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Jul 12 2016
by Alison Roller

How Being an Outsider Affected My High School Experience

By Alison Roller - Jul 12 2016
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We've all seen the movies: a stoic, long-haired girl sitting by a trash can alone eating her peanut butter and jelly, or a nervous, baby-faced boy getting picked last for dodgeball. Society has an expectancy of even those who we don't think fit in. We have a mold for people who don't fit the mold. We have songs, movies and books all about the miserable life of a loner. And, usually, the 'uplifting' moment when they realize it's OK to be different. These stories are designed to make us feel empowered and want to speak up for those who are too quiet for us to hear. But what about real life? Have you ever seen a girl sitting on a bench with her headphones in? Or a boy who has to do a project alone because he doesn't have any friends? Do all loners feel like Holden Caulfield ("Catcher in the Rye") meets Miss Havisham ("Great Expectations") meets the Narrator ("Fight Club")? 

Of course not. 

I had friends in high school. Actually, in the beginning, I had *plenty* of friends, and they were all outsiders too. (Think: those kids you see playing Pokemon with their backs turned to the Friday night football game). We all knew each other's personalities, the quiet one, the smart one, the asshole, the comedian, so on and so forth. We actually had about 15 people in our little group by sophomore year. Most of my friends dragged me to wherever we were going, to the park or a football game or another person's house. They knew me, and they knew that I was too introverted for my own good. They would take rounds of coming over to where I was sitting a few feet away from them, sit down, bump my shoulder, tell me to smile. Even in that 'safe space' kids still made fun of me. Some mutual friends, mostly, would really chew me out for it. My better friends made more light-hearted jokes, that seemed innocent enough but hurt all the same.

 Even in that "safe space" kids still made fun of me.

Eventually, like all humans do, we grew apart. Our tight-knit community tapered off, splitting into three smaller, more exclusive groups. Some, like me, didn't join any group at all and were left to our own devices. By the time that happened, I had already found new people, though. We bonded over our shared love of One Direction and Netflix, hung out every weekend, and went to tons of concerts together. There were only three of us, though, and that's when I started to really feel like I was on the outside looking in. One of them would be sick one day and the other would have a lab, so I would sit at my table by myself and eat my lunch. I never minded being alone; I even enjoyed it. As an introvert with depression and anxiety packed in a school where everything is too loud, too bright, too big, too much, being by myself for a little while gave me time to collect myself.  

The problem came the summer before senior year. By that time, I had been pretty isolated from almost all of my friends for one reason or another, but I really didn't mind. I didn't think of myself as a loner or an outsider. I was proud of myself, even, for cutting out toxic people from my life. I had kept people close to me that didn't deserve it because I was so terrified of being seen by myself. I didn't care if I was alone but I cared if other people saw me by myself and what they might think. My newfound loneliness empowered me and I embraced it. Of course, I still missed a lot of my friends that I didn't intentionally cut off. Several personal issues in the winter of my junior year caused my depression, already weighing heavy from the bleak winter, to become pretty bad. My friends tried to invite me places, but I kept saying no, and they stopped trying. So, with the burning sun and the freedom to wake up and go to bed as late as I wanted that summer brought, I found myself hanging out only with family members and watching other people's Snapchat stories of what I could have been doing if I hadn't lost my friends. 

With the arrival of my senior year came the dreaded college applications, the countless hours of talk about financials and tuition and out-of-state versus in-state. As I filled out countless apps, I found myself wracking my brain for any kind of extracurricular involvement. Those three days of Key Club? GSA that I signed up for and never went to? Or that time I went to one preseason marching band practice and never went back? I had never been an 'active member' in my school's community in the four years that I attended. Thankfully, my junior and senior year I got distinguished honors throughout the semesters, so my lack of involvement wasn't a huge problem for colleges, but it was still a huge wake-up call. I was this awkward mix between a model student and a loner, and for the first time it made me question who I was; I didn't even fit in with the kids who didn't fit in.   

via Alison Roller

I wish I could say there was a turning point for me; a cliche moment where the entirety of my senior class and I came together, held hands and sang in perfect harmony. But I walked across the stage at my graduation still feeling like half of my peers watching me didn't even know my name. I've worked hard to rebuild the friendships that I've lost, but now more than ever I'm glad that I was okay with being alone. I have a better sense of self than a lot of my friends do; I'm okay with cutting people out of my life if they're toxic, even if that means I'll be by myself more than I'm used to. I don't recommend going through school without any involvement in the community because I still regret that. I know my experiences would've been a lot easier if I had allowed myself to make more friends and be more open with people. But, if you are someone who enjoys their alone time, it's okay to sit alone at lunch. It's alright if you don't want to go hang out with your friends, or if you need to cut someone out of your life. Being alone allows for self-exploration and helps you get to know yourself better. If you want to sit alone at lunch, then sit alone at lunch. It's not a bad thing to be alone, and it won't make you a freak. It can even help you. 

I may be alone, but I'm not lonely.

Lead image credit: pixabay.com

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Alison Roller - West Chester University

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