Logan stared at his reflection.
Looking back was a stranger, a person that seemed to be too real to actually be him.
He knew that it was him, of course- and he also knew that he was being illogical to even think about the possibility that the man in the mirror wasn't him- but that didn't mean that he was entirely convinced.
It was a fuzzy thing that sometimes seemed to happen to him. Of course, he always knew that it was him; sometimes it was even helpful that he felt like the man in the mirror was someone else.
But other times it would be terrifying.
The first time Logan could recall actively experiencing derealization was when he was fourteen.
He had been sitting at the dinner table with his parents, when suddenly his mother had looked at him in a weird way.
Except it didn't feel like his mother. In fact, she didn't even seem like a human being, but something terrifying that was waiting for him to react to her in some way.
In that moment, he had felt terrified, the fibres of his body screaming at him that what he was seeing was something out of a horror movie. It was inexplainable, downright chilling and thinking back on it, the first thing he thought was that he was going crazy.
He had brushed it off, blaming it on exhaustion due to school.
It wasn't a singular incident.
Even though he tried to push it back to the depths of his mind, he found himself replaying it again and again, trying to figure out just where his brain had gone wrong.
But it also happened with his friends.
His own face in the mirror.
Suddenly he was aware of the way open fields seemed like empty scrapes and maps in video games that had not been properly planned through; how sometimes he himself seemed too...three dimensional.
Light from the living room falling into the kitchen at night turned into feeling like someone was watching him; to the point that he avoided doing anything with the lights on for weeks.
Of course he had heard of the Simulation Theory.
That either he and everyone else were actual people in a game that could be woken up to a 'real' world, or that he was the only person playing whereas the others were just programmed characters in a game that he chose to play.
And at first, he had been able to shrug it off.
It was nothing more than a thought experiment, his mind simply being hyper aware of its own existence and him having gained enough knowledge to ponder the possibility of further realities apart from the one he deemed his current.
Nothing but a thought experiment.
Over time, Logan had learnt that not everyone was thinking about this.
Someone would upload a short video of something apparently 'glitching' and people in the comments would joke about the simulation being broken; as if they weren't aware of the fact that if that were the case that meant that their entire lives leading up to this point were nothing but fabrication.
He had learnt about trigger warnings around that time.
And he had learnt that it was his brain going haywire, his mental problems he refused to admit surfacing strongly enough to make him question whether he even existed.
Of course, there were no actual consequences for the off chance that life was a video game. He'd wake up and maybe realize that he could have played a better character. Or maybe that the game was bugging, him being aware of the simulation and all.
-But of course his brain didn't settle for the simple on that could reassure him; it had to settle on the one that made him ponder killing himself just to test whether it would wake him up.
(And maybe that was the reaction that the people watching him were simply waiting for.)
For a while, he had believed that maybe he was the only player.
Only that he wasn't exactly playing but more involved in a type of study conducted by a malevolent entity that watched over his every move in the reality he had been introduced to.
It explained the way people sometimes didn't seem like themselves; the same way his mother had looked like the unknown entity looking through his soul, trying to provoke him.
And it would make sense, wouldn't it?
Maybe it wasn't trauma that made him not remember a childhood. Maybe it wasn't his friends withdrawing from him due to unknown reasons, but rather a test to see how he would react.
Because the moment he understood that he wasn't real, it would be easier to deal with everything. He just had to show them that he was willing and able to resist their challenges. Pretend that he hadn't figured out their experiment.
Though sometimes he didn't know whether it was actually wise to pretend being clueless.
Nowadays, those were thoughts that he could brush away easily most of the time.
-So what if you're not you? You're not real?
If they're watching you, who cares, it's their time being wasted, you're officially not even real.
(But the question still remained, as to who "they" referred to.)
It wasn't exactly something to bring up in a conversation either.
He had introduced friends to the Simulation Theory, wanting to hear their thoughts on it (and trying to figure out whether one of them was dealing with his problem).
But so far, they had simply theorized on it, gotten a joke out of it when they were all too drunk to remember the topic for more than five minutes, and simply brushed it off as a silly thought.
And even in moments of 'clarity', in which he was almost certain that he actually existed, he was hesitant to tell his therapist.
Being treated for anxiety and OCD was one thing, dealing with something that barely 2% of the population experienced regularly was nothing that he felt particularly confident about.
So the only person who knew about his issue was him.
Over time, Logan had found very few methods that didn't include other people to convince him that this was real.
Finally, he had settled on checking his pulse; the fingers of his right hand firmly pressing to the wrist of his left, waiting several beats to make sure that it wouldn't stop.
There had been moments of overwhelming panic, when he couldn't find the pulse and his thoughts would begin to spiral; when he wasn't sure if he was having a panic attack or if he would cease to exist.
Those tended to be the worst.
A panic attack came out of nowhere. It meant his survival instinct kicking in in the middle of a test, his heartrate picking up and his hands starting to shake.
But as long as he got to the bathroom fast enough, as long as he was able to reassure himself that he was fine and okay, as long as he was convinced that he wouldn't stop breathing just because he stopped thinking about breathing in and out- he would be fine.
But if he thought too long about this, he would become scared.
There was no certainty in anything, no reassurance that if the panic eased he would be back to normal, back in the school bathroom staring at the white tiles.
If he didn't exist, then nothing around him existed- it couldn't because he wouldn't be there to perceive it, wouldn't be able to question it actually being there.
Sometimes, the feeling would linger inside of him.
The knowledge that no matter how many times he checked his pulse or told himself that he was real, those were not certain standards. Because there truly was no way to prove that he was real.
He would pass the mirror, knowing that the person looking back at him was him- but also being sure that his features were different when he passed the mirror minutes before. Nothing that he could actually pinpoint, just the vague understanding that his features were... off.
On his worst days, he waited for his reflection to shift in front of him.
He waited for someone to reveal themselves to him, waited for something to resemble the videos that claimed to be a glitch in the matrix.
It wasn't like he wouldn't see these things. When there was a neighbour clearly mowing his lawn, but it was night time, and there was no one outside. Or that time his sister froze directly in front of him, glitching into a smile for a fraction of a second.
They were testing him, in these moments.
He looked at himself in the mirror once more; noticing the way his glasses reflected the light from the mirror.
His hair was dishevelled from the wind, his clothes crumpled from a long day at school that had been filled with him participating in life as if he wasn't constantly question it.
He was real.
And maybe one day he wouldn't need to check his pulse to believe it.