There are splashes of light at the end of the tunnel, like candles burning behind frosted glass, or a campfire sizzling in a snowstorm. On good days, when my OCD is less dominant, it feels like the sun is blazing; wings sprout from my shoulder blades and I zigzag through the skies like a beaming, wine-soaked angel. But OCD is a bloodhound with a twitching snout. It digs up buried bones and drops them on my doorstep, wagging its tail, delighted at my anguish, dropping them like dead rabbits at a hunters feet. It’s what it does. Don’t blame a dog for p***ing up a lamppost.
Last night I remembered Toronto, Canada. It was my younger self, and I’m afraid to say I was in a strip-club bathroom – when I naively felt such places were cool, staring at shadows in a cracked mirror while strangers took their clothes off in the next room. I ritualised for over twenty minutes, blinking and imagining blinding white light in the mimicked world, and when I slipped out of the room, still buried deep in thought, I headed back to the bar, ordered another bottle of beer and continued glaring at my reflection, this time in the glass of the refrigerator door. I spent that night sleeping in a Toronto shop doorway. Woke up with footsteps slapping on the pavement, people going to work, judging me homeless and pitying me. I’d paid for a bed the previous night in a hostel but hadn’t made it, collapsing instead in that litter-strewn doorway until dawn. Back to the hostel for breakfast I guess, if I could find it. No smartphones in those days; I used Toronto tower as my GPS. Oh, I had money to rent a bed wherever I wanted, that wasn’t an issue – the problem was the suffocating weight on my back from those terrible thoughts piling up like rocks falling from a cliff.
“How was Toronto?” said someone, somewhere in a conversation.
“All good, I enjoyed it.”
“What did you do there?”
Nothing in particular sprang to mind. Just that mirror above the row of sinks in the strip-club bathroom.
I wanted to answer truthfully: “I Stared at mirrors, shop windows, still-water. Anything with a reflection.” But I just shrugged, said I got drunk and had a good time. I genuinely can’t remember too much there, other than a large bus station where I bought a ticket to New York. Oh and the Toronto tower of course.
And that’s why, other than this blog, I tend not to look back on where I’ve been.
Reflections don’t affect me like they once did. Although I found myself staring into the television screen yesterday… spent ten minutes glaring at my face and the shadows that the hollows of my eyes and cheeks formed, keeping the devil at bay with rituals in my head, until I forced myself away and had a strict word with myself. “Don’t go back to Toronto!” I said aloud. That’s why the strip-club sprang to mind, and that bathroom that stank of bleach and more than a little desperation.
Reminds me of how much better I am these days. Oh I know there’s no cure, but years of constant battering has hardened my skin – soft tissue becomes leather, numbing the soles of my feet on the arduous road. I’m still fighting howling mandrills in Hell, but these days I’ve got a stick and a tin helmet. If you get punched everyday in the face, you finally learn to roll with the blows. It’s still hurts, can break your nose or dislocate your jaw, but you know it’s coming and you stop wasting time saying to yourself, “Will I get hit in the face today?” Or, “why am I feeling like this?”
The answers are always ‘Yes,’ and ‘Because you have OCD.’
Joining twitter and reading the hardships of fellow sufferers is at first upsetting, because it reveals that so many people are struggling, but it also means that we are not battling this alone. I guess it makes me feel part of a tribe.
You gotta take what you can, appreciate the light and what it illuminates before that morose, red-eyed caretaker switches off the generator. I cling to every source of happiness, seeking to squeeze every last drop of sweetness from any experience that makes me smile. It makes life worth fighting for. It’s why I push myself to travel. And that’s never easy. I often ask myself what the Hell am I doing ritualising on this chicken bus rumbling through Malawi? Or why exactly am I hiking up this mountain when my OCDemon is on my back, trying to drag me back down to sea-level? I need to go out to find food, but no-one understands a word I say, and it’s hot, and I’m covered in mosquito bites, and i need re-hydration tablets, and my intrusive thoughts are spiking and why do I enjoy this again?
I began travelling when the absence of light was apparent, when the tunnel was a hopeless black corridor. I left a wasteful life behind because it was destroying me from the inside, mocking me with its comparisons of what I could be and what I actually was. It was a mighty leap into the unfamiliar but the wind rustling through my hair woke me up like a slap to the face. The journey can be torturous but when it’s over, the sense of achievement is immense. Like I’m dancing in the ashes of my OCD and saying, “HA! You did your best to bring me crashing down, but I overcame your spiteful ways. You failed, and I know you’ll be back, but so will I!”
It lifts me a little, and levitating an inch off the floor is sometimes enough to raise my head above those purple clouds.
The fact that I can now see the colour of the clouds around me, and the patterns on the tunnel walls, is testament to my slow crawl towards recovery, and that encourages me to stumble forward.
There are splashes of light at the end of the long, black tunnel. And there never used to be.