During my first few weeks at Penn State, I became friends with people I shouldn’t have. The kind of people who would tell me to calm down when I got excited over something. The kind of people who carried frowns and liked to toss around insults and condescending remarks. After a long freshman year suffocated by those toxic friends, I finally drowned.
The light at the surface slowly disappeared as I sank deeper and deeper into a depressive, victim mindset, adopting all the negative qualities of my friends.
My sophomore year, I stopped going to fencing practice, telling myself to stay away from the toxic team environment, just like my friends told me to. At parties, instead of dancing like no one’s watching, I stood rigid as a rock in the corner of the room. My friend would occasionally lean in and whisper, “She’s so ugly in that shirt,” and I would wince at how cruel she sounded.
I stopped getting excited over the smell of rain and the way it would fall on me like I was in a RomCom. I didn’t smile in the morning at the start of a new day. Instead, I cursed at the sky for getting me soaked and snoozed my 9 am alarm until 11. And I couldn’t understand why. Why was I so miserable all the time?
This year, my junior year, I faced an ultimatum.
After the fencing team implemented consequences for missed practices, I knew I needed to start showing up or quit for good. And I knew quitting was out of the question, so that meant I had to make the best of the situation.
“I think I’m going to try a social experiment,” I told my fencing friend. “I’m going to try to talk to everyone at practice today and see what happens. Maybe try to be nice to them first.”
And the craziest thing happened.
They didn’t ignore me or whisper about me like I had told myself they would.
They were actually nice to me, receptive to my kindness. Then it hit me. Why would people want a friend who mopes around all of the time? If I walked around with a frown and looked unapproachable, why would anyone approach me?
One night in October, I ended up staring at one of the many motivational posters my psychologist mother gave me. It shows a photo of a kitten staring at its reflection in the water, and in the reflection, it shows a lion. “Mindset is everything,” it said.
But life wasn’t rainbows and sunshine just yet.
Because after a long night of thinking, several phone calls with my mom, and a lot of tears later, I realized that I wasted two years of college acting like somebody I’m not, all because of the people I surrounded myself with.
Instead of having fun nights with friends and getting ready for parties, I spent my time alone. Instead of having home-cooked dinners with the girls and Disney movie marathons, I ate dinner alone and spent my nights gossiping about pointless things with my friends.
It was a hard pill to swallow when I realized what experiences I may have missed out on.
So I started to take control of my life. I started showing up to fencing practice every day. The first couple of weeks were hard because I wasn’t on the best terms with everyone, but after a while, talking to my teammates became second nature. My smile returned, and I slowly felt myself becoming someone I was proud of.
I stopped giving my toxic friends so much time and attention and started spending that time with people who lifted me up rather than dragged me down.
By April, not only did I never miss a practice, but I became one of the most hardworking members of the team. I missed out on the NCAA championship by two spots, doing better than almost all of my teammates, and received the “Most Improved” award at the Annual Banquet.
In the last semester of this year, I found myself. I became that loud, hardworking, bubbly girl that I used to be, all because I chose to be. I chose a new positive approach to life. I chose to take the initiative and talk to people instead of waiting for them to approach me. I chose to surround myself with people who share my goals and values.
And while my old, toxic friends sit in their apartments, sulking and wasting their lives away, I’m happy to say that I’m finally living mine.