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‘What does it mean to be kind to yourself?’ — Costa Mesa woman publishes book on self-love

Costa Mesa resident Jeanette Knutti poses for a portrait with a copy of her children's book.
Costa Mesa resident Jeanette Knutti poses for a portrait with a copy of her children’s book, ‘Be Kind to Yourself,’ at WeWork Office Space & Coworking in Irvine.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Jeanette Knutti has warm memories of her late husband, Josh.

He was kind, she said. Caring and always supportive, she added. Early on, after the two first met, she was laid off from her job and started to move into a consulting career.

Josh, she said, was supportive every step of the way.

“He was always this huge supporter, this cheerleader. He would always talk me up and I think that’s led to a lot of my success today. He was your hypeman, not only for me but for everyone. He was that person who wanted others to feel good,” she said.

He was the kind of guy who’d open her car door for her each and every day, Knutti said, laughing. “Who does that anymore?”

He had his own podcast called “Overcoming You,” during which he’d interview guests and talk about their struggles and how they overcame them. She said he understood the importance of mental health and did what he could to make a difference in people’s lives.

Her voice quieted when she reflected on the inner turmoil her husband experienced.

“He was just this beautiful soul and, unfortunately; he struggled with self love and society — what it meant to be successful,” she said. “But before those things set in, he was just himself and being the carefree, loving person.”

Josh Knutti, 39, died by suicide in April 2021.

While dealing with her grief over the unthinkable loss of her husband, Jeanette Knutti set about deciding her next steps.

Knutti, a Costa Mesa resident, said she knew she wanted to continue her husband’s work, but she couldn’t at first envision the right role for herself.

Costa Mesa resident Jeanette Knutti shares a few pages.
Costa Mesa resident Jeanette Knutti shares a few pages from her children’s book, ‘Be Kind to Yourself.’
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“When I would think about how I could help guys like my husband, it was too difficult for me to go there. So, I started to think about some of the discussions we had shared and conversations he had with our friends and our friends’ kids. He said some kids don’t develop self love when they’re children,” said Knutti.

“They’re getting validation from their parents, teachers. They never stop to think about what they like about themselves.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diagnoses of depression and anxiety have increased in children over the years. Two decades ago, 5.4% of children ages 6 to 17 were diagnosed as having either anxiety or depression. By 2012, that figure had grown to 8.4%.

According to estimates, during the years 2016-2019 approximately 4.4% of U.S. children ages 3 to 17 — about 2.7 million children — were diagnosed with depression.

Knutti said she remembers Josh asking kids what they liked about themselves. Some wouldn’t really understand the question. They’d say things like they liked their shirt, so Josh would coach them into being more introspective. Did they know they were smart? Did they know they were kind?

“I was perplexed at how important this was [to him]. He had identified his own issues with self love and self worth. I was thinking about, ‘How do I help? What do I do?’” said Knutti.

That’s when it hit her.

If she could create a children’s book inspired by Josh’s understanding of the need for people to value themselves, then maybe that could plant a seed of self-love.

She started writing the book — titled “Be Kind to Yourself” — last June and decided to self-publish it through BookBaby. She joked the work she put into it was like “building an airplane as it was coming down.”

The book, which as of Thursday had received nearly $13,000 via a Kickstarter campaign, depicts Josh as a first-grade teacher who learns from a magical fairy what it means to “be kind to yourself” and then teaches what that looks like to his students. Things the fictional kids in her book say are words Knutti has heard uttered by children she knows personally.

She said she worked with a retired teacher to develop a lesson plan for teachers who purchase the book. All proceeds from sales of “Be Kind to Yourself” are going to go either into producing more books for use in the community, or will be donated to a nonprofit group.

Writing the book, she said, has been cathartic.

“With the Kickstarter campaign, I faced another set of challenges. It started to do well. People were responding to it. And then at one point, I realized: the book’s not going to bring [Josh] back,” she said. “I had to, again, go inward to myself and work through that and remember even though that the book’s not going to replace him…the impact that the book could potentially have, the legacy that he leaves with this message would be important.

“He was the love of my life.”

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