This Is What Running From Yourself Feels Like

A woman faces away down outdoor train tracks in Paris with her arms over her head
Etienne Boulanger / Unsplash

Earlier this year, because of situations not entirely under my control, I became isolated.

Not from life in general, but definitely from my friends, my colleagues, my mentors, even social media, for a while. I don’t recommend a sudden unplug – in fact, I’d say it’s one of the most anxiety-inducing things I’ve had to deal with – but it did teach me one lesson.

You have to be able to live with just yourself as company, otherwise your fear of being alone will drive you mad.

My self is not a very pleasant companion. She demands all of my attention and, in the absence of immediate social and work engagements, actively resists my attempts to distract myself. Books, art, social media – I would try to dig in but sooner or later she would step in, whispering in my ear: “This is not what you should be doing, look right here, look and remember.”

In recent weeks she’s decided she wants to rehash a lot of bad memories from the past – hence my last burst of articles on this website, and their overarching theme. My self, when free from distractions and deadlines, seems to take particular glee in ripping up old wounds and showing me her work.

“You think you got over this? You think you can just paste over the cracks? Oh, honey…”

Normally I’m pretty good at ignoring her. There was always something else to do, some other plan to make. Training sessions, books, plans, gyms, kisses. I’ve distracted myself by obsessing over food, obsessing over exercise, obsessing over people. I’ve even managed to distract myself with therapy, the one thing that’s supposed to bring the focus on your trauma so that it doesn’t surprise you when it shouldn’t. It’s a feat that defies reason and yet I managed it just fine.

Not unsurprisingly, isolation is when my self found me the first time. Stuck in a country where I barely spoke the language, with no friends and no social plans beyond doing the laundry, my self cornered me and demanded that I pay attention. I eventually escaped her, which was a pretty bad idea. It took her five years to pin me down again, and this time, she’s not letting up.

I suppose by now I should stop being cute and anthropomorphizing my memory, but it does make it easier to explain what’s been going on. My whole life, I’ve been living with a certain version of events, throwing layers of justification and intellectualizing over old hurt. Like bad paint, I kept drawing it on, hoping that it would be enough to hide the poor surface; and like anybody will tell you, the surface always has a way to come through.

So now the paint is peeling, and the day of reckoning has come. Reckoning because I had to recognize my own bullshit, and reckoning because I had to recognize the bullshit of others, too. It’s one thing to amuse your friends with stories about being harassed on the street, or your teacher standing by when you were bullied; it’s another to look at this with the eyes of an adult, and realizing just how un-funny all of it was. Holy shit, how could I make fun of that? I’ve been asking myself this question a lot.

Memory is funny. It shifts and ebbs and sometimes it refuses to play nice. Sometimes it rewrites itself, even as something is happening, desperate for a narrative that would help you survive the next week, the next day, the next hour. It’s survival instinct – the only problem is that it doesn’t stop as soon as you are free. I never had a chance to get my feet under me and think about what has happened. Not until I was completely by myself.

And yet, I don’t want to start running again.

I think about it, but now that I’m here, it’s a lot harder to get up and go. I never realized how exhausting it was, to ignore my own memories, or what they mean. I never realized how much effort I was spending, effectively gaslighting myself, until I ran out of steam.

I can’t run away.

And I don’t want to.

The paint is peeling and I realize, I don’t like how the wall looks like, not now. I realize how sloppy I’ve been, how much better it would be if I started over, even if the work would be twice as hard. It’s worth it. I have to believe it’s worth it. TC mark

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