Someone's following me.
I'm at the park going for my daily run. Sometimes, exercise can give you this great feeling of power, of release, of livelihood. You forget about your troubles and your mind can go blank.
But someone's following me. I turn around; no one's there. I turn back to the smooth-sailing silver path my feet patter on; I'm just chugging away. Vibrant trees grow above me and encompass my travels. Some look tall and proud while others slump over.
I'm breathing heavily. I'm in pain, but I shouldn't be. This is just a run; I do it all the time. Again, I turn around and see nothing. But I know someone's following me. I can't see it, but I just... feel it, and hear it.
That someone has never stopped following me since the day I was born. It takes different forms. It could be me in 2nd grade seeing my mom sad or tired. It could be me in 3rd grade getting in trouble or someone telling on me. Or me in 4th grade, memorizing every single word and grammatical structure of a textbook page because if I didn't, I wouldn't get an A+ on the test. Me in middle school, having a single bruise, cut, or unshaved hair on my legs. Me in high school, holding a razor blade to my shoulder, nasty opinions of strangers, my ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend being better than me, cutting back over 1,000 calories a day so I could lose weight quickly to run faster, completely giving up during a race and wrecking the opportunity to move forward, quitting running because hard work could never stand a chance against my intrusive thoughts, my team's judgement of my times not dropping fast enough, my boyfriends leaving me because I wasn't fast enough, crying and trying to run away from crowds of people at the prom, holes and beehives sticking out of my skin, itching, throwing up before every race, having a panic attack before every race.
Me in college, throwing my phone against the wall after seeing a picture of holes, more itching, losing validation from others, gagging before every race, my family dying violently, that bottle of pills, the new bottle of pills after the other one wasn't strong enough, the cool popular kids, people close to me knowing I had a bad race, my coach yelling at me 3 months ago, me doing something dumb 5 years ago, death, counting how many pills would do the job, dissociation, heaven, hell, slowly creeping up.
I can't see what's following me, because it's impossible to look into my own mind. I keep running on this smooth, perfect path, and I should feel checked out, free, blank. But I can't run away from my own mind. It's inside of me and I'm stuck with it forever.
Over my life I've conquered the things that have followed me. It's taken me longer than the average person to just let things go, to stop thinking about it, to put it aside until later, to start a new task even though I haven't finished the other. It takes time, and eventually those things stop following me, turn around, and forget why they ever wanted to find me. It took me all of high school to conquer my sports anxiety, which I was too terrified to tell anyone about, even my best friends or boyfriends. It took me all of high school to stop separating myself from the excited athletes at meets, wheezing with my hands on my hips, crying until I imagined myself just relaxing on the couch instead of being here, throwing up, crying into my mom's shoulder, then calming down and returning to my team tent as if nothing happened, as if I was the strong athlete they thought they knew.
When one problem goes away, another one starts. There's barely any resting period. I'm a factory of problems. My mind is always busy. It's not like other minds. The worst thing is that no one can physically see it, not even me. It tells me things won't be okay. It tells me I'm wrong, or I need to ask for reassurance on a topic at least 10 times from at least 3 different people. When my mind doesn't get the answer it wants, I get angry. I ask again and again. I plead and I cry. And I push people away. Seriously, some of them left me and never came back.
I'm eventually able to win against every struggle that comes my way, becoming a well-known runner in my state and a Division 1 collegiate athlete, an accomplished musician and actress, and an artistic creator. But what's my reward? I'm free for a while, and when I go for my run, I feel powerful. I feel alive. Nothing can stop me. The trees still stand vibrant above me. To the ones that are still slumped over, I tell them it'll be alright someday. To the demons in my mind I say, you're not real.
But then I start to breathe more heavily. There's an eerie mood that sends chills through my body. I remember the crying, the memorizing, the repetition, the secrets, the opinions. My mind was blank but now it becomes filled with nonsense and fear, pouring in from my ears. Even though this has happened tens of times, I'm still terrified. And it's absolutely paralyzing.
Someone's following me.