There is a wolf trapped inside of me.

The wolf gnaws at the soft skin of my belly, digging sharp claws into whatever vulnerable flesh it deems suitable. It is ravished and unpleased, pacing up and down my spine, soft paws sending silent shocks throughout my body. Its howls emerge as sobs, its yaps as nervous chatter. I despise the wolf, despise its hunger for happiness, a hunger that leaves me drained, dull, deprived.

I have tried to control the wolf, tried to grasp its unruliness under my emphatic fist. Yet my attempts have felt a futile effort. My first attempt was calling Animal Control Services. They were empathetic but unhelpful; I was handed a leash and a handbook and instructed to tame my inner beast myself.

My first attempt was calling Animal Control Services.

My second attempt was a doctor’s appointment, an attempt that was even more miserable than the first. The doctor asked me to place my hand upon the part of my body the wolf inhabited. I gestured to my whole being. “How,” the doctor asked, her nostrils silently flaring, “How is there room inside of you for your heart, your lungs, your gut, if the wolf is everywhere?” I insisted on my statement, yet the doctor refused to believe me, demanding a second perspective. So I was shot into an MRI machine, my body scanned and examined, reduced to a specimen for scientific study under a microscope. When I emerged, the doctor bluntly told me “the wolf has infiltrated.” It was slinking through every part of me, through my heart, my lungs, my gut. The doctor grabbed a knife and tightly clasped it in her hand. “I’ll cut you clean,” she offered. Her nose flared. Her smile resembled that of the Cheshire Cat. I rejected the offer of surgery. My third attempt was talking to my friends and family. They suggested self-care and a positive mindset. It was a foolproof plan to beat the beast.

So I embraced a lifestyle of self-care, carving hours out of each day to tame the wolf.

I added some soft music, some rose petals, all the shit I had seen in romance movies. The wolf danced to the classical and cleaned its fur in the overwhelming scent of floral.

I exercised, my legs searing as I pounded my way up the stair machine. I was a self-imposed Sisyphus, the wolf was my cackling Zeus.

I started reading a self-help book and found myself overwhelmed by the plasticity of the words that screamed at me from the overly-positive pages.

The wolf and I mocked it together.

I journaled, felt ridiculous for journaling, and promptly stopped journaling. I ate lots of salad and learned that I hate kale and love iceberg lettuce. I stressed out because iceberg lettuce has a reputation of being one of those non-nutritional vegetables (what an oxymoron). and it was bad that I loved it, because I had read on some reputable site, some health site, that gut health is linked to mental health and how the fuck could I kill the wolf if I was eating iceberg instead of kale? I went to counseling and learned that I hate counseling, peering eyes staring at me, attempting to suck my emotions out of me. All I could think of when my counselor, Sarah, stared at me, was Dementors, the shit from Harry Potter.

The wolf would be subdued at times. Self-care could act as a sort of tranquilizer, leaving it dumb and unenergized. It would lay, tongue lolling out, watching the real me take control once again, of my heart, my lungs, my gut, but mostly, mostly my brain. But other times, I simply felt exhausted. The wolf would take reign, paws pounding against my being, rattling my insides and scaring away the real me to some dark, hidden corner of my existence.

I went to a different doctor and announced, loudly enough for the ceilings to be shattered by the intensity of my voice, “There is a wolf trapped inside of me.”

My doctor nodded. “This wolf,” she asked, “where is it?” “Everywhere.” And she believed me.

“What have you done?” my doctor asked. “To kill the wolf?” I listed off what I had tried. “Is that enough?” I thought of the exhaustion. I thought of the wolf scraping at my innards. I thought of life before the wolf had emerged. “No. It’s not.”

She smiled at me. “That’s okay,” she said, and I believed her, believed that the imposition of self-care didn’t need to be a save-all solution.

Ari Dengler ’24 is a staff writer

Grace Davenport ’21 is a staff artist