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…