Years ago someone I admired told me that when I got my head and my heart in the same place at the same time, she didn’t want to be standing next to me. At the time, I took it as a compliment that meant there would be no stopping me (and I would finally rule the world) once I got my shit together, but maybe she was telling me it would be the equivalent of a worldwide nuclear disaster. (Now that I think about it, that’s probably exactly what she was saying.)

My ex-husband told me that I was incapable of giving a straight answer – that I answered every question with a question. When I said, “Do I really do that?” he walked out of the room.

Another friend of mine, one I admired tremendously for her innate serenity and equanimity, told me that I shouldn’t get too independent. I had no idea what she meant, so I asked her to explain. She just smiled and repeated it. “Don’t get too independent.” It was years before I understood that she wasn’t talking about money and longer still before I could apply that concept in my life.

What do those three ideas have in common? Not much, but they were on my mind today as I was working out. Each week I’ve been pushing myself a little harder in my workouts. I ride the stationary bike for cardio and every day I try to do just a little more. I’ll move it up a level and increase the resistance for a few minutes or I’ll try to go two minutes longer than the time I programmed into the computer. Today the computer told me I did eight miles in 35 minutes – all at the highest level I’ve been able to hit so far. The crazier things get in my head, the faster I pedal until I don’t know if the demons are chasing me or if I’m chasing the demons.

I’ll put a disclaimer here to make sure no one misses it: if you are reading this, it is not about you. I promise. My demons don’t read this blog.

Demon 1: (For some background on the Shrew, go here.) You are the most negative, dissatisfied, insecure, unhappy person I’ve encountered. Ever. You win, hands down. You wonder why I won’t talk to you? Because you radiate misery. You don’t have anything positive to say. I know; I’ve kept track. Nothing in life is perfect, Shrew, so you might as well laugh about it. But you’ll never learn that lesson and I refuse to let you suck the life out of me. You think that I don’t give you any respect (I know you think it, because you actually complained to the manager about my lack of respect). What, now you’re Rodney Dangerfield? Sorry. He was not only funnier than you – he was more attractive, too.

Demon 2: If you want him to leave, I will do everything I can to help you accomplish that – including any necessary property repair/clean-up. If you want him to stay (and obviously you do) you have to stop bitching about him. I don’t want to hear it. You chose this situation and you’re staying in it. You are the most intelligent person I know – and I know some damn smart people – but you are being incredibly dumb about your life and I’m tired of hearing it. Change it.

Demon 3: The NY Ex was right about you. You have no idea how much I hate to admit it, but she was right. You’re on the fringe of society and not really in a good way. It was fun when we were twenty, but we’re you’re over forty now. Grow up. I don’t want to hear about how you caught your son smoking crack. You let him smoke pot when he was fourteen – this surprises you? You don’t understand how he doesn’t have any values and only cares about himself? Are you kidding me? You put yourself on the fringes – and you’re proud about it, proud of your tattoo “sleeve” that marks you as “different” – but you wonder why you can’t hold a mainstream job? I don’t want to hear about how hard it is. You’ve made it hard for yourself because you still believe the world should conform to your standards.

You’re wrong.

Demon 4: Have you not been paying attention? I’m not there anymore and I will never return. You haven’t changed in thirty years. You remind me of everything I hate about my life and all the things I don’t want to be. I suppose I should thank you for that, but really, I just want to slap you. You could write a hundred pages about the things that I need to change about my life. And I could write three pages about the things I’ve already changed. I’ll put my three pages against your hundred. I’m sorry, but I do think I’m better than you. That’s just the way life is.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if I’m chasing demons or they’re chasing me. What matters is that now when I navel-gaze, I can actually see my navel. Sort of.