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The Little Thing That Mattered Most While I Was in Treatment

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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 a thank you card had been delivered to them for the beanie baby they had gotten me.

Flash forward over a decade later. I referred to this period as “The Dark Winter.” Because I had been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) years before, I knew that tough spells could always creep in. Even though I understood this through years of cognitive behavioral therapy, including learning lots of tactics to combat the OCD, it doesn’t diminish the pain that can come along when fighting a battle with mental illness. And I certainly felt like that winter was a battle. Juggling school and work full-time seemed like a piece of cake compared to what I was feeling inside. Even though I was around so many people, I felt like I was on a deserted island. What made it even more difficult was that I had zero explanation for why I felt the way I did. I had to go back to treatment. It felt like surrendering.

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. 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 my parents will ever know. They served as a symbol of hope that I wouldn’t feel this way my whole life. 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. It’s important for all of us to keep in mind that “simple” doesn’t mean “thoughtless.”

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.

A pile of colorful post-its with handwritten notes.

Originally published: January 29, 2016
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