Harm OCD – Hell Is A Chainsaw

Chainsaws make me tense.  I generally keep well away from anything with rotating metal teeth.  However, volunteering on farms around the world has occasionally seen me in situations where I’ve needed to use one.

“You could push your fingers into the whirring blade,” my OCD would suggest, sniggering like a jiggling bag of razorblades. “What if you slipped and lopped your leg off?  And watch out for kickback.  Imagine Little One finding you cold and dead in a puddle of blood and bone.  You could always grind those blades into her back, then cut your host’s head off!”

In South Africa I used a chugging petrol behemoth of a chainsaw.  That night I struggled with violent images that refused to leave my head until lunchtime the following day.  I vowed to never use a chainsaw again.  Then I found myself in New Mexico, volunteering for a job that required cutting heavy wood.  Those intrusive thoughts came at me all over again.  I promised myself that this was definitely the last time.  So far I’ve kept my word, refusing to use a chainsaw on two other occasions.  Fortunately, I’m writing to pay the bills these days, and a chainsaw is pretty redundant for that type of work, unless I’m sharpening a particularly gnarly pencil.

I struggled handling knives too.  One night, several years ago, I woke up in the kitchen looking through the cutlery drawer.  I was a teenager and for years afterwards I feared I’d wake up early one morning sinking a kitchen knife into my parents sleeping bodies.  Would even avoid steak in restaurants because I didn’t like handling the serrated blade, the face of my OCD screaming hell in my ear,  “Cut a hole in someone’s face, you evil little cunt!”

These days I cut food with only a fleeting fear that I’ll plunge the knife into somebody’s guts.  But I’ll never forget the wasted days wrestling those terrible anxieties, images on a loop, picking up more dark passengers as they raced around the track, keeping me occupied while life waved at me through the window.  Now, on a good day, when the images dance before me, I’m able to blow them away within a few minutes, blinking them out of existence before continuing to prepare my cucumber sandwich.  Gone in 60 seconds, if I’m lucky.  But I admit, when I’m struggling, it takes a lot longer than that, and even now, I sometimes go to bed ruminating over potential bloodbaths.

As I’ve said before, it’s not just violence against myself or the people I love, that I fear.  I’ll be watching TV in the lounge and my OCD will nonchalantly remind me that I could throw a plate through the window.  Yep, even ceramics can be a trigger for me. My OCD wants me to say hurtful things too. Breaks my heart every time I hear my inner voice spouting all the potential poison I could whisper or yell at the ones I love.

Little One and I are looking after a couple of donkeys and a handful of other animals at the moment.  Again, no need for chainsaws.  There are two wood burners but fortunately our hosts have already carved the firewood into neat wedges, suggesting they used an axe before they flew to South Africa on business – who knows, maybe afraid they’d turn the chainsaw on the donkeys themselves.

I’m not seeing a specialist at the moment for my OCD, and came off medication years ago.  But I remember what I’m supposed to do, and what I’m NOT supposed to do. Realising long ago that I wouldn’t get far in life if I avoided every potential trigger. Bread knives and broken glass being just two of them. It certainly wasn’t easy exposing myself to all those sharp edges but I did it.  Chainsaws however are a different issue. Because I’ve never been trained to use one, I feel that avoiding them seems the sensible thing to do.

Besides, we’ve enough firewood to see us through three winters if we were to need it, and anyway, there’s always the central heating.

An Itch In The Back Of My Eyes – Backpacking with OCD

It wasn’t until the government said I couldn’t fly out of the country that I realised that I wanted to travel again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m done with twenty-four hour night buses and concrete train station floors, quotes about the journey being better than the destination don’t really work when your seat is down-breeze from the night-bus toilet, and surely it all depends on where your final destination is, and what you do when you get there. However, I do miss the buzz from visiting unfamiliar lands.
Last week I was looking on Facebook for an old photo. I hadn’t used that site for years, and scrolling down my travel albums I felt a pang of sadness. Why on earth did I stop travelling? I quickly remembered the OCD induced breakdowns on foreign soil, the fear of ending up on a cold police station floor miles from home, and knew that I was romanticising all those Facebook memories. The reality wasn’t like I’d told my family and friends. Yes, I had great adventures, but I’d struggled too, and needed a break from trying not to fling myself onto Eastern European train tracks.
I’ve missed a few travel opportunities too, due to my OCD, although not many. Sri Lanka sticks its hand up and coughs at the back of the room. To be fair, when I was in India and had the chance to go, the Tamil Tigers were still causing trouble with their AK47’s. But the real reason I didn’t book a ticket to the Island of Dharma was because my OCD was rampant and causing me great distress. At the time, I found I could barely get out of bed to eat, let alone make it to the airport to fly to another country. Of course, I should have gone, but I was travelling on my own at that point, so I had nobody to encourage me over the hot coals.

Looking at the pictures on Facebook, for an instant I had almost convinced myself that a backpacking life was the perfect existence for me, but as I remembered some of the thoughts buzzing around my head on those travels, the truth grabbed me around the ankles like a zombie hand from a shallow grave. Intrusive thoughts had eaten me from the inside out, I mused. And how those niggling doubts grew into an army of city smashing lizard-monsters. I recalled crying in frustration at my OCD in Ecuador, and felt a historic attack bubbling up in a shadowy room at the back of my mind.
“It can be discomforting to remember where I’ve been,” I said to Little One.
She knows this, as we barely reminisce about our past adventures, but she gave me a hug anyway.
We prefer to discuss where we’ll go next, and yesterday we came up with ideas like a holiday in the Galapagos Islands, or even a Scandinavian cruise to see the Northern Lights.
“It won’t be travelling like before,” I said.
“Good,” she said, and I remembered a lot of unnecessary stress I’d put her through – the countries we’d visited and how I was when we got there. Luckily, for me, she’s never been a big beach-holiday fan, much preferring the dark tourism routes we usually take – Chernobyl, the killing fields in Cambodia, the genocide museums in Armenia and Rwanda, the atomic trail from White Sands, New Mexico, to Hiroshima, Japan.
“You’re really showing her a good time,” croaked Crow, somewhat sarcastically.
“No more Gulags,” I said. “Lets see some fucking mountains, maybe stay at a nice hotel instead of the cheapest hostel in town.” To be fair, we’d already started to do the guest house thing. It may cost have cost an extra pound or two, but keeping my sanity in faraway lands was a price I finally decided I was willing to pay.
Whether we actually go again or decide to stay in the UK depends on whether we’re allowed to leave the country any time soon (COVID restrictions, nothing sinister,) and also, it has to feel like the right thing to do (not easy for somebody suffering with OCD.) And we still have a six month US visa to use. Over the last couple of years we’ve been freelance writing. I’m writing stories for a YouTube channel and Little One is running several businesses’ social media accounts – also teaching English and writing websites (she’s the academic of the partnership,) so wherever we go, we need online access. We’ve been house-sitting too and a strong WiFi signal is our only requirement. We’re currently in Suffolk, looking after two donkeys, two dogs, two goats and two chickens. “Like Noah and his Ark,” said a friend recently. I looked to the heavens, the clouds so dark they could almost rain for forty days.

We’ve got to walk the dogs now, and yes, it’s still pouring with rain. With the new UK lockdown I think there’s going to be a lot of weeks to make plans. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to execute them this time.
Good luck to everybody out there.

WHO DO WE THINK WE ARE?

I’ve lost time to Existential OCD in the past, but not for a while.  However, last night, after thinking up a couple of story ideas for work, my mind began to dwell on more philosophical affairs. Little One and I had returned to Norfolk, after finishing a house-sit in Greater Manchester, and on our first night back I was already struggling with the universe. Am I really the person who I think I am? Or am I the person who OTHERS think I am?  Will my legacy be something that I’ve strived for, or something that I’ve always feared?  Who will write my eulogy?  A family member or an old friend? Would I agree with what they had to say?  And which friend or family member would it be?  Does my uncle know me like my cousin does?

Surely we’ve all been different people down the years? If someone who only knew me at high school wrote my eulogy, it would be very different from someone writing it from a perspective of my late teens, vastly contrasting to who I was in my twenties, a world apart from my mid to late thirties.  And so it goes on.

So who am I?  Ninety-nine percent of people who know me have no idea about my OCD.  Will the guy I connected with in Korea have the same opinion of me as the girl I met in Argentina?

Thank the gods I don’t believe in an afterlife.  If I’m wrong, I have no idea where I’ll end up.  Will there be different versions of me on separate planes?  I know a Yan who probably deserves to scrape shit off the devil’s toes for eternity, but there’s an older version of me who may sneak into the other place through the back door.  And which actions and events would I be judged on?  Does trying to be a better person affect the result?  Surely Saint Peter appreciates mitigating circumstances?  Or will I come back as a maggot or a tapeworm? Cowering behind the banner of mental illness, I hope I’d have a case to avoid the ninth circle, but I don’t make the rules of the universe.

I guess the answers are in the lap of the Gods, or in the mouths of my dearest friends.

Half a second imagining the gates of heaven and I’m already having a panic attack.

I just hope any potential angels have forgotten my early years, and does it really matter who reads my eulogy?  For my surviving family and friends, I guess it does…

Because I was a different person when I was younger.

Or at least I thought I was.

It Wasn’t Funny The First Time

Why did the chicken with OCD cross the road?

Because she thought her family would die if she didn’t.

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 a horror movie.  But as much as that psychotic 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 popped into my head. Could I control my bike with my left hand on the right handlebar and my right on the left? Struggling to keep control of my cycle, I swerved out into the road, a car beeping it’s horn as it sailed by inches from my body.  At the time, I thought I needed to do things in threes or fives, or ironically, I believed I may 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 own home.  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 – 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 instead, (which was one of my 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 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.  Six or seven times I performed this ritual, the girl eventually turning her attention to the floor, avoiding my gaze as I behaved like a defective android from 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 nightclub toilet cubicles 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 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 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, taking the easy option at a famous fast food burger restaurant instead.  “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 window all the time.  Today, I’m laughing at the irony.

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 at lunch-times. “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.

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 choke on 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.