My optimism used to be my greatest strength. Whatever happened, I always had the power to genuinely smile.

Smiling made me feel better, and I was ten times happier when my good mood made others around me smile too. I felt like it was my responsibility to lift up other people’s spirits, even those who were not so close to me.

I never thought that I would ever become bitter, but certain life events can completely change you without warning. I went from optimist to trapped in a cycle of misery.

Here’s how I lost my optimism:

I had a chance to give hope and make a difference

I was 21, studying hard for my finals, and doing my research, which involved interviewing children with cancer as well as their parents — not just regular interviews, but listening to life stories. Needless to say, it was consuming me, but those children had someone to play with, and their parents someone to talk to.

Playing with these children was part of the process, since I couldn’t directly ask them about their illness — the situation was too delicate. After that, I would listen to their parents’ stories. It was hard seeing those children and their parents in so much pain. But seeing them smile during our sessions was so amazing that, at the end of the day, the fact that the whole process took a toll on me didn’t seem to matter.

But in those six months of visiting children with a 25% chance of survival– constantly lying to them that things will get better and they’ll soon be able to go back to their homes– I began to face my own share of tragedy.

Broken inside, with a huge smile for pictures

I lost those dearest to me: both of my grandparents that raised me. I would’ve given my life without any second thoughts if it could’ve saved them. But unlike in fairytales, there was no devil to make a pact with.

As they say, life goes on. I was on autopilot, desperately trying to find comfort in the arms of my high school sweetheart. But he didn’t love me anymore — he pitied me and didn’t have the heart to leave me in such moments. Silly me! He ended our relationship the night before my graduation.

I couldn’t sleep that whole night. The next morning, I got up, put on some makeup, and went to celebrate. I didn’t want to look sad in the photos that marked an important moment of my life, so I pretended.

The great pretender became the great complainer

All the pretending started to backfire. My pain began to surface and I slowly turned into one of those whining people no one can stand. The kind that we consider toxic because they constantly complain and see the negative in everything.

I could’ve won the lottery, found a thousand people to care for me, had a great job, and I would still have complained.

I was indeed toxic… to myself and everyone around me.

But I didn’t realize it. How could I? I was in pain and had reasons to complain; my reasons for being unhappy were serious. I didn’t complain because I couldn’t find a pretty pair of shoes. I’d lost the people I’d loved the most and the longest, then my first love left me.

Regardless of reasons, I was sabotaging myself. The people around me were getting tired of listening to the same tape on repeat.

The cold shower that woke me up:

Waterfall man is happy

Thankfully, I have a blunt friend who would always “slap” me in the face whenever I took it too far. We promised each other that we would tell the truth, even when it hurt. We need someone to put us back on track, so this was a mutual favor we would do whenever it was necessary.

After two years of hearing me complain about everything, my friend confronted me. She was patient enough, but I began projecting my negative feelings onto everything and everyone else.

I was seeing the worst in everything — always suspicious, always cynical — and my friend finally flamed up!

You’re driving me insane! Aren’t you tired of talking about the same things over and over again? It’s been two years and it seems like you’re not even trying to get over it.

It was painful — but necessary

I was offended! Of course, she was supposed to tell me the truth — that’s why we were friends to begin with. She always told me if she thought I was making a wrong decision, and I loved her for that. But this time I was in pain. I thought if she couldn’t give me any advice, she could’ve at least listened.

My friend’s verbal “slap” was like a cold shower. It even led met to start questioning our friendship. My simple response was “we’ll see how you cope when stuff like this happens to you. Then I just changed the subject.

Then something weird happened:after changing the subject, I was able to actually laugh at some stories she told me.

When I got back home I thought a lot about her words and finally realized the obvious: she was the one trying to help me– and I was the one resisting it.

I forgot the most important thing:

There was nothing great happening in my life back then, but neither was anything terrible. I had no reasons to suffer — other than the ones I couldn’t let go of.

My friend confronted me with the reality that I wasn’t even trying to get over my problems, so I started there: with trying. I forced myself to see and be grateful for the things that were neither great nor bad.

At first, I wasn’t able to use the term “good” so I would just say “it’s not that bad.”

It took me a while, but I managed to practice gratitude in my own way.

Now I can be grateful simply because it’s sunny outside. Sometimes I want to hug my coffee mug, sometimes I see someone randomly smiling on their way home and it fills me up with joy. No, I’m not crazy — I still can’t help being cynical at times — but at least I try to see the good things happening around me.

There’s always something to be grateful for, but complaining takes away our ability to see it. My friend’s blunt approach opened my eyes and now I know better than to dwell on the negative.