WORM-EATERS

 

When you’ve thrown up in a bucket because a three month long intrusive thought simply WILL NOT go away, advice like, “Just don’t think about it, you’re not trying hard enough,” becomes offensive and provocative, like lashings of a stick across a bare back.

It doesn’t matter what the thought is, violent or silly – (and some are sillier than others), but the one thing they have in common is that they won’t go away. Like a flickering ghost, it remains until you trick it into the light, or until the next fear squashes it underfoot – I imagine monsters falling off a conveyor belt.

Alcohol distorts it, usually for the worse – yes it can numb it, but it can also poke it in the eye and enrage it. C*caine gives you a forged confidence, a cheap weapon to kill it, but it re-animates in the morning, because the sword wasn’t real, and now you’re depressed and in a sinkhole and back to being useless. It can also fuel it, like spraying oil on a fire. My heaviest indulgences in South America often flash back to haunt me – the times I pulled my hair out, and once threw up against a wall in a Bogota hotel because my thoughts became twisting spikes – dangerously active, like a troubled, twitching child sharpening razor blades. I ruined friendships on that continent, all because I was embarrassed to tell those I was with why I was acting like a selfish dog. I don’t touch the stuff anymore.

Weed can calm me, certainly more than gin, but probably because it puts me to sleep, (and I’m already good at that).  It also interrupts my line of thinking, and although that actually helps on one hand, on the other it confuses me to shambles. It offers its best advice at the end of the day, collapsed on my bed, transporting me to those other places.

When I first used LSD at sixteen years of age, (my second drug experience after alcohol), the trip hurled my problems into a washing machine, spinning them so fast they became an elongated blur, the buzz melting my perceptions like marsh mellows in a microwave oven – I called for help but she was lost in space, and that suited me just fine.  But the more acid I dropped, the darker my hallucinogenic experiences became. Visions of loved ones’ funerals were so gruesome and felt so real that I panicked in bathrooms, while downstairs friends skipped over rainbows with tap dancing armadillos – Oh, those long misshapen evenings and the carnage I imagined.
It left me in a bag for days – I was a puddle on the ground, a cigarette butt stamped on the ground. At nineteen I promised never to touch acid again. I’ve kept that promise.

So the drugs don’t work and there is no cure, and so succeeding with a tolerable life takes time and considerable amounts of effort. I’m not advocating drugs nor condemning them. It’s a constant clash of steel on steel, fighting OCD on one flank and depression on the other. The horde is relentless, its number infinite, but to win a battle has its particular rewards, and as I mentioned in my last post, I appreciate the quiet times sometimes with nothing more than a smile. But it feels priceless – SO IT IS PRICELESS.

We made it to Moldova; the journey in a crowded marshukta was on slow roads through flat fields and small scattered towns, the horizon blotted out by a blanket of heavy fog. Although I couldn’t see my surroundings further than the fence at the side of the road, I felt relatively good, happy to be on the move. But the crow is a worm-eater, and worm-eaters pick at the ground. I was reminded of sour times, little jabs of false memories that I worried could turn out to be true; torn banners on old battlefields rustling on sudden gusts of wind – like a mischievous God was blowing them back to life; shadows of worlds I should have left behind, wars I’ve already lost but must fight again in a mind-wracking loop.  The ground may look dead and worthless, but there are worms rotating beneath that grey soil, and therefore worm-eaters picking them to the surface.

I imagined the great field behind the white fog.  And those meek worms turning the soil, the vicious birds digging for their fill. I was the soil AND the sky, the flesh AND the feather – I am the wriggling worm, and I am Crow, the worm-eater.

Another fear rose up like a wave.

‘Oh, F*ck you, Yan, just don’t think about it. You’re not trying hard enough..’

The bus rolled on through squeaking gears, and I clambered off in Chisinau, an austere but interesting capital.

This was a new land, and I thought back to Ukraine with a wry smile.  We had located Little One’s Ukrainian family, and as we drank vodka and ate cake around the table with her Uncle and cousins, Crow pulled on a juicy worm – yet he did not get to eat it because I barked and he scattered like it was a blast from the farmer’s shotgun.

We’d sat and watched the Opera in Lviv, and sometimes my eyes burned and it felt like I was chewing mud, but with gnashing teeth I managed to keep the crow at a tolerable distance, far enough away to enjoy the show.

I’d lumbered through some of these days with forced smiles, surviving ’til dusk, when the bottle caps flipped to the floor and forty per cent of my liquid intake aided in my recovery – but not an amount to poke the bull in the eye.  I’d also lashed out and fought the worm-eater, and gained experience and pleasure among the detritus of battle.  Like a video game villain, Crow the Usurper is king of the hill, but I’ve knocked him about for a few bloody rounds this trip.  It’s been interesting times spent in Eastern Europe so far; especially true of the land I rode out of today – so cheers to Ukraine and all who sail in her – (I’ll be back soon, anyway, because I fly to Belarus from Lviv).  Until then, ‘do pobachennya.’

So now I am in Moldova, with Transnistria on the fog-strewn horizon.  Worm-eaters circle in my smokey skies, one in particular twitching like a nibbling eel.  I form the barrel of a gun with two fingers and aim at his desperate red eyes.  Another three minute round, Crow?

“One more for the road,” I think would be his reply.

Lying b*stard. It’s never just one more…

Advertisements

DEVILS IN GAS MASKS

“Life can be odd,” said the man wiping a gob of yellow paint from his face.  “You can’t get angry, because rules are rules, and the rules state that the world is chaos, bubbling in a glass jar.”  Or something like that.

I had six years in a factory mixing paint and pouring it into plastic bottles.  I looked up to the older man who probably didn’t say this, because inside I was a twitching wreck, and Uncle Jack (as I’ll call him) was calm, even when the industrial machine threw its guts up into his face.  (I later found out that it was a mask he wore, and actually at home he was a cantankerous old b*stard but…)

Odd that my happiest times this trip have been sandwiched between strangers inside a cramped bus on a rain-swept afternoon in Lviv, a tour through the Chernobyl disaster zone and surrounding towns and villages, and an afternoon spent in a Ukrainian village cemetery counting headstones.  In older days, when my OCD was a gunship and my depression a black fog that trailed it, any reprieve was multiplied to such manic proportions that when it came, I went supernova, from a hobbled creature lurking in a corner to a soaring rocket man annoying the skies with my roaring jet pack. Imagine a tin of paint dropped from the top floor of a skyscraper.  It explodes on impact with the ground and tendrils stretch across the immediate world; a tree is splattered in orange paint, a shop window, a passing car.  I wanted to be everywhere, and know everything and everyone.  My parents would never see me like this, but when I was out and Crow free, my confidence conquered a square mile, running on adrenaline; a greyhound released on a coiled spring, tail wagging, tongue slapping on my shoulder.  Drink sometimes gave me the same reprieve, only on these occasions the fireworks were louder still, but with a bigger price to pay. (Gunpowder ain’t cheap.)

These days when I’m free of Crow and his black umbrella, I’m content to celebrate with a deep breath of fresh air, tasting the day and chewing it over.  I’m not past mania, but I’m a little afraid now of where it can take me.

So we took a tour of Chernobyl, and the towns and villages the nuclear disaster in 1986 had forced into non existence.  It was an interesting but rather bleak day. I was expecting it.

Drudging through the evacuated ghost town of Pripyat with the rest of the tour, I found myself lagging, and took several minutes for myself in a ruined room.  Water dripped from the flaking ceiling, a broken chair lay dislocated on the concrete floor beside a single brown shoe, and a gas mask, tactically placed by a tour guide no doubt, dangled eerily from a twisted hook – Everything, from wet concrete walls to burned plastic dolls, looked dead.  So grim and blighted were my surroundings that I prepared for a wave of depression to crush me against the cold floor.  No black tsunami came.

My demons nudged me with their crooked elbows, and breathing in the stale air, I decided to entertain them.  I looked into the smeared glass of a gas mask eye socket, and imagined a long table filled with food in the reflection – They were all there, eating their pie and cake; the Crimson Knight, the symbol of my violent self harm, devouring the apple crumble, stuffing it into his metal face-plate; the temptress Gorgon, my fear, spilling beef broth down her filthy gown; Crow himself, Lord of the entire dance, didn’t even look up from his wooden bowl as he poured hunks of wet meat into his glistening black beak.  A vast array of squabbling diners picked and pecked and pawed at the food.  It reminded me of a phrase I once wrote on a cardboard box, deep in a factory warehouse, many years ago.
‘Watch them, let them feast, but never join them at the table.’  I knew what I meant when I scribbled it in thick black marker pen all those years ago, but only now did I see who it was slobbering over the juicy platter.  It was me, or at least the ghosts of me.
And so I watched them, I let them gorge on barbecued chicken legs and gigantic hocks of roasted ham, lips smacking, knocking over jeweled goblets of red wine.  But I never sat beside them.  Never joined them in their gluttony.  And I never will, because to join them is to drop dead on the ground.

It was Chernobyl, I was expecting them here, everyone on the tour must have felt a personal demon poke a finger or two into their ribs.  But mine were quieter than usual, content almost to share stories with each other across the cluttered table.  Of course I was dodging OCD spikes every few footsteps, but I could see them breaking through the floor, or protruding through walls like slow broken traps in an old Indiana Jones set.  There were grey autumn clouds casting shadows across that ramshackle town, bloated behemoths setting the mood as lethargy thumped in my lungs and my nostrils were filled with the stench of things gone wrong; I saw Devils in gas masks, so bleak and grey and damp to the bones, this should have been a great harvest for that bastard Crow.  Yet I was fine with my desolate surroundings.

Maybe it’s the beautiful places that pull the trigger, because Crow doesn’t want me to be happy and he smells a smile further away than a shark a severed artery.  Maybe it’s the colourful markets in Central America that tempt his malice that little bit more – hiding in wooden crates of those succulent avocado’s and oranges and ripened bananas like a stowaway tarantula. Crow likes to suck away the juicy insides, until a damp husk is all that is left.  When he leaves me a slice of meat, it’s the most succulent morsel of food I’ve ever tasted, or best film I’ve watched in years, or the funniest show, the sweetest treat, the happiest hour of the entire month – so when he’s absent, even if I’m in a trench half filled with water, I remember it as a great occasion.  Every minute without OCD breaking my toes, or depression suffocating me like a hangman’s hood thrown over my face, blows my mind every which way, just like that tin of paint dropped from the top floor of a skyscraper.

It is the ruination of a spectacular day that hurts the most, I guess.  The rancid hut looms ominously, you already know not to sleep on the p*ss-stained mattress, the roaches are already on the wall, there’s nothing that wants to jump out at you that you don’t already know about.  It’s the five star apartment you have to check for bedbugs. So Chernobyl was depressing, but it was meant to be, there were no surprises.

And today, in the cemetery beneath the gun smoke sky, searching for Little One’s Ukrainian family plot, there wasn’t a black feather in sight – but as mourners paid homage with flowers, it just wasn’t the place for celebration.

Forget another trip to Asia or South America, I could have stayed in that graveyard forever if it meant peace like this – and I suppose it will one day.

It’s an odd world indeed, Uncle Jack. An odd world indeed.

UTOPIA UNHINGED

It’s all a matter of perspective. The glass is either half empty, or half full, or bubbling over with hydrochloric acid, about to topple over into your lap.

The woods are beautiful from a distance, but woe betide those who venture inside its tangled mouth. There are wolves lurking, and snakes slithering, and Screamin’ Jean, the witch who eats children, dancing naked in the thicket. I’m travelling the world, Little One by my side, money in our pockets, adventure never further than a bus ride away – we’ve dived with sharks, boarded down active volcanoes, jumped out of aeroplanes, but even on those days, (Jaws’ sister chewing on my heels as I tumbled through clouds,) I was in space, worrying over the ridiculous, unable to do much of anything else.

The ferry to Odessa was cancelled and so we flew instead. I smiled because Crow had been heckling me over my inadequate swimming abilities. “You swim like a giraffe. If the boat goes down, you’ll go down with her, and I’ll meet you at the bottom,” he promised.
“But I can’t fly either,” I said, and chased him away with a flick of my plane ticket.

I’m grateful that I’m here, and I don’t want to sob in front of violins scratching out somber tunes, because I’m not yet flirting at death’s door in a hospital for the terminally ill, and I can saunter at my own pace, hands untied, across the plains quite freely. I don’t know what my next meal will be but I know that it’s coming, and it’ll probably be Borscht soup.

I sit inside a great theatre, a sparkling chandelier sprinkles its light upon a mesmerised crowd. On the centre stage a man with flowing white hair works a grand piano, fingers dancing fiercely upon the ivories, humbling the congregation with his melodic skills, making them useless as they fall in love again – all slack-jawed and corkscrew-eyed, squirming in his hands. But to some his music becomes the trigger of a gun, and my thoughts spiral downward to the gutter and brown. I’ve taken a sideways step, a shimmy to my left, and suddenly there’s a monster with rabies banging piano keys in a crumbling hall. Water splashes at my feet, and I’m dragged thirteen fathoms beneath the floorboards – but man, could that guy play.

I was born into a loving family, in a small town in England, and never went without a meal, never got a smack across the back of the legs for messing around with things I shouldn’t, never sent to clean chimneys or break stones in child labour camps. I had everything a child could ask for, and more. I was a rabbit gifted a field of carrots – no predator for a hundred acres.

It’s the angle you look at things I guess, and I promise that I try as hard as I can to see the positive in things, it’s just that I see the negative too – and it’s impossible to get the ink out of the water once it’s been tainted.
And sometimes things ARE pretty sh*t. From a distance a village looks quaint in the cleavage of a green valley. It isn’t until you get up close and enter a house, open the cupboard that the handle falls off in your hand. Or you put your ear to the wall and realise there are insects scuttling behind the plasterboard, maybe the river that runs through the centre of town is riddled with parasites, and squinting your eyes you see the dead man swinging from a noose beneath the bridge that spans it. I’m well aware there are worse places, more dangerous and far filthier, with bloodier eyes to look through, but I can only describe what I see through mine.

Yet I know that I am lucky, because I’m not scrambling five miles across cracked, sun-bleached earth for drinking water every day, and although I left school early, without furthering my education, I still learned how to read and write. I was never molested by a drunk uncle or beaten in a filthy room by secret police. I couldn’t have been further from poverty or famine or war-torn lands. I always had shade from the sun, and shelter from the pouring rain, and I grimace in gut-wrenching empathy when I think of those who are in these dire predicaments AND suffering from a mental illness. It must be the ground floor of hell, the boiler room in the devils basement, and I shudder when I try to imagine it. What would the crow have left of me if I had been abused and fed such scraps? I’m red with guilt at the ease with which I buy bread and fresh water, and still complain that I’m not f*****g happy. Because it doesn’t make that manic crow fly any higher, fails to silence his shrieking threats of violence and paranoia. I still get depressed and have harmful thoughts and worry when I hear certain words, and succumb to false memories and tic and obsess and feel compelled to ritualise and imagine the blinding white light that cures all – and everything else just as ridiculous to write down or say aloud that I know my sense cannot convince my brain is harmless and untrue. Its not just my OCD, I get jealous and envious far too easy, I HATE to be copied, and although they say it’s a compliment, I grow fangs and get psychotic and Crow would make me follow a man to the end of the world to pull his teeth out if it went too far.

But however much I moan and slump and drift in ashes, please don’t ever think I don’t know how lucky I am. I appreciate the love I’ve been given, the amount of precious time certain people have invested in me, and the helping hands that have pulled me up mountains.

Punch

I didn’t see the punch, I just felt a jolt and then I was inside a cavernous dome, ears ringing, head cut off from the rest of my body. Or maybe my head was in a fish-tank, water rushing into my ears, eyes blinking, vision blurring; was that a goldfish swimming past me? I distinctly remember swaying, as my body caught up with the power of the right cross, and then I was on the floor, blood spilling down my chin.

That was over fifteen years ago, inebriated after a night out, when my inside had burst out of my skin, like a clenched fist through wet paper. I’d spent all day ruminating on a single intrusive thought, and then I’d drank the evening into oblivion, gaining brief respite as I drowned the crow in a barrel of beer, topped with vodka chasers and cheap red wine. In the fresh air, on my way home, like many drunks, I began to contemplate my life story, and feeling melancholy, angry with the direction it was heading, becoming bitterly savage with my OCD, I lost my reason in a sea of red-mist. Hatred stirred in my belly and my outside, that smiling loon, that gormless joking fool, didn’t simply leave the building, the rotting, self loathing Yan kicked him off the roof.

My inside now had control, and I was resentful and screaming and deserved that hammer punch, and many more besides. As the man whose fist had split my bottom lip in two calmly walked away, I remember hauling myself to my feet while complimenting him on such a perfectly delivered right hand cross. I knew I’d been an arse; I realised that my frustrations at wasting another day, ruminating my life away, had simply broken through the surface of the water and smashed into the hull of an iron battleship. Yet I’d relearned that same valuable lesson for the thousandth time, (which I’d forgotten by morning light) – mental illness and copious amounts of alcohol don’t mix; someones always going to get hurt, and thankfully it was usually me.

My OCD is not the worlds problem, it’s mine, and I never could fight but I could certainly get hit, and did, and got black eyes and bloody lips and bruised ribs and worse of all, a damaged ego as I faced individuals the following day. I still beat myself up inside, every day, fantasizing that crude weapons are smashing into my body parts – like recently, on a bus travelling to the next city in Georgia. I was looking out of the window as we pulled out of Gori, Joseph Stalin’s home town. Without provocation a three year old spike pierced my thoughts, terror curling in my stomach like a finger on a trigger; I grew hot, I worried unnecessarily, fear, sorrow and bitterness splashing around inside of me like eels in a bucket.

But I smiled at the old woman beside me, I thanked the man in the seat in front when he bought me a cold cola, laughed like an hysterical hyena at a shitty joke when all I wanted to do was scream so loud that it burst my eardrums. I imagined shattering the bus windows, from the back row to the windshield, as I shrieked like a banshee who’d stubbed her gangrened toe on a rock – I watched in my minds-eye as the passengers were drenched in tiny glass fragments, Luciano Pavarotti singing the Marriage of Figaro as they dived for cover in classic Hollywood style slow motion, and a knight in crimson armour, with a red crow emblazoned on his shield, materialized into existence beside me, clobbering a heavy mace across the back of my head with all his might. Frustration yelled its name in my face…but I waved at the young boy peering over his seat like my only thoughts were flowers blowing in the breeze.

I’ve been told to wear my heart on my sleeve; to be honest and open about my illness. But i really don’t think the passengers on the bus wanted to see me cry. It would have been an awkward experience for us all. So I kept my inside in, lurking in the swamp as deep as I could send it; and painted my face with a beaming smile like a f*cking LSD rainbow whenever someone looked my way.

Many on the fringe who think they know me believe I’m having a great time out here; carefree and effervescent, a million miles from harmful thoughts and bouts of depression. And of course I do enjoy myself, even without getting drunk like when I first went away, staring at the bottom of a shot glass until Crow was blind and staggering and harmless unless the music stopped and I began to think of what he was doing to me – then of course my inside popped its head over the fence and met with a flying fist. But even now it’s certainly no bunch of roses, and if life IS a box of chocolates, there’s a lot of praline truffles in there. And they make me gag.

Note to Mum and Dad; Of course it’s debilitating, but believe me, looking at it relatively, these days it’s not like it was – in comparison it’s like having a runny nose instead of pneumonia – snot on my sleeve instead of phlegm on my lungs.
I’m out of the factories and running, something I’d never have been able to do all those years ago.

Manic Metro, Morbid Mountain

Two weeks ago I was standing with Little One and fifty strangers in a hot underground metro station in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital city. A greasy Wind lashed through the tunnel, cooling me down as it streaked across my face, and a sound like heavy, rumbling thunder signaled the trains imminent arrival; thirty seconds beforehand I was contemplating what I wanted for dinner, but all I could think of now was leaping onto the track, straight into the path of a thousand ton metal dragon. I leaned against the wall, trying my hardest to think of something less gruesome.
The day before I took the metro, niggling doubts were already knocking on my window. Rap rap rap, cold fingers drumming on the glass, words forming in my mind.  “Tomorrow, when the train approaches, you’re going to push yourself through the crowd and hurtle into its deadly jaws; there’s nothing and no one to stop you.” A constant thumping in my chest, my stomach heavy, like I’d swallowed ten raw potatoes. I went through the motions, from suicidal leap to bone-crushing contact, ruminating until I was free of the fake urge; the potatoes finally digested and I could put the fear away until I was physically inside the metro station the following day; where I would unwrap the horror like a dead rabbit in a parcel.
Flash forward to last week, and I suffered a similar fear, to jump off a mountain and tumble to my death on the rocks beneath.  I was hiking to an ancient Armenian fortress and church, two beautiful structures on the back of a giant rock golem punching into the crisp blue sky; a fantasy scene from a Hollywood blockbuster if ever I have seen one. We stopped for bread and cheese, near a drop that seemed a mile deep, and a familiar inner voice disguised as not an urge, but a fear, told me that I could jump to my death.
“But I don’t want to,” I replied.
“Doesn’t matter,” remarked the voice. “I just said that you could, whether you want to or not.”
Not a voice like the shop assistant asking if you want help packing your grocery bag, but a voice like a poking finger; a crisp packet blowing in the breeze.
I agree with Crow, there is actually nothing stopping me; no chain fence, no beefy security guy with a black jacket, no barrier at all.
I’m sure we all hear this terrible whisper during our daily lives, and many take several minutes to silence it with confidant dismissals like, ‘no thanks, that would be incredibly stupid.’  But Crow doesn’t listen to sense, so I tell him to f**k off instead, and he just cackles throatily, like a thirty cigarette-a-day witch.
“Go on and jump, and while you’re falling to your death, think of Little One’s face as you shatter your spine on the rocks at the bottom, or your parents dismay as the consulate tells them over the telephone how you tumbled down such a beautiful mountain, and split your skull in half and snapped your bones into a thousand pieces, like a hammer to a bread-stick.”  I was burning up at the notion of running over the abyss, digging my fingers into my stomach, trying to massage the sickness away.  “F**k off, Crow!” I said, teeth grinding, eyes searching for anything other than that throbbing, pulsating, (was I tempted?) rocky abyss.  He hopped onto my shoulder, “I’m going to flash these thoughts into the back of your eyes until you think of every single possible bone-splintering detail…or, you jump off this mountain and it’s over, and you take me with you!”
I thought I had got better with heights, and confronted with a dizzying vista, after several minutes contemplating leaping to my doom, the crow seemed happy to turn his attention to my camera, or maybe my wallet. Once I dangled my camera over the Chain Bridge in Budapest.
“Drop it, Yan, its easy. Just open your hand and watch it splash into the Danube.”
Now the fear is back to its nightmare worst, and hiking in Armenia, stopping for lunch on a rocky overhang, all I could think about was diving off, plummeting towards the stream a hundred deadly feet beneath me – at least his previous ramblings, from alarm-call to this lunchtime picnic, were silenced.
A day earlier we had arrived in Yerevan, Armenia, and covered much of the city on foot, including the educational Armenian genocide museum – The effects of OCD cause me depression at the best of times, and two hours in this informative museum and I loathed humanity more than I ever have. I wanted mankind to blow its head off with a shotgun loaded with a f*cking hydrogen bomb! So to cheer me up we decided that the following day we would take a hike in the mountains…
…And there I was, crawling closer in my mind to the edge because Crow had said that I could.
I coughed up a black feather. “Nothing could be easier,” he said.
We moved our picnic away from the tempting leap of death and ate away from that dreadful fear.
“It’s just another metro stop,” I whispered into the air – remembering the vivid thoughts of jumping into an oncoming train on the Tbilisi underground.
Another shift in time and I’m here, back in Georgia, today.  I’ve just hiked up probably my last mountain. We’re in Stepantsminda, in the shadow of the glorious mount Kazbek, and taking a shortcut through the recent snow, scrambling across a sweeping mountainside, four hundred meters from our destination, while slipping and sliding in the white powder, I glanced over my shoulder and suddenly realised how high we actually were. If we lost our footing, although probably not instant death, a broken bone or two was not off the menu. Crow seized the day, filling my head with countless terrifying possibilities; I had a minor panic attack, (if there can be such a thing) and I froze and struggled for breath and Little One had to talk me back to earth.
At the monastery at the top of our climb, I vowed never to put us in that situation again.
There’s no escaping these violent intrusive thoughts, so I tiptoe around them when I can, ignore them when I’m lucky, or entertain them when I’m at my lowest. After all, paragliding being the exception, I’ve not jumped off a mountain yet… and certainly not jumped into the path of an oncoming train.  Its been a tough two weeks but I’m still here, a little shaken but still walking forward.

Black Beetles, Black Beetles, Black Beetles; A Time in Azerbaijan

A genuine smile split open my face the other day – like an axe through a watermelon.  I was in the passenger seat of a Lada as it sped through the streets of Sheki, Azerbaijan. The driver, a cousin of our home-stay host, was obviously auditioning for the fast and the furious 17, and I think I offended him by grabbing the passenger seat-belt.

“No worries, Azerbaijan is fine, no need for belt,” he said, as we swerved past a packed mini bus and nearly collided with another Lada driving just as manically on the opposite of the road.  I clicked in anyway, and took the cigarette he offered me. I don’t smoke so much these days, but my heart was trying to escape through my mouth, and I thought a few drags wouldn’t hurt on the grand scale of things.

So I smiled. Because regardless of my relentless OCD, here I was, in a town in Azerbaijan, in a Lada hurtling through the streets in the pouring rain – I was winning.

OCD ruined my education, lost me countless opportunities in life, crushed my hope, and it has left a bitter taste in the back of my throat. When Crow reminds me of what he’s taken away from me, I choke a little, fury rising inside me like a charging wave, and all sorts of negative emotions wrestle for control. Sometimes it takes a while to stop feeling so bitter, so sick in the stomach; I feel naked, helpless to a horde of black beetles scurrying over my face, into my mouth, swimming into my bloodstream.

Warp speed to yesterday evening, in Sheki, Azerbaijan – and I’m brushing off those beetles like dust from my jeans. Our host invited us for drinks with his family, and we talked, and smoked, and drank vodka and beer around the table. Crow nibbled at the back of my head, the intrusive thoughts knocking at the door, black beetles scuttling beneath the floorboards, but I held them off,  (the alcohol probably helped,) and again I smiled healthily, like a chimpanzee with a bag of bananas.  Yesterday we’d seen the local market; our host had driven us to a beautiful viewpoint over the city; we’d been fed tasty dishes and joked and laughed in broken English about subjects none of us fully understood, warmly accepted into their family as new friends, toasting life with the flowing vodka as Crow bit into my shoulder like a bitter, toothless, B-movie zombie.

“You are always smiling,” said Antigua, the wife of our host.

I told her that inside I was always crying. She took it as another vodka fueled quip. I wanted her to. It reminded me of my times at work in the noisy factories as I wore my clown mask in front of my work colleagues. I want to be remembered as the happy joker, not the manic juggler, or the sad shadow in the corner – laughing even as the Crows talons grind my insides to shreds.  I’d had a day and an evening to remember – a slice of life in Sheki Azerbaijan.  OCD had not taken this away from me, and the crow, although circling in the smokey room, banged into furniture like a clumsy slapstick villain, almost comical as I fought his army of gnashing beetles.

We ate, we smoked, we tipped vodka down our necks like it was a necessity to life.  We put the world to rights, agreed and disagreed, forgot that the world can be a terrible, frightening place, and I crawled into bed with a grin like a quartered watermelon.

My last coherent thoughts, regardless of Crows ferocious advances, were simple, ‘Today was a good day.’

Georgia On My Mind..

Georgians are an interesting bunch. They’re either plying you with homemade vodka or glaring at you on the local bus like they want to tear your arms off. We’re either being shoved aside on the Tbilisi metro or gifted free wine and food at a ramshackle hostel that’s barely standing up; knocking back shots of Chacha with staff at military museums like we’re old school friends, or being totally ignored by ice-cream street vendors as they look right through me into Wednesday next week. It can be as rough as sandpaper, a face still scarred by the soviet sickle, or a cushion of cool mountain air, a beautiful face smiling across a crowded room . It’s been interesting…we only had five days in its tough, ample bosom, but we’re going back in a week or two, after we’ve sampled the colourful delights of Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea.

We’re on the overnight train now as I pound this into my smartphone notes. I can’t sleep because I pushed the crow into a hole today and he’s not yet flown back. (Basically I’ve ruminated all day on the inane, then fought free of the useless fear and now I’m pumped and awake and want to be standing in broad daylight gazing at the Flame Towers on the Baku skyline.) Little One sleeps on the bed across the carriage, I’m going to be tired in the morning but I have a feeling she’s going to want to run around the asphalt of the Baku Formula One street circuit!

Georgia is on my mind – but in a good way, not stuck on loop on the ruminating highway. Georgia has a thousand adventures to offer, and if I’m well, I hope to sample a healthy farmer’s fist of them. We meet our friend from France back in Tbilisi early in October and he’ll want to hike, so I’ll need the clearest of minds I can muster. The war on OCD is never over, but I  think I won the battle today – and that’s a good start.

See you soon Georgia, I don’t think I love you yet but I like you a lot. Lets see what happens…