I’ve always lived my life in shades of gray, leaning neither toward black nor white. Life is too complicated to subject yourself to a one-track way of thinking.

But this isn’t always easy. From a very young age, I’ve felt a tremendous amount of pain for simply being human. And I always thought that I was wrong. I always thought that, somehow, I was actually a bad person for feeling things so deeply.

People told me I wanted attention. That I craved sympathy. That I needed to be everyone’s best friend. That I was nosy and dramatic. Soon, these became things I told myself, too.

I often got caught up in a whirlwind of self-doubt, too dizzy to grasp the truth. In college, I spent a lot of nights alone while my friends went out to parties or bar-hopping. I’d go sometimes; but other times, I couldn’t stop myself from crying. I didn’t think anyone understood me. My heart ached, constantly, and it didn’t even have a reason to. At least, that’s what I believed.

My friends, even the closest ones, couldn’t possibly accept me for the person I was, for the thoughts that taunted me, the mistakes I’ve made. This prevented me from getting close to a lot of people, or delayed these now-budding friendships. All because I was ashamed of myself.

My intentions were always blurry. I struggled a lot trying to figure out who I was, or what I really wanted out of my life, and out of the people in it. I felt like it was never enough. Like I needed more and more hands to hold, because I just kept falling down.

But then there were days when I didn’t want anyone to speak to me. When I just wanted to be alone. So, I isolated myself, silenced my phone and wrote down words I could never say out loud.

To be honest, being around people drained me. I could pick up on others’ energy like it was my own, which was exhausting. I hated seeing people upset or tormented; I reached out whenever I knew someone was struggling, at the risk of being seen as weird or intrusive (which, let’s face it, I probably am.) But sometimes, this created even more agony for me.

Having empathy makes you different from most people; and not everyone will understand you. If I knew that a few years ago, I probably would’ve hated myself for it. Because at that point in my life, all I wanted was to be understood. But I was forgetting that that was my job – and here I was, ashamed of it.

Being empathetic is not something to be ashamed of. And channeling your emotions to help others isn’t strange or wrong or unfaithful. I’ve realized that empaths tend to have stronger, more meaningful connections with others. I’ve also realized that people who aren’t empaths might view those connections in a negative light.

For example, I’m there for people who maybe I shouldn’t be there for. Like the guy who broke my heart when I was 18. Or the friend who puts me down more often than not. I find myself in situations that I probably have no business in, because I feel such a desire to help.

A lot of people tell me I only need to focus on those who deserve my attention, and let go of those who don’t. And while I agree with that in a sense, I also know that this is who I am – that if I have cared for a person once, then I always will. And I won’t let pride stop me from expressing that.

What’s so wrong with being there for others, even if they aren’t for you? Do we only give to accept?

Some people don’t understand why I have a few random yet close friends who I speak with quite often, sending texts in paragraph-form, talking about our deep-rooted issues and the things that make us feel most alive. Some people even question my morals.

You already have a boyfriend, so why do you need close guy friends? You already have a ton of friends, so why do you need more?

To some, I’m attention-seeking. To others, I’m inappropriate. They don’t understand the relationships I maintain, the bonds I’ve built. And if they can’t understand, then it’s not normal. That’s that. No ifs, ands, or buts. Just black or white.

Maybe this is my own faulty thinking. Maybe I’m the one drafting these mindless arguments out of insecurity. All I know is that, because of comments like these, for much of my life, I felt like a monster for simply caring about people.

But when I started to break these “rules,” to set my own standards, I was able to embrace my somewhat odd nature. I was able to make friends that are now family. Able to feel happiness and faith even at my lowest moments. Able to live for the day and believe in my dreams and accept my differences.

And that was the best decision I’ve ever made.

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