REAL EVENT OCD

The breeze that becomes a tornado

The days I spent in bed staring at a blank wall pulling my hair out I could have literally walked to Vladivostok and back – several times. It’s been a lifetime of hesitation and mistrust. Niggling doubt to paranoid certainty, fear of the past, present and future – anxiety in a time bomb. I’ve been an octopus juggling infinite possibilities, dwelling on the implausible while time drives past in a Ferrari. It’s been a long, bitter war with myself, mainly because there are so many edges to the OCD machine.  So many weapons in it’s arsenal.

Real Event OCD is one of those weapons, a machete in the dark.  Provoking me to ruminate over a recent conversation, or maybe something I did over a decade ago. Sometimes convincing me something entirely different happened instead, harsher words spoken in a far sinister tone.

Everything I ever did, every conversation, every action – every inaction – is scrupulously dissected.  Did I overstep the mark?  Was I offensive?  Did I really say that?  Should I have said something else?  WHAT HAVE I DONE?  Of course, it’s usually nothing serious, but OCD doesn’t care about the truth.

“Do you think that went well ,Yan?” says Crow, poking me in the eye with a bony wing tip.

I shrug my shoulders.  A gentle breeze in my ear.

“You should have said this or that or both or neither,” whispers a cracked black beak.  “What you said could be misinterpreted as a threat or a cuss, or maybe it’s the most ridiculous thing they’ve ever heard.  I think you’ve offended them, they probably think you’re a moron now.  Perhaps they want to kill you.”

“So tell me Crow, how DO you think he took the conversation?”

“He hated it of course!”

A conversation from last month, an action from twenty years ago.  Self reflection turns into self flagellation, punishing myself for something that never actually happened.  Balling my fists in frustration I flash back to my younger days.  Going out with friends in town, acting the clown because alcohol allowed me to be brash and clueless, and I took the bait.  Conversations I dwelled upon for all the wrong reasons.  Not to mention the fear.  The paranoid delusions, the gang of lads snarling when I walked through the pub doors.  Tadpoles that grew into sharks.  I was a clown as well as the constant victim in a movie, a haunting score accompanying me wherever I stumbled – musicians playing tubular bells as literally nothing crept up behind me.

“The girls want to shun you, the boys want to kill you.”

Bastard Crow. 

“He’s probably carrying a knife.”

Ridiculous!

“She liked you but then you said something ridiculous and she went away laughing.  And not in a good way.”

Oh well, never mind.

“NEVER MIND!!!! Ha! You wish!”

I hang my head in shame.  A lifetime of confusion.  Who needs 100% certainty?  It was mostly lies anyway!

“Ha!  You wasted years thinking about me.”

Every innocent action, however mundane, striking a spark that caught fire.  Spreading to every bone in my body, encouraged by that gentle breeze that suddenly became a howling wind – a tornado bouncing around my brain.

Getting older, I genuinely care less than I ever have.  And Little One holds my hand these days, so who cares how girls perceive me.  Crow knows this and moved on years ago.  Now it’s all about embarrassing myself in front of the rest of the world.  And the fake memories of course, and the conversations that change tone and even add sentences every time I think about them.  Thankfully it’s less about dying these days, more about humiliation.  Although death and destruction still sit at the table. 

As I write this post, Little One and I are looking after two cats at a house in Greater Manchester, We’re still freelance writing and, as Crow says, “Still doing things wrong.” I’m Cringing at night over past conversations as well as new ones, trying to dream of faraway worlds but usually falling to sleep with wounded pride and a red face.

Why should I care?

I don’t.

But OCD makes me think that I do.

SLICE

A Pure O story. A slice of my life in the 1990’s, when I didn’t know what OCD was.

You wake up fully dressed on your bed, tongue dry in your mouth, eyes wandering around the room. Dried blood stains your shirt, missing skin on your knuckles, a distant drum banging in your head – another busy night, more hazy memories to file under embarrassing moments, another hunk of meat to chew over for the rest of your life. Part of your brain is still asleep, but the portion that is wide awake and paranoid whispers that you may have been a naughty boy. Previous experience and the dried blood on your fist suggests that this time, the demon on your shoulder may be telling the truth.

“I was drunk,” you blurt out to the empty room.

Coffee would go down well, but that means getting out of bed, and your anxiety is already scratching at your membrane, although not as much as most mornings – must be the remaining alcohol in your system, continuing to perform, feeding you confidence on a drip. By ten o’clock you’ll be dry, back to staring at walls, fighting grizzly bears in your head.

“I hate you, Crow.” An image of a girl laughing dances in your mind. What did you say to her? And is it the good kind of laughing, or the fake sort that adds to the self doubt already circling in your head? Multiply and multiply again.

‘Sarcastic,’ suggests Crow, your cruel, self doubting OCD avatar. ‘Probably thinks you’re a c*nt.’

The coffee is ruined by negative thoughts spiralling out of control. One particularly nasty spike is something you’ve been struggling with for five years now. How can your memory be true to an event that happened so long ago? Every time you go back to that field in Norfolk, Crow adds another ingredient to the pot. You convince yourself that you’ll be dead this time next year anyway. Not in the mood for breakfast now – nerves too jittery, stomach too heavy. Why was that girl laughing? Was it at you or maybe something her friend had said – maybe she just happened to look up and innocently catch your eye?

‘Definitely at you,’ sneers Crow, and of course, you believe him, ritualising internally, imagining blinding white light to eradicate the insidious thoughts curling around your mind like smoke. In the kitchen, a coffee stain on the counter reminds you of a picture you once saw of a tumor on a lung. The memory of the laughing girl is yanked to the back of your head by an invisible wire, hair billowing in front of her face by the force of the removal. Replaced by a doctor sitting in his office staring at a computer screen.

“It’s terminal,” he says. And you know he doesn’t give a damn about the test results.

If you look at the coffee stain and picture a blinding white light, would the cancer shrink to nothing? Ridiculous, and you know it, but choose to imagine that brilliant white light, nonetheless. It eases the stress of dying.

‘You got it this time,’ says Crow. ‘But it’ll grow back.’

Football Focus is on BBC1 but you can’t enjoy it, or your coffee, because you’re thinking such awful thoughts. Things like, I could kill my grandad today. And maybe you will just because you can. Push him down the stairs, sink a kitchen knife into his belly. Imagining the grisly details of the kill turns your stomach, but you’re convinced the potential threat will only go away if you continue to think about it until his final breath feels ‘real’ enough. Forty minutes later and your coffee sits cold on the table. But at least you’re not going to murder your Granddad. Not today, anyway.

The afternoon is spent laying on your bed, recovering from the chemical abuse you subjected your body to last night. You’re trying not to think about anything other than football, because thinking is always a risk, a chance you’ll remember past delusions, trigger old obsessions.
Why was that girl laughing at you?

Luke calls you early evening. “You OK? How’s your hand? You gotta stop punching things.”

“Feels a bit sore,” you say. “I drank too much.”

Arrangements are made for tonight. Seven o’clock in The Five Bells. A couple of pints and a taxi into town. Sounds great, just gotta get those twisted images out of your head, and stop worrying about last night. Did you punch a window out of frustration? Maybe a wall? Or did you pummel your fists into the floor like last time? Have to be more careful, you promise the weary reflection in the mirror. Shit, is that a mole on your forehead? A lump on your neck? Burn it out with that blinding white light…

‘You’ll die if you don’t,’ promises Crow.

“Don’t be fucking ridiculous.” But a tiny doubt is growing like a puddle in the rain, a pool spreading into a lake, becoming a small sea and finally an ocean. Takes you fifteen minutes to imagine a sheet of pure white light that you are satisfied with. To get the ‘right’ feeling.

You should really have a shower but you’re feeling too lethargic. Feels like energy is dribbling out of every pore in your skin. You imagine a vampire sucking the marrow from your bones. Such pressure in your head. Sadness and sorrow are like sacks of lead, but fear weighs the heaviest. Feels like you’re dragging a bag of cement everywhere you go. You decide to spray some deodorant over your shirt instead. No-one in the pub will notice.

“Here he comes, crazy little fucker.” Almost a hero’s welcome at the bar. Friends saying hello, recalling tales of the night before. They think you were so funny when you punched the side of that bus. So that was it. Not the first vehicle you’ve assaulted, but certainly the first public transport. Don’t they ever ask why you do these things? Would they care? It’s not an excuse but it’s certainly a reason. Should you tell them what you think about all day? Those intrusive thoughts, the triggers and compulsions, the fear and the loathing. Crow vomiting lies into your ear all day long.

That blinding white light.

Another pint, Crow not asleep but certainly dazed and confused. Leave him in the gutter, he’s dragged you there enough times. A few blinding lights to keep him settled, like stroking his feathers with the tip of your finger. You order a shot of vodka to keep him pacified. It helps him sleep but knocking back enough spirits can wake him too. So what should you do? If he stirs, you can always hold him to the ground with a promise of suicide. Going through the motions in your mind has worked before.

“Don’t tease me,” says Crow, and you wish that he was a physical entity, so you could drag him out of your eyes and drown him in a bucket of water.

Standing at a urinal in the pub bathroom now, your bladder is empty but you remain where you are, glaring at the wall in front of you – thinking, thinking, constantly thinking. Your friends are at the bar, where you’ll soon return to continue talking shit, joking around because laughter drowns out the self-doubt, the uncertainty of your actions, how you say particular words, touch certain surfaces. Yes, you gotta keep them laughing because silence nurtures fear and don’t you dare give that bastard crow a foothold. The door opens and in walks Luke. Can’t stay here now, unless you complain of an upset stomach and sit in the cubicle, pretending to shit but sitting with your jeans up and your head in your hands.

“Lucy’s just walked in. Daz is already all over her.”

“She’s leading him on,” you say. “He bought her three drinks last week and she went home with that twat, Shilton.” You shake your head, pretending to be concerned but not giving a damn because all you can think about is why the fuck was that girl laughing at you last night? Has that lump on your neck gone down yet? And maybe you’ll end up killing your Granddad, after all.

It’s hours later, your friends have gone home and you’re standing alone in the nightclub. But you don’t want the night to end because tomorrow is Sunday. No-one will be about, and then it will be Monday morning, and you lost your job so it’ll be a week on the sofa watching daytime TV, pulling out your hair, trying to work out which memories are fake, which ones mean nothing at all. And if they were all true, what could you do about them anyway?

A guy bangs into your side and tells you to watch your fucking step. It’s not fair because he walked into you and you’ve been thinking all day so he must be a c*nt. You tell him and he turns around and snarls, “What you fucking say, mate?”

You know that he heard every word but you tell him again anyway, but this time you shout it so there’s no doubt that your insult reaches him over the banging music. Suddenly he’s punching you and you’re hitting him back, but you’re much smaller and far too drunk and your fists fall like pillows on the side of his head. Thank fuck the bouncers are alert and pulling you both apart before he knocks your teeth out.

That girl again, watching you pick yourself up off the sticky carpet. She’s not laughing now but looking concerned. She’s coming over.

The next morning, walking back from the girl’s flat, you realise that your thoughts had distorted the truth again. You’ll feel better one day, never cured but at least able to do things other than lie in bed thinking of trouble and a million ways to die. But this is 1998 and you’ve not yet been diagnosed with OCD. Mostly because you’re too ashamed of your feelings to tell the psychologists the truth. Afraid of your behaviour too. You haven’t given the doctors a fair chance. You haven’t given yourself a fair chance. You’re keeping too many secrets. They’re here to help you – they won’t laugh or tell you to take it on the chin like a man.

Surely you’ve suffered enough? Your school education was the first to go. You left as soon as it was legal to do so and headed into the factories. But your condition got worse, and you spent a couple of years signing on, feeling sick to the stomach with an insidious fear of almost everything. And it’s not only your school education that was ruined but your life education too. How can you become a better person when you haven’t got the headspace to think about what’s right and wrong? How do you find the time to learn from your mistakes, to understand how the world works. Feels like there’s no time to ask questions about the life which is passing by without you. This will come back to bite you in the face a thousand times.

You watch TV in the afternoon, but an article on the news triggers a dark thought that was sleeping at the bottom of your mind – like a tiger in a well. Six hours lost in a ditch and when it finally ‘feels’ over another wildcat creeps into the abyss. This one will last the entire week. You’ll still be ruminating on potential consequences when you’re back in The Five Bells next Saturday.

The following three days are spent climbing in and out of bed. A bad smell follows you around because you still haven’t taken that shower. You promise to clean your body before you leave the house, but that won’t be for another two days. Your bed covers could do with a wash too. Watching your life wasting away from beneath the duvet makes you feel bitter, which makes your skin sweat and your teeth grind. Should you kill yourself? You’ve thought about it every day for the past six years. What the fuck is wrong with you? Somewhere in your future life, a doctor will tell you that it’s OCD, but you have no idea what that means yet.

Outside, a car honks its horn, a man shouts in the street, dogs are barking. In your room, the devil scrapes his claws along your back. You lay on your bed, fighting a zillion thoughts with flashes of bright white light that are never quite white enough.

Another thought stirs at the back of your mind.

You try to ignore it, push it away and forget about it.

But it’s not going anywhere.

OCD AND DEPRESSION (Dogs in the Water)

OCD attacks our weakest flank, it knows our vulnerabilities because it lives in the room in our brain where we store our most intimate secrets.  If a hunting dog goes for the jugular, OCD goes for the box under the bed labelled ‘personal fears.’  And when it bites, it doesn’t let go, locking its jaw and shaking us to the ground.  But unlike the hound, OCD is invisible to everyone but the person it’s eating alive.  Onlookers may see the symptoms, the compulsive tics, the obsessive cleaning, the strange behaviour by the man at the bar, but they don’t see the dog.

And we all handle the dog differently.  Some confront it with a poke in the eye, some let it chase them to the hills and back, others appease it, throw a little bit of meat at its feet and walk away to fight another day.  You’ve heard the saying, ‘walk a mile in someone’s shoes before you judge them.’  Add to that the fact that people often take away contrasting experiences from the same encounter, and you’ll realise we all handle life differently, each of us using various tactics to deal with the same problem.  Throw in mental illness and it gets even more confusing.  One man’s meat and all that.

The same goes for how we cope with depression.  Before lockdown I heard a conversation at a bar.  “I can’t believe he killed himself, such a selfish thing to do,” said a man staring into a pint glass.  These types of words are usually said by someone who has never experienced such sombre despair, cruising through life a million miles from mental illness, which is good for them but not so good for their struggling friends, the compassionate compartment in their brains empty but for a bluebottle headbutting the locked door, ‘dueling banjos’ playing on loop.  But I knew the guy at the bar, knew he suffered from depression himself.

How I wish science was capable of swapping a person’s conscious thought with their neighbour, just to walk half a mile up the road and back.  To experience each other’s fear and loathing, what we love and what we cannot stomach.  If identical twins can be emotionally opposite, then what are the chances of strangers on a train having the same life philosophies, the same reactions to a painting, or sentence overheard in a pub.  People share the same needs on a basic level – food, water, shelter – but how different we are when it comes to how we adapt to life’s challenges, what we accept as reasonable, or diabolical, how we view the world as it unfurls before our eyes.  What bewilders me may not register with you, and vice versa, extreme reaction versus a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders.

Thoughts meander like a river but unlike water flowing into the sea, they don’t always take the easiest path.  Thoughts buck against the grain, detour to other spaces, merge with memories of personal experiences, creating a hybrid of images and feelings – sometimes a simple butterfly resting on a petal, other times a six-headed, snake-tailed beast galloping towards a house fire.

I attempt to deal with OCD and depression with what works best for me.  And describing the way I watch their teeth biting into me helps me to focus on the problem at hand.  It’s far from perfect but with the way I think, what I’ve experienced, who I am, my personal passions and fears, how I handle these two dogs keeps them from smashing through the front door and taking control of the room.  For me it’s the easiest way, like water flowing down a mountain.  But it’s my terrain, and water on your mountain may take an alternative route to the bottom.  It’s about respecting the choices other people make, and I wanted to tell the man talking at the bar that maybe the person who took their own life saw life differently than he did.

I guess I followed the water and took the easy option, deciding to order my beer at the other end of the bar instead.

An Uneven Region – Pictures, Penguins and a Man-Eating Tiger!

These days, if I mention to somebody that I have OCD, and they ask me if I’ve been washing my hands excessively during the pandemic, I go into a little room in my head and scream into a bucket.  It’s a misunderstood illness, films and TV shows portraying OCD sufferers chained to the sink, scrubbing their fingers with scouring pads.  I don’t suffer from contamination OCD, although I realise that many people with my condition do, and understand their anguish because it’s identical to mine.  I perform mostly mental rituals, (some people call it Pure O), I have magical thinking, false memories, often think I’ve got cancer and AIDS and rabies and I ruminate like a f**king lunatic, (yeah, I said lunatic, because that’s how I feel sometimes,) compelled to visualise killing the people I love most in the world, every violent, gruesome detail, persuade myself my girlfriend would prefer to be with anybody else on this planet but me, convinced I’m going to be kicked to death in the street, regularly fantasise about putting a rope around my neck and jumping off the highest tree in the forest, but I have NEVER scrubbed my nails or bleached my hands or ever worried for a minute about germs.  If I’m honest, I probably should have washed my hands more.

I don’t have a worse type of OCD, I don’t have a lesser type.  I’m not expecting an arm around my shoulder or a magical cure for my condition.  I suffer from depression too, whether it’s because of my OCD or just another symptom of the imperfect human brain.  I don’t care if people don’t know the minute details of my condition, I’m not expecting a hand-out or a foot up, and I know that if I was an animal in the wild, I’d have been exiled from the pack for my ‘oddities’ and left to fend for myself.  In a perfect world my demons would have been identified when they first stirred in my blood, pulled from my body with a syringe and discharged into a toilet bowl, flushed into the sea.  But guess what, it’s not a perfect world, and it never will be, however hard I wish for it.  In fact, if it was a flawless world, I wouldn’t expect a cure, or even for people to understand my OCD plight, because if it was so perfect, then by definition, mental illness wouldn’t exist.

My socks aren’t arranged by colour, or even pairs, I never place the ornaments on my shelf by equal distance to one another.  Couldn’t care less which way the porcelain penguin faces or if the picture on the wall rests at an angle.  My personal environment is usually unkempt, dirty t-shirts hanging on the back of a chair.  But I often look at myself in the mirror and grit my teeth and swear to my reflection that one day I’m gonna break every bone in my body for being such a meek prisoner to this f**king disease.  I’ve done bad things too, like everyone has, and I won’t hide behind the excuse that I was ill.  I may have had an extra weight in my backpack, but I’m human.

I don’t expect a free ride, or for the world to be kind to me, because the world isn’t kind, nature is brutal and we are all a product of that ruthless fight for survival.  I won’t try to convince myself that Earth is some kind of cosmic utopia, because it isn’t.  The sea may look calm on the surface but the undercurrent will drag you to the sea bed, crush the air out of your lungs, leave you for the sharks.  Things are not perfect, and never will be, even if Earth survives for another four and a half billion years – and part of that imperfection is that I have OCD.

 

Feeling a little lighter with that off my chest, I can finally enjoy my coffee this morning.  Appreciating my surroundings, smiling at the animals on the patio.  I’m currently house sitting near Oxford, looking after a cat, three guinea pigs and a chicken.  It’s a pretty part of the country but I understand, maybe more than most, that the entire world is amazing, beautiful too – but so is a tiger, and you wouldn’t stick your head in it’s mouth.

BENEATH THE GNASHING TEETH

 

My OCD has always tried to convince me that the human race is eating itself.  I’ve invariably gone to bed expecting the world to be in flames when I wake up.

“You must be struggling at the moment?” I imagine Uncle Jack asking, while he mops the factory floor around my feet.

“Not really.”  My shoulders hunch and I pull a face.

With all that’s been happening over the last few months, my OCD and depression still haven’t convinced me that this IS the end of the world, just that it might be, which is no different to what they’ve been doing for years.  With all the hatred in the world right now, the coronavirus, riots, terrorist attacks, I thought I’d be in pieces, but actually, I feel quite liberated.   I’ve always feared dying and missing out, selfish I know, but the way it’s all going, and if I did listen to Crow, we’ll all be clocking off around the same time anyway.

“Picture a blinding white light or the world will implode,” says Crow.

“I can’t stop this,” I reply.  “Prefer to hang on for as long as possible, because I don’t want to miss the show.  Why kill myself when there’s enough stuff out there that wants to do it for me?”

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want the world to end.  I’ve got nieces and nephews and I really don’t want Liverpool to be the last ever Premier League champions.  But let’s face it, viruses mutate, hatred hasn’t gone away since cavemen began battering each other’s skulls with stones and tree branches, and people on opposite sides of the fence will always struggle to agree to disagree – violence (physical or psychological) looming over heated debate like Nosferatu’s shadow creeping up the stairs.  Throw in religion, politics, the left fist versus the right, and we’re all screwed anyway.

Gladys and Brian next door seem a nice couple but they’re not the ones who’ll be filling their pockets with spoils from a home invasion.  Although, when the sh*t hits the fan, and the only food in town is a tin of spam under your mattress, Brian may pay an impromptu visit after all.

“You taking up baseball, Bria—-” THWACK!

There are clouds in the sky, regardless of COVID-19.  I feel sad for what has happened, what IS happening, but can’t seem to find the tears these days.  The show has been emotional to say the least, but there comes a time when you have to turn off the TV and go to bed.  I imagine walking around the tooth factory as all my woes and worries spill off the conveyor belt.  Uncle Jack reaches for the broom but I tell him to leave everything where it is.

“Haven’t you learned anything?”  I ask him.  “The more intrusive thoughts I have, the more chance I’ll be able to ignore them!”

I try to explain, tell him to imagine an 80’s action film where the assailants come at our hero one at a time.  The protagonist fights them as they appear in front of his fists.  Now imagine an infinite line of attackers.  One goes down, another takes its place, forever and ever amen.  So what should Chuck Norris do?  If Chuck keeps fighting them one at a time, he’ll be here for a hundred years.  Chuck finally turns his back, and realises that the kung fu extras aren’t real ninjas after all, they can’t hurt him, and maybe he’ll get used to the aggressors cartwheeling over his head.

“It’s just gnashing teeth,” I say.

Uncle Jack stares at me blankly, shakes his head and bursts out laughing.  “You’re a strange one,” he says, but leaves the broom in the corner of the room, kicking an intrusive thought like a football, sending it crashing into a pile of OCD false memories.

Other than a coronavirus-related disappointment that led to a small meltdown last week, and the usual thoughts of hanging myself, these last months have merged with all the others.  And due to my repetitive thinking, I’m used to staring at walls.

LEECHES

It’s 2020 and some people still think mental health issues are something that you can turn off at a switch.  Apparently, if you can’t stick a plaster on it, or it doesn’t show up on an x-ray, you should just ignore it and get on with your life.  Reminds me of medieval times, with a doctor telling a patient to put a leech on their gangrenous arm.

Other than on this blog I don’t talk about my illness much.  Firstly, because I don’t want to bore people with my problems, and secondly, I don’t want to bore people with my problems.  This can come back to bite me, as people think I’m OK, so I should join the rest of the human race and get a job in a supermarket and rent a house and have children and blah blah blah.  Same with people who knew I had issues in the past.  “You don’t talk about your gangrene any more, so I thought it had gone.”

Nope, it’s still eating me alive, thanks.

The other day, while twisting my beard hair out, ruminating over the inane, I wondered what certain people would say if they could peer inside my head and see my inner struggle.  Some of them may correctly compare it to a rat gnawing on my brain, excreting my thoughts in black poisoned pellets, while others might say I should just stop thinking about it – and I know there would be a few sniggering at the back of the class.

If I invited everyone I know into a room, and played my thoughts on a large TV screen, what would they think of me?  How would they react to the ridiculous scenarios playing out on the fifty inch screen in the middle of the room.  To be fair, tickets to this personal screening would have one proviso.  That when the show was over, I’d get to watch what plays out daily in their own heads.  I imagine people handing their tickets back, mumbling excuses under their breath.  “Don’t like the small print, Yan.”  Everyone’s got demons.  Mine just has a name.

The world spins in space as the universe expands around us, but there is another world within us  – a place that nobody else can see. We can shut our eyes to what’s around us, but it’s impossible to avoid the demons that eat us from the inside.  So no, I can’t just ignore my OCD and no, there is no off button to the despair that swims in my stomach like a shark in shallow water.  Telling me the bag of iron filings on my shoulder is full of feathers really doesn’t help either, but not as much as telling me there’s no bag at all.

“Cheer up, it may never happen.”  But it is happening, over and over in my head.  Of course, the guy in the post office doesn’t know that behind my eyes I’m wrestling a grizzly bear, or avoiding reflections of women with snakes in her hair.  It’s not the NOT knowing, it’s the knowing and thinking it can be overcome with a stiff upper lip and a positive attitude, sacrificing chickens in a pentagram.

“They either don’t know I’m here,” whispers Crow.  “Or they think being eaten alive by a shark is somehow worse than being eaten alive by a bird.”

“It’s win win for us,” says the Crimson knight, sharpening his axe on a whetstone.

“And it takes longer,” says Uncle Jack, squeezing a mop in a bucket of brown water.

I’m venting my frustration I suppose, feeling sorry for myself because I had a bad night.  But I don’t want sympathy, I just want the dabblers in frontier medicine to keep those leeches out of my face.

 

The Magical Thinking Roundabout

I’m a cynical person.  Skeptical of anything the cold blade of science cannot dissect.  I’m an atheist, a…

“What about the Blinding?” asks Crow, and I shake a fist at that black ball of feathers.  “You use a blinding white light like a full stop to finish your thoughts.”

“And my reflection, of course?” says the gorgon in the mirror.  “I still catch you avoiding shadows in reflective surfaces.”

“Faces in photographs, ” says Uncle Jack.  “Sometimes you have to look at them until it ‘feels right,’ if not you think those people may die as a result.”

“Remember the first gulf war?” shouts Crow.  “The rituals you performed with the shadows on the wall.  If you didn’t avoid them with your eyes, you thought Saddam Hussein was going to roll into town with his Elite Republican Guard.”

OK, so it’s not easy to dismiss magical thinking.

“What about the AIDS epidemic. You thought you’d contract it unless—“

“But I believed in God in those days!”  I retaliate.  “Or at least, I didn’t NOT believe in Him!”

“But you didn’t pray.  You touched your forehead and counted to odd numbers, but not thirteen, and how many times did you go back and forth through that f*cking living room door?”

OK, I suffer from magical thinking OCD and it frustrates me to the bone because I don’t believe it for a second, but… my cynicism gets lost in the corridors of my mind, with all those dead ends, crossed wires and doubts that multiply and multiply again.  There’s a tiny part of me that thinks maybe, just maybe, a billion to one that I control the destiny of people I’ve never met before.  And that’s enough to send me spiralling into oblivion.  A tiny, niggling itch, a drop of acid dripped onto the roof of a skyscraper, eating through a thousand stories.  With all this magical thinking I should have joined the church.

ERP can help, piling more goods onto the conveyor belt at the tooth factory.  Look at all the products falling onto the floor.  I could have stopped the war in Syria, but the troubles in Oman, North Korea, that’s just ridiculous.  A crow swoops from the ceiling and grabs a thought from the growing pile, which wriggles like a worm in its black beak.  Off it flies, into the rafters, saving it for another day.

“For when it’s quieter in here, ” he’d probably say, if he was real and not my OCD avatar.

However absurd a thought sounds, an OCD brain struggles to make it disappear, dissecting it before it can toss it into the bin.  A non OCD brain would mark it as spam and send similar notions directly into the trash folder.  Unfortunately I take every thought on individual merit.  Reasoning that attempting to stop Saddam Hussein’s tanks with rituals was obviously my OCD, but Kim Jong-un’s rockets, that’s another matter altogether.  If I avoid those shadows on the wall, maybe, if we’re lucky, he won’t hit Seoul with a chemical warhead after all.

You may think it sounds silly, that such thoughts should be easy to dismiss, but to some, a fear of spiders is just as nonsensical, but try telling that to an arachnophobic with a spider on their head.  Or dangle someone with a fear of heights from a helicopter and try to convince them they’re being ridiculous.

I’m getting better managing my magical thinking but if I’m honest, sometimes a few fantastical notions get through, paralysing me with fear in front of the mirror as the shadows turn to cancerous tumours.  Have I deluded myself that I can cure COVID-19?  Not yet, but don’t let that worry medical science, I’m sure I could destroy the virus if I count backwards from two thousand and twenty.

“F*ck sake, Crow.  That’ll take me all day!”

“A small price to save humankind!”  he sneers, and yes, if I had the magical powers he says I possess, he’d be right.

Luckily, today, I know it’s OCD.

ALL MOUTH AND VIOLINS

COVID-19 and mental health don’t integrate well.  Then again, what does get along with a coronavirus?  These are terrible times, and life was hard enough before the pandemic.  Death is all over the news these days and the thought of not being here anymore can be terrifying because it’s impossible for the human brain to perceive the details.  Even the religious can’t comprehend what it means.  As an atheist, accepting not being here is the obvious end but still no easier to imagine.  Not existing forever and ever, until the end of time and beyond, can be a depressing concept, which is not what any of us need right now.

The easiest way for me to visualise death is to imagine the year 1446.  I wasn’t around so I have no recollection.  I didn’t exist – I suppose I was outside of the universe.  I believe death will be like that.  I don’t believe there is a master plan.  No paradise in the sky.  And everyone alive today probably won’t be in a hundred and fifty years time, so what’s the big fuss?  Because the odds of life are so astronomically against us in the first place that I don’t want to throw it all away.  And there’s those I would leave behind of course.  The poor souls that have to pick up the pieces.

For the last seventeen years I’ve either been backpacking or house sitting.  That’s obviously been put on hold for the foreseeable future and it’s started to sink in that I don’t actually know what else I can do.   Continuing forward terrifies me at this moment in time.  And stronger people than me have killed themselves.  I could swallow medicine three times a day and become a husk of a person lying on a couch but that also destroys me, just in a different way.  Medication reaches into my head and turns the lights off.  And even now, as a gruesome image sits heavy in my mind, I discard the option until another day.

“How about the ultimate goodbye?” suggests Crow.  But for me, suicide is a mountain shimmering in a heat haze on the horizon, a hundred miles away in the wrong direction.  I stop and stare at it sometimes, but essentially I try to use it as OCD prevention, a holstered gun on a cop’s hip. 

It’s like when people say, “I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do that.  Next year, when I’m ready, I’m gonna blah blah blah…”

I hope it’s an empty threat.  I suppose it makes me feel a little better, peering into my eyes, searching out the demons, threatening to blow the OCD from my brain.  Uncle Jack might say that actions speak louder than words.  But sometimes I’ve been known to act on a manic idea.  Like when I told people I was going to backpack around the world all those years ago; I don’t think anyone believed me until I emailed them from Toronto.

“You didn’t have another viable option!” says Uncle Jack.  “”The paint factory was killing you, how would getting on a plane be any worse?  It’s not quite so bad today.”

That crazy idea saved my life, and although the OCD and depression came with me, at least I didn’t have to wake up at six thirty and cycle to work with the Devil on my back.

But I’d done what I said I would.  I’d made the break.  Since that flight from Heathrow (or was it Gatwick?) I’ve tried to keep my promises to myself, however impossible OCD tries to make it.  Yesterday, when I found myself staring into the mirror, I compared my OCD battle to how I felt during the first few weeks of that curious adventure.  Trust me, OCD makes catching a bus in Tijuana a walk in the park.

Fear of the unknown still played a massive part in those early days but OCD cast a darker shadow.  I recall a particular shabby hotel in a coastal Mexican town.  “Be careful in there,” said a middle aged American man as a friend and I entered through the battered front doors.

“Why?  What do you mean?”

OCD didn’t give me time to fret, head already full of Crow’s b*llshit, body collapsing onto the uneven mattress as soon as I entered the threadbare room.  The three Mexican men arguing aggressively outside the door lost in a swirl of dust as I pondered a three year old obsession.  My roommate wedged a table against the door, and when we woke up in the early evening, we headed to the nearest tienda to buy ourselves some beer.  He wanted to party, I wanted help to get back to sleep.

That night, thinking of what I’d left behind in the UK made me wistful.  I’d sold my house, left my job, my family and friends, all just to be here, sleeping on a filthy bed among crushed cans of Tecate and cigarette burns on the wall.  I fantasised about pouring burning cooking oil on my arms – that way I’d have an excuse to return home without destroying my pride.  The next time I went to the store, I bought a bottle of sunflower oil.

 “I’ll do it tomorrow when I cook breakfast,” I whispered to a cockroach on the wall.  That night I was stopped by the police for being drunk and disorderly on my way home from a bar.  The policeman searched my wallet for a few pesos but came up short – I’d exchanged them for alcohol with the miserable barman who wasn’t interested in which football team I followed or how England fared in the last world cup.  The policemen took pity on me as I explained in slurred English that I’d only had a few beers, a couple of shots of tequila – or maybe they didn’t want to fill out the paperwork.  Either way, they allowed me to stumble home, falling asleep on the lumpy mattress, dreaming about Tijuana, when two cops had given my friend and I a lift to the nearest bus station in their squad car.  We had wandered lost in that bustling city, and they’d been good enough to give us a ride to where we needed to be.  And to think I’d been warned how corrupt the Mexican police were.  By people who had never been there, of course.

When I woke up I was surprisingly happy, and I vowed to burn my arms the following day.

Thankfully, it was all mouth and violins.  Just something to say to get me through each day.  When I tell Crow I’m going to kill myself, I hope I don’t mean it.  I’m simply highlighting the extreme, like in Mexico, convincing myself that I’ll sort things out tomorrow.  Suicide is the final move, like pushing the red button to start a nuclear strike.  You do it if there’s nothing else you can do, nowhere else to go, but sometimes you have to hover your finger over the button to remind a rogue state what your potential is.

So yes, Crow, I’m going to kill myself tomorrow.

But as we all know, tomorrow never comes…

I CRY FOR HELP BUT SHE’S IN SPACE…

OK, so this Coronavirus thing is starting to hit home.  Crow, my OCDemon, has finally seen what it can do with the situation.  How he can twist it into a crude weapon and knock me over the head with it.  I’m trying not to think too much about the various possibilities, or lack of them, losing myself in other misery.  And I was, until the kidney stone passed into my bladder – although I’m still waiting to hear it plop into the lavatory bowl.  Meanwhile, the fear of COVID-19 has grown into a reasonably sized monster. And quarantine isn’t helping. I imagine Crow painting all my windows black, locking the doors and swallowing the house keys.  I cry for help, but she’s in space.

“This is it, Yan.  From now on it’s all there’ll ever be.  Other than the riots of course!” Trust Crow to twist the knife while it’s sticking out of my leg.

While I’m in the supermarket I don’t worry about the potential chaos, although I’m ashamed to say that the day before I go, I entertain Crow squawking on about what will happen in aisle three like he actually possesses precognitive abilities, bending spoons and reading minds in a circus tent.

“You’ll stand too close to someone, and that someone will be on edge, no sleep for a week and ready to blow.  Your close proximity will be the straw that shatters the camel’s back. He’ll punch you in the face and you’ll fall and crack your head.  I don’t think you’ll ever walk again. Imagine Little One’s face as your blood pools onto the supermarket floor!”

Depression sneaks into my day like a black gas.  Insidious, and smelling of rotten eggs. So what can I do about it?  Keep trucking. Keep telling my OCD to f**k off. Keep getting as much sunlight as possible.  Continue to live and take each day as it appears over the horizon. Yes, it could be better, but it could be a Hell of a lot worse.  I could be fighting marauding armies on a medieval battlefield. Cut in half, bleeding out as the town walls are breached. Or fighting in trenches, choking on mustard gas.  I could be a dog in a cage, starved of love and food, dying in my own faeces. I could be in a million other dark places, gagging on a cocktail of bleach and other household cleaners.  So I remind myself, and Crow, and try to make the best of being stuck in the house each day. I have Little One, and books, and the internet, and my freelance work and food in the fridge.  We don’t know what’s coming our way, but we will do soon. As each day passes we know what we’ve survived, as each day begins, we feel what it brings as we walk along the path. It’s tough on us all.

I cry for help, but she’s in space.  As she always is. As she always was.  Nothing’s changed. Stay safe…

TELEPATHIC SHARKS

As Coronovirus sweeps across the globe I was expecting to be a gibbering wreck by now, barricaded in an underground shelter, whittling crude spears from fallen tree branches to hunt mutant rabbits as the world collapsed around me.  I thought my OCD would be clocking into the tooth factory early, putting in overtime, convincing me that every little twinge in my body was the start of the virus which would mutate in my blood and kill me on the spot. Remembering when AIDS jumped out of its box in the 1980’s – I was sure I’d contracted the disease by sharing a can of coke in the school playground.

OCD has never urged me to wash my hands compulsively.  I fear disease, almost every day I convince myself I have an incurable illness of some sort, but contamination through germs on dirty door handles has never been an issue for me.  Covid-19 hasn’t changed that.  I’ve been worrying about my family of course, trying not to let my OCD twist the facts, batting images out of my head, knocking tennis balls over the garden wall – swatting flies again, like most days.  As for worrying about contracting the virus myself, my head has been more interested in mutating ten year old conversations that I’m not sure ever happened in the first place.  Funny what OCD focuses on, how it grabs hold and doesn’t let go.  Why fret about becoming a deadly pandemic statistic when I can spend my time worrying about fake memories and irrelevant shopping lists instead.  Although I have been worrying about other illnesses.  Cancer and sepsis.  I’ve had kidney pain, and am currently on antibiotics, and Crow has strapped a few of his grim opinions to those bouncing tennis balls.  “Your body is shutting down! Your organs are going to explode!  Why worry about Covid-19 when your arteries are pumping poison into your heart!” etc etc…

We made it back from Southport, but the current situation forced us to return early from a job in Leamington Spa.  We believe we’ll also be aborting a planned house-sit in New Mexico in June. That’s almost guaranteed. We were going back on a plane again, promising ourselves that it would be different from our other international jaunts, less shabby backpack, more suitcase on wheels.  We agreed that sleeping on train station floors would be prohibited, same rules for supermarket car parks, and beneath shelves of engine oil in South African petrol stations of course.

We spent a night in London to get an early start for our interview at the U.S embassy, and were delighted when we were approved for a six month visa.  We began searching for flights but quickly turned away to face the wall as airports across the globe began to close. We’d been so close to being on the interstate, we could almost taste the asphalt.  Of course, we can’t complain, the entire world is suffering head-shots and ricochets from this damned virus.    

“But why run away again?” asked Uncle Jack, wizened features shimmering in my memory.  

The weather is a lot nicer in New Mexico than it is in the U.K – walking a dog is more pleasurable in the sunshine.  It could be as simple as that. Anyway, the virus eating the world seems to have stopped it spinning, and here we all are in quarantine, with time on our hands to reflect on the universe and beyond – which is not so good for someone with OCD.  Sitting in a box, day after day, chewing my fingernails wondering what is happening to the world.  Who am I? Who the f**k is Alice? Who are all those toilet-roll panic buyers at the supermarket? It appears the monsters in our closets may have been us all along. I continued with my self assessment…

I was a pillock at school, and for the first few years of unemployment and work, I continued to fit snugly into this bracket, too afraid to make a serious challenge for anything other than the next stupid prank, sauntering along the path hurling cream pies at my own face, laughing like a maniac so people wouldn’t hear me scream.  High on horseplay and high jinks, I suppose. A case could certainly be put forward that I’m still a pillock. Looking back I blame OCD, but it doesn’t matter why I was the person I was, just that I was that person. No excuses, just a cold hard fact, like a ship crumpling into an iceberg. Who put that there? Was the captain drunk?  It doesn’t really matter, just lower the f**king lifeboats before we all drown.

Who am I now?  Like quantum mechanics it all depends where you’re standing – who am I pretending to be?  What’s my environment? What do I need to do to survive until bedtime?  And do any of us know who we really are?  And does it really matter? I remember a conversation with Uncle Jack while cleaning spilled paint off the factory floor.

“If you could choose a superpower, what would it be?” I asked.

“I’d like the ability to get into someone else’s head and read their thoughts, because then I’d know everything!”  He grumbled, rinsing his mop in the plastic bucket.

I told him I’d choose invisibility, but was secretly impressed with the answer he’d given me.  

One thing I’m certain of is our anxieties would be similar.  If any of us fell into shark infested waters, surely the fear of being eaten alive would be identical?

“Same same but different,” someone once said to me in Thailand.  I even bought the t-shirt.

But who the f**k is Alice?

She’s me, and I’m you, and I don’t care if the man on the pub door is built like an M1 Abrams tank, I’m certain he doesn’t want to be eaten alive by that razor toothed shark.  Nobody wants Covid-19. Our anxieties may be similar, it’s just how we handle them, if we can handle them at all. So does it really matter who we are? Not really. Just try not to hurt anybody else as you go about your business and surely, by default, that already makes you a decent human being.  I don’t know who Alice is, but so long as she’s living her life as best she can, and not stealing all the toilet rolls, I really don’t care.

My advice for the anxious like me?  Wash your hands before you bite your fingernails.

And stay safe!