by Emily Caldwell, staff reporter

Human beings seem to do better together than they do alone. We are not a solitary species. We form groups, circles, even governments, because we seem to insist on not being alone. Of course, there are outliers. There are some who work better in a solitary environment rather than with others. But even most introverts prefer the company of a select few over complete seclusion all the time (trust me, I would know). Overall, the concept of togetherness (or rather, the avoidance of being alone) pervades every nook and cranny of our society, of our functionality, of our lives.

If time were to reverse back 4 years, all the way back to my freshman year, I don’t think I’d be able to recognize myself. Imagine a tall, awkwardly clumsy, beanpole of a 14 year old. Her blonde hair is pulled back in a tight, low ponytail, and her athletic shorts almost brush her knees. She’s wearing lime green shoes. She is alone.

I was, actually, rather painfully alone–I just didn’t realize it. It was a sort of numbness, really (which sounds dramatic, I know). I had a few friends at school, sure, but it still felt like middle school. And middle school was… rough. I developed a paralyzing fear of large spaces and public places. I couldn’t talk to people, I couldn’t walk in front of people, and I certainly couldn’t ‘put myself out there’ and ‘make friends.’ I’m quoting my parents here: two people who never, even at my meek age of fourteen, could understand why I preferred to stay home on Friday nights reading my History textbook instead of go out. They could never understand why embarrassment traumatized me.

I thought I did better alone. I stayed away from others because everything I was, did, or said felt inadequate. Except, what I didn’t realize was that even alone the feeling of inadequacy was inescapable. I developed a detrimental and self-destructive obsession with perfection, because it was the only thing that would keep the staring eyes off my back. I hated those eyes. The dug into me, I could feel them. At times, they were the only thing I could feel, and perhaps the only thing I absolutely  loathed. The eyes were my twisted motivation to never let myself mess up, the eyes drove me to retreat inside myself and not come out.

As I grew, I began to want to change how I dressed or acted or talked. But I couldn’t. The eyes would begin to burn again, but this time, followed by questions. I hated questions, probably because I hated talking. I equated change to mean unnecessary trouble, unnecessary and unwanted attention that would only make me feel worse. If I did mess up, if I somehow strayed from the path I had repetitively trodden in the hallways or did anything contradictory to the person I had formed in the minds of my classmates…Oh my god. I would get red, oh so red. My face flushing only made it worse; it was a bright pink spotlight on my face that the whole world could see, framed by my bright, blonde, straight hair. It was always straight.

Somewhere along the line, I did change. I don’t know for sure how, or why, or when, or who or what it was that pushed me out of the impermeable shell I had surrounded myself with. But I have an idea. Friends.

My friends somehow managed to it get through my thick skull that I did have some things about me that were worth being proud of. They gave me confidence, they laughed at my strange jokes, they actually wanted to be around me. It’s amazing. The greatest support system I had access to was literally my surroundings, I just refused to realize it. And when I did… my confidence grew. I found myself not only not caring as much about what people thought of me, but also feeling good about myself. It was truly the most important metamorphosis of my life, and, in this weird metaphor, my friends (or I guess their support) were the cocoon.

I realize I am extremely lucky. Not nearly enough people have a good group of friends who they can rely on and trust. The best advice I can give is this: only spend time with people who deserve your time. If they don’t make you feel good, or at least better, then they don’t earn the pleasure of your company.

While not all of my old habits have been eradicated (working on the self-deprecation), I still feel like a different person. And I have friendships to thank for that. My friends gave me an environment in which I could learn to accept who I was and how I acted. The eyes, suddenly and startlingly, no longer mattered, and I am so happy they don’t.