One of the many tricky things about being depressed or perhaps even just feeling down and out is the icky sticky loneliness that comes with it, weighing you down like a ton of bricks and laughing upon the thought of trying to reach out or meet someone new. It is more than challenging to muster up the energy required to interact with people when this is the current state of mind you find yourself in, whether from the grips of a seemingly never ending pandemic or mental health lapses that existed before hand.
Speaking from experience, the last thing I ever wanted to do when I experienced my lowest mental health point was communicate with others and socialize, despite how “good for me” my family and therapist said it would be. In my own experience, it felt as though the rug underneath every area of my life had been swept out from under my feet and I desired nothing more but my last breath. Fortunately I’m still breathing, and all of the time spent alone and with my therapist lead me to the mirror, where day after day, I slowly started to enjoy my own company. I eventually became my own friend; my own best friend. The unintentional growth has allowed me to find the joys in all of the pieces of myself, and see how these pieces create all of me, and provided me the space to meet and get to know the pieces that I didn’t like so much. Sometimes called shadow work, allowing all of myself to come into full view, freely loving each part, and accepting the full picture helped to make it all makes sense.
Being a friend to yourself is arguable more challenging than being a friend to another human. You are with yourself literally 24/7 and know what you are experiencing and how it is making you feel. Even if you may need help describing or understanding these things, you know what is happening from every angle that has been revealed to you. With that being said, it is harder to be your own friend because it is hard to know what to tell yourself to do to keep going, or what the right move may be when finding yourself at a fork in the road. And sometimes, it's even harder to start being alone and intentionally giving yourself the space to learn about who you are at your mountain tops and in your valley lows.
Intentionality is key when beginning to spend more quality time with yourself. Regardless of your current mental space, it is of utmost importance that the intentional quality time is usually spent alone. Of course, too much isolation is unhealthy so do find a balance. Sometimes, just setting a boundary and saying no an outing when you don’t feel up to it is enough time to commit to yourself or begin to learn about oneself. And other times only having the energy to socialize or connect at places you have to be present, such as the workplace, is enough as well.
When you go internal rather than external, you can find value in yourself based on your own way that you perceive. The joys and gems within you that you discover on your own are priceless, so much more valuable than anything that someone else can gift you or love about you. You’ll always be there with you and there is always a slim chance that that other person won’t.
When going internal, I found that the aspects of myself that I valued the most were the things that brought me joy without another’s input, such as music. It was great to be able to express my self in this way that connects all parts of you into one ~thing~. I also discovered that what others disliked about me and shared about me were sometimes the things I really enjoyed about myself. This was a great lesson in healing, as my worth was not determined by my relationships, and especially not those relationships that were toxic or unhealthy.
To begin being your own friend, it may be a good idea to discover what your love language is. There are 5 Love Languages, according to Gary Chapman which include quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch, receiving gifts, and acts of service. Everybody relates to all of them and enjoys all of them, but we all have 1-2 prominent love languages. My strongest one is words of affirmation (no surprise there) and my second prominent one is quality time. Taking the quiz is free and only about 10 minutes long. Be honest in your answers and after receiving your results, try to treat yourself in the way that you naturally give and receive love. If your love language is receiving gifts, for example, buy yourself something nice or that you’ve been desiring for awhile because you deserve it!
It is important though to remember to spend quality time alone with yourself. Activities that you can do with yourself are vast, but I found that journaling, listening to music and making music and playlists, film photography, working out, yoga, running this website, and reading helped me to learn about myself and grow a deeper relationship with myself. Journaling allowed me to track my mental health and was a physical representation of the growth that I was currently experiencing. Creating music was a healthy outlet, even if I didn’t record what I played. Listening to music and making playlists gave my life a soundtrack, and I learned about my tastes. I accepted when artists didn’t resonate with me anymore and found joy in discovering new artists that I enjoyed, along with their messages. Film photography was and is a fun hobby. I feel like any hobby that brings you joy is a good place to start. I never call myself a “photographer” because I noticed that once the labels existed, it took the joy out the experience. If you can find some activity or hobby that brings you joy without placing pressure on yourself or trying to make money with the hobby, the full effects of this suggestion will be felt. Working out at the gym and yoga were amazing ways to spend time with myself and be my own friend because I was consciously caring for my body and spending time with my home in an intentional manner. Exercise also increases your dopamine levels, so it is the best way to give yourself more energy throughout the day and increase your happiness hormones, which may be lacking if you are struggling socially. Just like film photography, reading is another hobby that brings joy for me without any pressure.
Despite the activities that one may choose to do while being their own friend, the intention behind the activities and time spent is where the true benefits of forming a friendship with yourself come from. Ask yourself “Do I like this?” “Do I enjoy this?” “What does this show me about me?” For example, when taking photos with my film camera, I was able to recognize my ability to focus and concentrate, and I grew to appreciate and value the way in which I view the world around me, because I was photographing the aspects of my life that I found beautiful or wanted to remember.
Another great practice to incorporate into forming a friendship with yourself is positive affirmations, or love notes to yourself. This practice is pretty easy too. Grab a sticky note and a pen and write a love note to yourself, then leave it somewhere you will see it. I leave notes for myself and my partner on the mirror and inside the medicine cabinet. I also use Canva to make my own wallpapers for my phone that have positive affirmations such as “I learn and integrate all of the lessons given to me” and “I am safe in all of my relationships.” In the past, my notes said things like “I am not stagnant.” Other positive affirmations can sound like “I am in charge of my life” and “I am choosing happiness today.”
It may sound or feel weird to act and call yourself your own friend. But essentially, it is a practice of respecting and valuing yourself. You will learn about your likes and dislikes, the “why” behind many aspects of your life, your natural boundaries, and the qualities and actions that you value in yourself. These values are important, because you are important. Being your own friend will in turn make it easier to be a friend to others, and the negative self talk will slowly begin to diminish. It is a golden practice of love and breeds gratitude, contentment, and deeper relationships with those around you, old and new.
Maren Hoflund MT HHP, is a massage therapist and holistic health practitioner based in San Diego. This her self created space where she explores topics such as mental and physical health, self care, spirituality, and child development; in addition to her poetry and prose.