The Figure that Follows

By Olivia Heersink

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An artist’s depiction of depression.

A shadowed figure follows me.

They are always shrouded in darkness, merely a silhouette. Their face is always hidden, not by a hood, but as if their features cannot reflect light. I’ve never seen its eyes, its nose, or its lips, and I imagine that its face is not a face, but rather a plane of smooth skin devoid of facial features that somehow sees, smells, whispers, laughs, breathes, tastes, and feels.

I cannot run from them. I cannot barricade myself behind a locked door, for this shadow is not truly a person or even, a thing, but a manifestation of darkness that lives inside of me, a black shadow so deep that it sucks the light and the warmth out of my surroundings.

I am it and it is me.

Sometimes it walks behind me, always within reach, but not interfering. These are the moments that I am happiest, the moments that I can almost be normal, but their presence alone will taint everything I do or say, the anticipation of their touch and voice rips away any happiness I can feel.

Other times they envelope me, surrounding me with a dark blanket that shades the bright blue sky, the yellow sun, and the greenest trees with a dim coat of black. These moments of my life are marked with sharpened charcoal instead of colored pencils. It dims my routine, my heart, my friendships, my emotions. In these moments, I walk through every day with a blank, distant visage; while in my mind, hissing screams whisper to me, fighting to keep its hold over me.

My own hold over myself.

They whisper, with a hoarse throat, every berating word all at once. The fault always lies with me. I am never good enough. I should have known better. As ethereal as a shadow, it stings my conscious and bruises my psyche as if it is not a ghost at all, but a worldly-being. It punches with sorrow, slaps with guilt, and kicks with loneliness. I drown in emotion more real, more terrifying than the muddiest of waters.

Because at least I can escape water by either breaking the surface or drowning.

But I cannot escape it.

I am it and it is me.

It holds me under with hands as real as a wisp of smoke, but as strong as steel, defying all the physical laws described by Newton and Einstein. I choke on thick emotions, unable to breathe or see. I flail blindly, scratching, and hitting, but eventually I tire not only from exhaustion, but also from its familiarity. Like an old lover, they caress with strokes more conversant than the problems which materialize them. Only then do I give in and embrace them, the visceral shadow that lives inside of me. At these moments, I am strangely at peace, the two sides of me finally merged into one.

I am always fighting; ever since I was born, this obscured figure has followed me. I am accustomed to the fight. So the peace jars me with its wrongness, its unfamiliarity.

I pull out of the blackness. I scream at the dark character and scramble to the surface of the emotional water. I notice the bright sky, the warm sun, and the colorful flowers. I startle the shadowed creature with the light, and they dissipate for a few days.

But it returns to pace behind me.

Because you cannot escape yourself.

I am it and it is me.

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