By: Nicollette Davis
Several years ago, I sat on the cold hardwood floor in my dark bedroom crying because I had no friends and no boyfriend. Even though I had an amazing family that loved me and cared about me unconditionally, at the time they couldn’t fill the emptiness. The emptiness could only be filled by someone not obliged to care for me or love me. I couldn’t understand why I needed friends and a boyfriend to feel complete, to validate me and in that moment I decided to evolve. In the process of working on my self-esteem I discovered something more valuable than anything I owned.
For quite some time I was depressed because I thought the key to happiness could be found within other people. The girls who had boyfriends and a large circle of friends were always so happy, at least they seemed so. Of course, nothing is as good as it seems unless it’s vanilla ice cream drizzled with caramel sauce and covered with peanuts…But I digress. Relationships can and should bring us joy, but losing sight of self is where it becomes dangerous and unhealthy.
In high school, I had a friend whom I loved dearly. For a couple years she was my only friend. I wasn’t good at making friends. She was funny, witty, smart, and we had so much in common. She also had some severe depression and bi-polar episodes. When I would say something that annoyed her, she’d stop talking to me without notice.
I hated it because I leaned on her for happiness and when she was unhappy, so was I. So, in order to keep things civil I would just listen to her, nod, and smile. I stopped talking to make her happy and when I did talk it was like walking on eggshells. I became self-conscious wondering about all the ways I could’ve annoyed her, even just saying hello would make me panic. She didn’t seem to mind that I shut down, she enjoyed it.
I did this for a long time and honestly I never stopped. Thank God for divine intervention. We lost contact after she moved and I didn’t hear from her for nearly a year. Shortly after we lost contact, I was very sad because she was my best friend. During my freshman year of college I had no real friends at all and I felt super lonely, but underneath all the loneliness and sadness I felt liberated.
I didn’t have to fake it to make it anymore, I could just be me. I dove into new hobbies and found other interests to occupy my time. As cliché as it sounds, I started to find myself. It took years (and a truly good friend) to help me realize the value of self-investment. I created things, evolved as a person, realized my worth and beauty on my own, and once you know yourself for yourself, life feels so much better and genuine. It’s not just not caring about other people’s opinion, it’s about finding value in your own opinion.
Black women are strong and resilient but many of us fall into the trap of losing sight of ourselves. For decades, it was our “job” to care for other folks, instead of our own families and our own selves. We didn’t have the luxury or privilege to care about ourselves. We didn’t have spa days, shopping sprees, or time to pursue extracurricular interests at our leisure. This type of living has been passed on for years and years.
While most women of other races learned how to be prim and proper society women, we were learning how to be docile and unnoticed. There was no value of self for black women and black people in general. We all must come up from those constraints that have kept us in bondage for so long and go on to the route to freedom and it begins with you and you alone.
The journey to this route is not short and quick. Robert Frost told us about that untraveled road. It’s not appealing, it’s long and arduous but the rewards are such blessings, it’s worth all the time and even tears. Leaning on other people for your own happiness leads to a toxic life and the cycle will never end unless you step off the carousel. It’s easy to stay on a familiar path, but familiarity doesn’t equal righteousness.
I’m not advocating selfishness but quite the opposite. Give as much love to yourself as you give other people plus some. Self-love radiates from within, it brings comfort, it brings you closer to people. I still consider myself an altruistic person, I love seeing other people happy. The difference now is that I don’t exhaust or severely hurt myself just to see other people happy.
Surround yourself with good people who you can be yourself around, people who help you grow and learn about yourself. Relationships should add to your life and even though there will be rough patches, you should feel rejuvenated and happy instead of exhausted and depleted when you’re around your friends.
Today, I have become so much better. I still don’t have a boyfriend (*weeps silently*) but I am surrounded by great people who I want to have in my life. I move on my own accord, I wear what I want to wear, I do what feels good to me, I’m not afraid of being too picky, I’m not afraid to care about my own feelings. I admit, I still struggle with taking on other people’s emotions but I know my limits. My empathy stops where my own health begins.