with me, but because he’s smart. I don’t know how to be my own friend, I don’t know how to accept what I hate about what I look like, what I say, or what I think, but it is, in one way or another, what I’m working on every single day. 2018 will bring with it more work, more bile surges, more therapy, and, hopefully; more love—for you, and for me.
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LEAH ALEXANDRA GOLDSTEIN – DESIGNER & WEBSITE MANAGER
In order to be my own best friend, sometimes I need to call in a real expert: one of my actual, outside-of-myself, best friends. Today, I woke up feeling sick. Laryngitis, neon phlegm, exhaustion. I felt gross in my body, but what was worse than how I physically felt were the thoughts in my mind. You’ll never feel better again. You did this to yourself. You’re in so much trouble. Everyone you love is going to leave you.
Not a few minutes into the day, and already my internal voice had turned on me with these nasty, intrusive thoughts. This upsetting brain state reminded me of dark days from my past where my mental health issues ran rampant, totally untreated.
However today, within a few minutes of this self-inflicted torture, I picked up the phone to call one of my best friends. Through bursts of tears, and the almost funny, froggy cadence of my lost voice, I told her about my unkind thoughts. To my relief, she said, “It’s normal to feel bad when you feel bad!” Next, she gave me a clear plan for the morning: pharmacy, breakfast, tea. Finally, she told me I could text her through the day, which felt very comforting. The conversation completely shifted my mental state and changed the unfolding of my relationship with myself today. I like to think that I’m a good friend to my body and mind but, most of the time, I need help showing that I care, and that’s okay, too.
GLENN HOLSTEN – PRODUCER/DIRECTOR
I’m fortunate enough to work on projects that bring me in touch with some remarkable people from the past. Years ago, I was commissioned to direct a short documentary about a house designed by famed architect Louis Kahn. The Korman House, like all of Kahn’s residences, is a remarkable achievement. Somehow, you feel you are a better human being simply because you are standing inside of this beautiful house, which is really a home. A big treat was the research phase for the documentary, wherein I screened many archival films of Kahn talking about his philosophy of architecture. In a 1973 lecture, he stated the following which sticks with me to this day:
“If you don’t feel joy in what you’re doing, then you’re not really operating. And there are miserable moments which you’ve got to live through. But, really, joy will prevail.”
I draw on these words when I’m struggling with something that may not be going the way I would like, or when I’m feeling run down by the challenges and juggle of daily life. For me, being a good friend to myself in 2018 means allowing enough room in my brain and in my life to reflect on Kahn’s hopeful message. Being kind enough to remind myself to breathe, reflect, and really believe that, even though there are miserable moments, joy will prevail.
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LAURA FARRELL – EDITOR
Self-compassion is about finding a kinder voice for the self, in this way the process involves treating the self as a friend, someone other than you. In part, it’s about dissociation. If we see ourselves as other, perhaps we can find a way to be kinder to that other.
The way I speak to myself is completely different than the way I’d treat any other person on this earth, especially a loved one or a best friend. The way I support my loved ones is totally different than the way I support myself. So how can I find a way to be a friend to myself? To see myself as someone other than me and therefore someone I’m willing to be kind to?
I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this question but, as a writer, I practice writing stories about myself that make myself a character, furthering the narrative from the I. Instead of using the word I, I’ll use the word “she” or “they.” As I read the story of this “she” or “they” I feel more compassionate to her or them than do were I writing about “me.” Language always gives me distance from myself, as does story. If I can see things outside of myself I find ways to understand them and have compassion for myself. It isn’t easy; I’m not perfect at it. In the New Year, I hope to slow down and explore new ways to see myself. I practice patience with everyone but myself, this is something I hope to focus on in 2018 and beyond.
ANNA HEWSTAN – PR & SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGER
“Stand by Me” by Ben E. King is playing in the background as I’m releasing my thoughts through my fingers about how to be my own best friend. “I won’t be afraid, just as long as you stand, stand by me.” Thank you, Ben! Thank you, universe!
In 2018, I challenge myself to be my own best friend by being less afraid. Less afraid to take on a new challenge. Less afraid to take time away from my family so that I can recharge my body, my mind, and my soul. Less afraid to stand my ground and fight to win an argument when it is important to me. Less afraid to let things go when they’re maybe not so important to me.
This is different than being confident. I am confident in my own abilities and in who I am as a person. But, oftentimes I am hard on myself and put myself second, or third, or fourth. Believing that my own needs matter less than another’s. In some instances that is true, but not always.
I will not be selfish, or self-righteous. I will be kind; I will consider others and the impact of my words and my actions. But I will advocate for me. I will take better care of me. I will help me shine.
KIRSTEN LACERDA – DIRECTOR OF ADVERTISING
Friendship thrives on a level of honesty that, for me, can only be achieved through humor; not because there is necessarily truth in humor, but because it presents the truth to us in a more bearable way. A joke pulls down your guard and delivers its message whole. There is a deep intimacy in being able to tell a joke only you would understand. Love can change course. Love can run dry. Respect is a forest. Laughter is the rain; without it, friendship is impossible.
Laughter is the lens that reveals us; it is the best tool for self-reflection. It prepares us to see the parts of ourselves or others that perhaps we’d rather not. It is the infallible armament against uncomfortable or painful realities, the strongest defense against our detractors. We are surprising; we are flawed; we are human. Take yourself too seriously at your greatest peril. Laughter gets to the heart of things.
We have to surprise ourselves. We must accept our flaws and acknowledge that we are merely human. We allow these traits in our friends, and so we must allow them in ourselves. Joy is forgiveness, laughter the forgiver. Laughter grows the forest and swells the river.
AMBER FOSTER – PR & SOCIAL MEDIA ASSISTANT
Friendships can be tough, especially forced ones, like the one with yourself. I feel like being your own friend doesn’t come naturally, the way a meaningful connection can spark with another human being. In an effort to become my own bestie during 2018 I plan to focus on, and practice, more self-compassion.
After listening to episode 13 of the OC87 Recovery Diaries on the Radio podcast, “Dr. Kristin Neff and the Art of Self-Compassion,” I feel inspired to become more in tune with how I treat myself. During the interview with Bud and Laura, Dr. Neff breaks down self-compassion into three parts; I intend to focus mainly on the self-kindness element of self-compassion. The interview inspired me to analyze myself, and when I did that, I discovered that being genuinely kind to oneself is difficult. There is continuously self-abusing narration going on in my head. At the end of a busy day, my mind will often gravitate to what I didn’t accomplish. After a slightly awkward conversation with a store clerk, I will think to myself, “What the heck just happened? Why did you even say that?” I plan to become aware of these situations as they occur and internally speak to myself as I would to a family member or close friend.
In order to become my own best friend this year, I will care and love myself harder by accepting and empathizing inward. Although more face masks and Netflix binge sessions would also be welcomed.
We publish a new mental health recovery story each week.
Get an email with the link on Thursdays:
CATE MURRAY – ASSISTANT TO THE EDITOR IN CHIEF
I realized recently that I tend to do what I think others in my life will want or like from me. I have actually stopped hobbies and ceased researching interests of mine because the people closest to me in my life did not understand or appreciate those parts of who I am. I now realize, upon reflection, how absurd this is. As part of an effort to get over this, I have started cello lessons.
As a child, I played flute for five years, under the strict tutelage of a Catholic School band teacher. Back then, girls played “feminine” instruments, so the cello was never an option for me. At school, were taught perfectionism; nothing else would be tolerated. I remember sitting in class, pretending to pay attention, when really, my fingers were in my lap, playing an entire song on an imaginary flute. I loved it. It was my ‘thing.’
My first cello lesson, all those years later, was rough. My fingers ached, my shoulder hurt, but, by the end of the lesson, I was able to play Mary Had a Little Lamb. I was so proud of myself, for something that may sound so simple to someone else. After the second lesson, the perfectionism and determination in me came out, after the almost thirty suppressed years of it being beat into my head. I drove home from that lesson and, at every red light, just like when I was a child; I played an imaginary cello in my lap with a smile. This hobby is mine and I am proud to own it, no matter what anyone else thinks. In 2018, I will be good to myself and I will pursue my interests. And I will master that damn cello.
LENA VAN – WEBSITE/EDITORIAL ASSISTANT
As someone who just entered her late twenties, I’ve noticed that people my age often seem particularly eager to live up to the grand vision of an adult: someone who has a steady job, lives on their own, and is engaged/married, or has a family.
Now that another year has gone by, I want to address the importance of being happy with yourself—even if your life has taken some unexpected turns. We must not define ourselves by the idea of what someone our age or at our stage in life “should be doing.” It is okay to be single at thirty if you haven’t found the right person. It is fine to still live with your parents in your twenties if you can’t afford to move out. No one should feel inadequate just because they don’t have x, y, or z in their life.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a fifteen-year-old yearning for her first boyfriend, or a twenty-five-year old longing for an engagement ring—people of all ages fall victim to this desire to “grow up” and, in some cases, that leads to regrettable, impulsive decisions. Instead, I advocate that we should be our own best friend and find out what makes us happy, not what would make society happy. Instead of obsessing over what we don’t have, I ask that we focus on what we do have. We must throw away the expectations we put on ourselves so we can enjoy the life we have.