I’ve been fighting since I can remember.
When I was a kid, I’d go outside after I finished my schoolwork, armed with nothing but a light sweater and a backpack containing the essentials, and spend the rest of the day in the woods. My imagination ran wild; hours were lost to my dreams of high fantasy worlds and familiars I summoned under overcast skies. My favorite familiar was one I named Archer. He carried a spectral bow and arrows to match, and he protected me with his life. I was a summoner named Kasumi Luotonen whose destiny it was to ward off the Nightmare Children trying to break into our world. With my powers and Archer at my side, I defended the universe and banished those garish Children back to their own realm.
On other days, my fantasy changed. Dragons flew through crystal-blue skies, their wings stirring up leaves of red and gold, and those were the days I changed my name and flitted through the forest clothed in robes of blood-red. I imagined myself as the great mage Raistlin Majere, staff in-hand as I fought off the evil Fistandantilus before he possessed me and stole my power.
When I was not running through the forest like a crazy person, I was feverishly writing all the stories that spilled from my mind in eclectic leaps and bounds that were always left unfinished. It was a fight to try and finish any of them. The woods were outside, so close and so simple. I would rather disappear into them than have to actually wrestle my restless thoughts into some semblance of order.
So my fantasies, and, by extension, the woods, were a source of comfort for me.
Even now, I set aside days to visit the woods, though the ones behind my apartment in Jackson, Mississippi are far different from the ancient, untouched forests on the side of that quiet mountain. Still, they serve their purpose, and I sometimes find myself revisiting those old fantasies as I walk through them. Archer is at my side once again, spectral bow in-hand, and I pick up a sturdy stick from the ground and imagine it into an intricate staff as Archer and I fight back the evil threatening to consume the world.
These are escapist fantasies. To try and categorize them as anything else would feel like denial, so I decided to accept my tendency toward escapism long ago. I grew up reading things like The Belgariad and Dragonlance and wishing I was somewhere magic existed, so of course I lived in a near-constant state of disassociation. (That has gotten better recently.) Even as an adult, however, I write scores of stories about a galaxy I created for myself, a galaxy where Kasumi Luotonen exists always as my alter-ego, where she is powerful and sure and surrounded by friends who would follow her to death even as she fights to retain control of what is hers.
I used to think that I would leave that galaxy behind someday, but I always go back to it. On my worst days, when I can’t focus and nothing quite goes the way I want it to, when I lose touch with reality, when my anxiety sets in and I wonder why am I even here?, my galaxy is there, a constant reassuring presence. I go back to it as often as I revisit my childhood fantasies of loyal familiars and evil mages. The only difference now, I suppose, is that the evil I fight back is no longer a fantasy. It is a voice inside my head, a hunched dragon whispering in my ear. A demon with the label anxiety etched across its side. And, despite everything, that label has helped, because now the demon has a name.
Before, I knew something was wrong with me, but I didn’t know what. I took martial arts lessons and let out my frustration in sparring competitions until I beat back opponents three-times my rank and made others cry. I wrote those stories of other galaxies and alter-egos. I ran through the woods projecting myself somewhere else, anywhere else, because I couldn’t deal with the thoughts in my own head. Now, at least, I know how to identify them, and I can fight them back instead of just pretending they don’t exist.
I’m working through things, I suppose.
Today, I wear an old band t-shirt and flip flops, and I hear the words to Gym Class Heroes’ The Fighter on repeat in my head. “If you fall, pick yourself up off the floor, / and when your bones can’t take no more / just remember what you’re here for.” That song has been with me for years, and it often reminds me to get up and keep fighting no matter what. So that’s what I’ll do. On the worst days, I’ll fight back, no matter how tired I am. I won’t let anxiety win. I hear the chorus from The Fighter in the background, and I raise my fists and kick that demon back as they chant:
“This one’s a fighter.”