I think I’ve started to enjoy being awake more than being asleep for the first time in my life. I’m not one hundred percent sure but I’ll take this ambiguity over the certainty that I’d prefer to spend my time unconscious under a duvet – although I’m still fiercely bitter that intrusive thoughts and the knock-on effects destroyed my lust for life, and crushed all my experiences in it. I remind myself how OCD is misrepresented in the media and shake a fist to the sky. Depression and anxiety too. No doubt every aspect of mental health. I wish they could have seen me standing at the edge of that black void.
It’s still there, with three stooped figures sitting on the verge of that empty pit, inviting me to join them with ill-fated, twitching gestures. These days I smile at their pathetic attempts to draw me in – like three bloated sirens tempting sailors into the swirling currents with nothing but their toothy grins. My waking hours are still difficult. But manageable now.
A few days ago, driving down the narrow country lane that connects the house to the main road, Little One had to hit the brakes to avoid a herd of deer that emerged from the bushes. They bounded across the road, scrambling up the opposite embankment – all except one, who struggled to climb the wooded slope. The toiling deer panicked, opting instead for the easier route up the winding road. She retreated around the corner. As we crawled down the lane, Little One came to another abrupt stop as the deer reappeared, hurtling towards the front of our car. A dog – husky looking and fierce – was giving chase. There ensued a wild waltz of scampering hooves and twisting bodies. We observed the macabre ballet from the car, and when the impromptu hunt took the animals back up the country lane, we continued our journey to town. As we rounded the bend we saw that the dance was reaching its bloody climax.
Again, we drew the car to a halt, watching the dog pin the deer to the ground by its throat. It was a savage moment, and if I ever needed reminding of the harshness of life, this would do it. Little One blasted the car horn, startling the dog, ceasing it’s assault long enough for the apologetic owner to catch up, puffing and panting, and drag it, jaws salivating, from the doomed animal. I went away thinking how lucky I was that I wasn’t that deer. The blessing soon replaced with a profound sadness that an animal had been mauled close to death in front of me.
At that moment, somewhere in the world, someone fell awkwardly and broke their neck. I didn’t see it, but averages tell me that it happened. That it happens every day. I know I shouldn’t have dwelled on it – but I did. My head was full of images of a dead deer and a dying man at the foot of the stairs. Why can’t I think of rainbows over rolling meadows? I mused. Another question spawned in my mind.
Is life worth this mental pain?
Yes, life is tough, and I can leave at any moment, but it would be my final full stop, so why go now?
To kill a crow?
He can wait.
To stop the bad thoughts shredding my mind?
As I’ve just said, it can be the time of my choosing – and I don’t want to miss anything while I’m still able to function.
I turned up the stereo.
Onto brighter skies, and we spent an afternoon at the local pub. We arrived at happy hour and the local ale calmed my nerves – we had a great time. Yes, OCD knocked, but I didn’t let her in. In the bathroom mirror, I noticed my personal gorgon wiggling her hips and leering, tempting me to look at her head of writhing snakes.
“What are those shadows on your face?” she hissed. “Is it cancer or an omen of approaching trouble, horses on the horizon?”
I turned away and washed my hands in the sink. Nice try, but no cigar. I shut the door and ordered another drink – you’ve got to make the most of a happy hour in this part of the world.
That evening, The Crimson Knight, my violent trumpeter of self-harm, made one of his regular appearances, but I knocked him off his horse with a blank refusal to entertain him for any more than that first fleeting second. He writhed on the ground, cursing.
I fell asleep quickly, with good thoughts on my mind.
Crow continues to know everything I think, counting my entire hand, every card that I draw from the pack. But I can fight back, and today, when he blew a cloud of black smoke into my face, I looked over the surrounding hills, inhaled the cloud and blew it out.
I’m still not jumping into the black void. Three figures turned their heads in disgust while I fought to appreciate the things that I have. The cloud didn’t disperse but I was able to waft it away. Crow flew into a tree and knocked himself out.
I’ve been busying myself too, working in the garden of the house we’re looking after and also quite a lot of freelance writing. The remaining hours are spent with a cold can of beer while relaxing in the lush countryside. Another reason I’m never going to choose to enter that void. There are no rolling hills inside. Just a whole lot of nothing.
Today we’re off for a walk through the woods, revisiting the local pub. A few more pints of the local ale perhaps – chemical warfare against the thundering divisions of OCD tanks. There is often a bottle of vodka in the fridge too. It probably isn’t ideal but what is? A glass of wine, a drag on a joint, hypnotherapy, yoga, hyperventilating techniques, cutting myself, headbutting walls, psychotherapy, CBT, EMDR, ERP therapy? The list is long and flaps about in the wind like a flag at half mast. Take your pick, choose your weapon but please don’t judge one another on what we sleep with under our pillows.
The fact that I’m going for a walk through the woods today is a testament to the battle I’m surviving. Because even that would have been a struggle a few years ago. Flashback to a room in Rajasthan, India, keeled over my bed and sweating as the world rolled by my window, hunger pains gnawing at my stomach, intrusive thoughts battering the inside of my head. Finally forcing myself outside for some street food, head looking down, eyes stinging with sweat that poured down my face. I can’t go on, I thought, stumbling past a scrawny cow, children playing cricket with crushed up plastic bags. But I did go on, and I’m glad that I never gave up. Because I’m sweating a little less these days.
It can get better guys and girls. I don’t know how but it just does. Maybe one day it will disappear altogether. The whole gang exploding in a puff of pink smoke: The Crow, the Gorgon and that f*cking Crimson Knight – anxiety and depression gaining mass, the yellow river, and the black gas, spinning in a circle and getting sucked into that void. I strive to never again think of that blackness until old age dangles me over its wispy lip.
I think the image will haunt me yet, but I think it’s worth sticking around for a chance to see my demons buried six feet in the ground before they bury me.