The media often makes out that OCD is nothing more than an inconvenience, a coffee stain on the couch, when in reality, it’s usually the greatest bane of the sufferer’s life, the killer clown in their own personal horror movie. But as much as that shark toothed clown tortures me with intrusive thoughts (think razor blades on the back of my eyes,) occasionally, looking back, I’m able to see the funny side. Not laugh out loud hysterical funny, but funny like watching the Exorcist as Regan’s head spins around 360 degrees, when I know I’m not in that room any more.
Like biking home from school as a teenager, when an idea suddenly exploded in my head. Could I control my bike with my left hand on the right handlebar, while my right commanded the left? Struggling to keep control of my cycle, I swerved into the road, a car beeping it’s horn as it sailed past, inches from my body. At the time, I thought I needed to do things in threes or fives, or ironically, I believed I would die. As my friend laughed at my moment of madness, I was already preparing my second attempt at reverse control. Whoosh, another car blinked past my swaying bike.
“You twat!” shouted my friend, cycling behind me, but I believed I needed to do it one more time, less I die in horrible circumstances, (maybe crunched under the wheels of a car.) For the third attempt, I waited for my friend to wave goodbye, turning down the road that led to his house. This time I focused on leaning my weight away from the roadside, and ended up in a tangled heap on the pavement, which although painful, was a lot less bloody than being hit by the bus that roared past my crumpled body – several passengers shaking their heads at the idiot on the ground. OCD nearly killed me that day, but I have to agree with my friend’s original diagnosis, I really had been a twat for risking my life like that.
A million memories shout for attention in my temporal lobes, and I catch one in my eye. It’s years later at a nightclub, and I’ve noticed a man looking at me across the dance floor, probably because I’ve been blinking into red strobe lights, trying to imagine they were bright white, (which was one of my common compulsions for warding off the Devil, and still is, although not as intense these days.) I look away, but OCD convinces me to stare at him another three times, (I was on even numbers by then.) On the fourth glare, he’s literally snarling, two of his friends holding him back, preventing him from tearing into me. Seven nights later, his buddies aren’t there to keep the peace, and we end up trading blows beside a screeching cloakroom attendant. All because OCD wouldn’t let me look away. No, it wasn’t funny when his fists were pounding into my head, but I’m smiling now.
It wasn’t always so dramatic. In Bolivia I missed a bus. There I sat in a dingy hotel room, transfixed on a red wall, trying to paint it white in my mind. Why? Because I believed my family might die if I didn’t. From the window I actually saw the bus depart, cursing my OCD when I realised I’d have to pay two hundred Bolivianos on another bus ticket. I’ve missed the endings to a hundred films this way, focusing on a dark patch on the screen as the hero saved the world. Did I really think those black smudges represented brain tumors? And more than that, did I genuinely believe that staring at them would cure the cancers I imagined growing in my body?
In my younger days, a girl smiled at me in a bar, and I felt the need to look away, and then back again, and then away and then back, on and on and on until it felt right. Six or seven times I performed this ritual, the girl eventually turning her attention to the floor, avoiding the gaze of the strange guy acting like a defective android, straight out of a cheap sci-fi movie.
Remembering another instance now, when I remained silent to a question that was asked of me, as my internal OCD battle reached a potential climax, drawing bemused looks from the girl across the table. Real event OCD causing me to obsess over something that was said ten minutes ago – sixty awkward seconds staring at my hands as my brain reordered the previous topic of conversation. Ha! At least I’m laughing now.
The memories keep coming. Hiding from my friends in rancid toilet cubicles of cheap nightclubs, while intrusive thoughts battled against the music – no contamination OCD for me, thank God. And the time I retraced my exact footsteps on the streets of Buenos Aires, blinking every time my feet touched the ground, to bemused looks from an incredulous security guard, “Estas bien, amigo?” he asked.
“Not really,” I replied, praying my failure to complete the task wouldn’t result in the death of my family.
My first time in Hong Kong wasn’t exactly momentous. I spent the initial 48 hours in a hotel room, pulling my hair out, wrestling an intrusive thought that had popped into my head in New Zealand – six months prior. The only reason I went outside was to eat, but couldn’t face the rigmarole of ordering a local dish, instead taking the easy option of a burger at a famous fast food restaurant. “How’s Hong Kong?” asked my brother over the phone when I called him later that day.
“It’s great,” I said, but all I’d seen was my tiny room and the inside of the nearest McDonalds.
“You’re always sleeping,” said my friend in India, as we travelled the mountainous roads of Kashmir in a 4×4. The world whizzed by unseen an inch from my face, and I wished that I WAS sleeping, instead of imaging violent images of my family dying in a house fire. When we reached our destination I flicked through the photos on his camera, in awe of what I saw, kicking myself that it had been outside the jeep’s windows for most of the journey. Today, I’m laughing at the irony, at the time, I wanted to smash my head against a brick wall as punishment for missing the unique scenery of those mountain roads.
In fact, one of the only times I’ve successfully ignored an intrusive thought was on another mountain road in India. I’d noticed the driver’s eyes in the rear-view mirror, they kept closing as he struggled to stay awake behind the wheel. For the remainder of the journey my Chilean friend and I had to shout at him every few minutes. “Wake up, you fucking crazy bastard!” If the vehicle had left the road, we’d have tumbled down the mountainside and died along the way. The predicament of the situation pushed the Devil back into his box. When we reached our destination we found a room and the thoughts returned.
Still grinning, remembering playing football at school when I let the striker run unchallenged to score a goal because I was looking back at the goalposts and chanting a mantra in my mind. And at work, needing the quiet of a dark cupboard on my lunch break. “You’re like a vampire” said my colleague as he opened the door and noticed me lying on the cold floor. But the only vampire in that cupboard was OCD, fang deep in marrow and sucking my life away.
“You’re a fucking lunatic, Yan,” laughed Uncle Jack as I took my OCD frustration out on a cardboard box. Punching and biting I was tempted to tell him about the stupid thought that was looping around the highways of my mind, but feared he would agree with his first statement.
OCD is a debilitating disease, and these memories make me feel sick, but occasionally I’ll shake my head and dare to smile. Yes, it was Hell at the time, but surely we’re allowed to laugh at the Devil every now and again.
I guess even killer clowns tell jokes once in a while.