Value Yourself More: A Lesson I Learned The Hard Way

Graphic by Arkayana Bora

Let’s go back a few years. I had just finished school and was still unsure of what I wanted to do with life. I asked for a gap year to figure it out but was met with, “Fine, we can get you married in that year.” I said nope, picked a college, and tried to mentally prepare myself for what was in store. My perception of college had always been warped thanks to 3 Idiots, where I saw college kids un-alive themselves and attempt the same. That meant, in my head, if I went to college, I would die.

College was wonderful until the pandemic reared its head around the 4th semester. Being in a new place there were challenges to be faced, but none as impactful as a person I met and what I learned.

She wasn’t there on the first day of college, she came in around a week later. It’s hard not to notice her; her attitude and hair made an impression before she did. But despite her uniqueness, I felt uneasy. I just wanted to avoid her for some reason. She looked around the room for a place to sit, we locked eyes, and she sat down next to me. I looked over at my friends, and they shared my expression of surprise. We introduced ourselves, and she stayed with us the rest of the day. She was one of the most confident people I had met at that point. She spoke her mind and did as she pleased, never concerned about what people thought of her. I admired that. Being around her, I think some of that confidence rubbed off on me.

Both of us would end up spending time together after class, at cafes or walking her to the end of the road to catch an auto. I didn’t have a curfew and she had time to spare. The whole time we hung out, my gut was never at ease. Something always told me not to get too close or let her into my life. I should have listened to my instincts. As time went on, she started to rely on me more. First for pens or sheets of paper, then for change at the canteen, and then money for meals. Later, it came to assignments, other college tasks, and emotional support. She opened up to me quickly, telling me about the friends she had and how she didn’t have close girlfriends. I thought nothing of it and told her that she would find the right girlfriends in time. She opened her world to me, and I never let her into my life the same way. I would (briefly) tell her about my family and friends, whereas I had met hers. It was clear that I was now part of her inner circle.

That’s when things began to change. She pressured me to do things I wasn’t comfortable with. When she got angry, she would never tell me why. I never knew what would upset her, why, or when. I couldn’t tell her the truth about how I felt because I was scared of how she’d react. I had to walk on eggshells around her. She got jealous that I made new friends and spent time with them. She didn’t respect my boundaries and frequently trampled on them. She would burden me with her problems and expect me to provide solutions when I was quiet, and when I would give my opinions, she would do as she pleased in the end. I would often contemplate not attending classes because I’d have to see her. It was a depressive and turbulent time in my life.

After our friendship fell apart, I was emotionally drained and extremely hurt. I started to wonder and believe that I was the problem and had projected everything onto her. These thoughts were like daggers in my mind that I couldn’t pull out. I knew in the long run, I had done what was best for me, even if it meant hurting a friend. To sever our tie was liberating, an enormous weight had been lifted off my chest, and I was breathing for what felt like the first time in months.

I began to pick myself up and love myself anew. I was pushed around and used, and it was time I realised who I was. I needed to appreciate that I was a kind and helpful person, and I could not let myself be treated this way. Moving forward, I would establish boundaries, ensuring that people knew when lines were being crossed and not give in to all their needs. Saying ‘no’, particularly to friends, is difficult yet vital.

Deeper ties with new people were difficult to build since I was still emotionally depleted. I took my time and made steady progress in allowing myself to connect emotionally. I decided to maintain deeper connections with a select few and keep the others as acquaintances. When people came to me to vent their problems, I would do my best to prevent them from unloading it entirely on me. I encouraged them to talk it out with the person in question or seek better help. I didn’t want to repeat being the therapist.

All this was made harder still as I had to spend hours in class with her. I attempted to speak to her about it, but her tone of voice and demeanour towards me indicated that she didn’t want to discuss it. After the pandemic, we met again and spoke. It wasn’t to do with the issues we had, and I didn’t get the closure I needed, but we could civilly speak to each other. That seemed like the best way to close that chapter in both of our lives. 

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