The faculty and staff at Smith College blame its cold and isolating atmosphere on what they refer to as “The Stress Olympics.” In these games, the average students fight to be more stressed out than everyone around them.
“I have a lab report and six problem sets due tomorrow.”
“Ugh, I know, I have two lab reports and an essay due by midnight.”
“Yeah, I have four essays and two exams this week.”
While my school most definitely suffers from this, something more feeds its hypercritical atmosphere.
I’ve heard some people blame it on New England, some on Massachusetts specifically, but I highly doubt I attend one of the only schools in the US that has to deal with this. Whatever the cause, it’s there, it’s real and it’s hard.
Don’t get me wrong, I really do love my school and I’m extremely thankful that I ended up where I did. I reassured myself of this when I started having thoughts of transferring during the first semester of my sophomore year. I started looking into other colleges, trying to pinpoint exactly what it was about my school that was making me feel so depressed. I spent four months driving myself absolutely insane. Do I need to transfer? Do I need to take next semester off? Do I need to drop out of college? My searches kept coming up short, however, and I eventually had to realize that my school had pretty much everything I needed.
It wasn’t until I was practically yelling in my therapist’s office about some girl who didn’t bother to hold the door for me when I realized the problem; I cared too much about these people that didn’t seem to care for me at all. I’ve always been an empath, after all. That may have gotten me to where I am today, but it was starting to seem like it was no longer a tool I should be utilizing every second of the day.
I needed to learn how to access a feeling I had spent my whole life turning away from: apathy. All of a sudden, apathy was something I needed in my tool belt to thrive. I had to figure out how to care less, how to distance myself from negative energy, how to stop dwelling on people who weren’t giving me a second glance. This task turned out harder than it sounded.
I’ve found very thin line between turning off overactive empathy and becoming an apathetic person at heart.
For a long term solution, you can’t fight fire with fire. I won’t change the way the people at my school operate and interact by adopting their behavior and becoming one of them. I still try to smile at strangers I pass by on my way to class. I still say good morning when there’s someone else brushing their teeth in the bathroom with me. I still hold the door for the person who is a good distance behind me.
But so what if they don’t smile back? So what if they get spooked when the person brushing their teeth next them actually says hello? So what? That’s on them. They want to be closed-off people who don’t think about anyone else? Fine. It is not my job to worry about that. It is not on me to make them better people. I’m doing what I can to make sure I feel happy and loved. I have people in my life that care about me and will always hold the door for me no matter how far behind them I am. These people are the ones who I should be dwelling on: the people who make me feel important and full of love, not those who make me feel small and alone.
Sure, I’ll keep trying to make my school a warmer place to study and to live, but I need to take care of myself first and foremost. And if the way to do that is by caring a little less about the toxic people who surround me? Well, it might be easier said than done, but it is damn worth a try.