UTOPIA ON FIRE

OCD is the great deceiver.  A perverter of truths. When something nice happens, OCD whispers reasons not to believe it – or tells you that events and relationships will turn out bad because of it.  Maybe sticks horrific images into your brain just because you were smiling ten minutes ago. When something unfavourable happens, it exaggerates the fallout, misrepresenting the reasons why it happened in the first place.  Bad things are magnified to awful, end of the world catastrophes – good things, suddenly distorted to not so good after all, overrated at the very least. You could win the lottery in paradise and OCD would kick the jubilation out of your lungs and set fire to all the palm trees.

“I don’t know why I bother sometimes,” I say to an empty field.

“Because the fire consuming the city can still look pretty,” says a crow on a crooked fence post.

I live on the dark side of the moon – I always have.  As a child, if Santa Claus delivered a teddy bear, OCD would tell me it had Leukaemia, and the man in the red hat was probably a rapist.  Since I can remember, positive experiences have been turned upside down and set on fire – every memory punctuated by a question mark, twisted into a dangerous riddle or littered with false memories.  “I’m sure I felt the tip of a sharp object stab into my thigh last night. Could it have been a needle infected with AIDS? Was there a man in the corner of the nightclub wishing I was dead? – Am I on a serial killer’s death-list?”  I either dwell on negative crumbs or search out shadows that were never there. Looking back over my shoulder is risky business, a cerebral minefield – like rolling a dice, where one to five means my day is ruined. Ninety-nine percent of the time I choose not to reminisce, but sometimes, memories jump out from the darkness like somersaulting ninjas.

Yesterday, Ice Cube played on the radio and it took me back several years.  All of a sudden I’m walking with friends to Compton, L.A, cameras and day-packs slung over our shoulders, watching as a car pulls up alongside us, the face of a beautiful woman beaming from the driver side window.

“This isn’t a place for tourists,” was her opening line, and as we turned to walk away, she handed me her number scrawled on a card – “But if you guys want a private dance,” she smiled.  I never did call her. But like falling dominoes, this L.A recollection nudged into another memory from the same city. I’m with the usual friends, but this time I’m talking with a local man outside an adult entertainment shop near Hollywood Boulevard at three in the morning – eagerly awaiting his driver after a promise of dancing girls back at his apartment.

“I’m a music producer, I’ve worked with Janet Jackson,” he told us.  A few hours later and two of us woke up groggy on his sofa, our other friend opening his eyes in an unfamiliar bedroom, his shirt unbuttoned and a porn movie playing on a large screen – luckily before anything too sinister could happen.  Outside I threw up in a bush. Two police cars screeched to a halt in front of us, cops jumping from their vehicles, yelling at us to put our hands on our heads as their fingers rested on the grips of their holstered guns. Our drinks had been spiked.  The cops said the man had done something like this before, but it was us they threatened to arrest because we were the ones threatening to kill the potential rapist – the predator had called the police on his own victims. Back at the dormitory we lamented that it had been like a scene from a movie.  Gunshots rang out later that night, seeming to confirm our analogy.

These recollections failed to pull a trigger, so I continued my journey along the stale corridors of my mind.  I rode a bull in New Mexico (for around ten seconds before it threw me to the ground) and stroked a great white shark as it swam past my steel cage in South Africa.  I wouldn’t do it now, I’m more aware of an animal’s right not to be touched, and although it doesn’t make up for it, in Nicaragua, I did release baby turtles into the sea, so…

People, actions and exotic locations flashed across my mind in glorious technicolor.  From sunrises in Fiji to sunsets in Chile, via coups in Mauritania and skidding off my mountain bike on the world’s most dangerous road in the mountains of Bolivia.  From a local football derby in Buenos Aires to the wrestling world cup in Mexico City. From working with young Mormon missionaries in Estonia to losing motorbike cops in a crazy taxi ride through Bogota’s back roads.  I’ve taught Koreans conversational English, leaving them with a subtle Norfolk accent, and helped Hungarians prepare business proposals in a swish hotel retreat – I wonder if they ever got the contract? OCD was with me every step of the way, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t do it.  It just meant that it hurt like Hell – like lots of things do with the Devil on your back.

“But you only touched the surface,” says Crow.  Yes, I agree, adventures were certainly restrained because the OCD coachman was pulling hard on the reins.  Opportunities cut short or never seeing the light of day as I lay huddled and cursing on a dishevelled bed. Declining an invitation to a ceremonious rock-throwing battle in a Bolivian village resonates in my head.  Cruel, intrusive thoughts had knocked the wind out of my lungs and I made my excuses, but I sometimes wonder what would have happened had I accompanied those young Bolivian men on that primitive skirmish. Probably have lost an eye.

“You’ve got another one!” squawks Crow.

All these memories make me smile, for different reasons, but yes, the recollections are always jaded – Utopia on fire.  There is always another thought poking into my membrane, a darker visual, or potential catastrophe promising to ruin all the fun.  People I’ve met along the way have regretfully become triggers too, natives and fellow travellers with whom I’ve shared great adventure.  My mental health was in particularly bad shape in India and Nepal, and whenever I think of my time there, and the people I met along the way, I twitch and cringe in discomfort.  I was an extra in a Bollywood movie, I trekked across the Himalayan mountains, but every memory pulls a particular trigger and I lose the next few hours like my head’s in a cement mixer.  Tambien in South America. I made a great friend in Colombia but still feel that I somehow let him down. From  Popayán to Cartagena, Cali to Bogota, it’s all just a whir and a sweaty panic attack – even Crow needs to breathe through a paper bag to stop his wings from shaking.

Even our good memories don’t necessarily start out that way – there will be times when we cried in fear and frustration that only now plant a smile on our face if we dare to look back.  Even if a crow was there, we still have the memories of what we’ve seen, what we’ve achieved – the apples on the tree may be bruised but they’re still partially edible, and better than eating soil, even if we prefer bananas.

Besides, somewhere in the world there are people with OCD being water-boarded as I type this, bones snapped in half in torture chambers and depressed child labourers breaking rocks in stone quarries…When you hear me complain, don’t feel too sorry for me, because I’ve had some fun along the way.  It’s just that everything was on fire at the time.

SIX YEARS

Norfolk trundles past the window – a rumbling combine harvester, a tractor pulling a trailer, a car towing a caravan.  East Sussex, just another memory stuffed into a box. I’m back home, trying to lose myself in a cold beer, deciding where I can run away next, but a young couple walking their dog have disturbed a memory deep in my subconscious – a fractured image of another time, another life.  Something inside me snaps…an event I feared would happen but never did, that I tried to bury in a flurry of ritualistic compulsions a very long time ago. I imagine a revolver aimed at the back of my head – the crow’s feathers curl around the trigger and…

BOOM!  My limbs feel heavy, the chemical elements in my bones reconstructing, transformed to base metal, stomach spoiled and tight, curdling like it’s full of milk and sugar.  My skin is hot, perspiration trickling from my scalp, feels like someone’s poured a bag of sand into a hole in my skull. I want to gulp down a glass of cold water but my energy has started to sap, too lethargic to drag myself to the kitchen sink.

“Just don’t think about it.  It’ll go away…” says a hazy figure from my past.  It’s Uncle Jack, my former colleague from the factories.

But it doesn’t go away does it – it hasn’t yet anyway.  I’m still obsessing about it. Still slowly sinking into the sand.

The past is a jigsaw puzzle.  OCD stomps onto the pieces, smashing them into all the wrong places – anything could have happened!  Was it this or was it that instead? I’m confused and shaking, trying to empty my head from six- year-old ruminations.  Whatever the truth was, my mind has already decided that it’s fatal.

A man on TV is bidding on a house at an auction.  I’m feeling queasy as the gavel falls and the property is sold.  I’m in the room but miles away, and prepare my lunch with that familiar tightness in my belly.  Go to bed regurgitating events from all those years ago. Wake up waiting for the horn of the rhinoceros to pierce the horizon – a stampede of OCD and other animals spewing dust in their trail like cartoon juggernauts galloping across a plain.  No escape, just a few seconds before the realisation hits. THWACK! I’m back on the sofa, pondering, contemplating, constantly f**king thinking.

Shopping for groceries now.  Head looking down at the tiled floor, a burning sensation in my stomach like I’ve swallowed a shot of mustard.

Am I going to die tomorrow…?

What if my greatest fears come true…?

What if this happens, or that happens…?

“It’ll ruin your life, that’s what!” screams Crow.

You’ve already ruined it!

I imagine a heavy axe cutting me in half and half again; picture putting my fists through the freezer doors; envision a bullet blowing the back of my head off in aisle three, splattering the oven chips with bits of skull and brain.  The Crimson Knight rears his stead in the corridors of my mind, Crow lands on top of my head and pecks at my scalp. “You’ve got liver disease, dementia, smallpox, and bubonic plague. Little One is leaving you for the milkman or maybe the man who collects trolleys in the supermarket car park.  Everybody you love is going to die next week, BECAUSE YOU’RE GOING TO KILL THEM!” It’s an overdose of fantastic, horrific possibilities.

Over my shoulder, a middle-aged woman asks if she can grab a box of cornflakes.  Moving out of the way my skin prickles like it’s burning under a noon sun. It was six years ago!  I didn’t know what happened then, what chance have I got now?

“I’m sorry,” I say to the woman.  “I was miles away.”

“Just don’t think about it,” repeats Uncle Jack, sipping coffee from a plastic cup.

Easy for him to say.  I fantasise dragging him out from my head, spewing my thoughts into his face like a scene from The Exorcist.  Let’s see how easy YOU deal with it! Imagine if you broke your arm and I said, “Toughen up, just don’t think about it!”  And don’t bother saying that it’s only OCD. Tell that to the girl pulling out her hair, or the boy slicing lines into his skin with a razor blade.

And to think I’m so much better than I was – than I’ve ever been…

A city burns in black flames as I crawl into bed.

Let’s hope tomorrow will be a better day.

Crow smirks on my pillow and tells me that he doubts that very much.

I close my eyes and travel back in time six years…

SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY

Last night my mind was on its knees, crawling in the gutter, looking for trouble under the scree and rubble of my life.  I twisted under the bed sheets, trying to keep it busy with alternative thoughts, but all I got was a line of embarrassing memories queuing for my attention – recollections of school traumas; stupid ten-year-old conversations from when I worked in the factories; a surge of random, shameful, embarrassing actions from the last thirty years of my life.  Squadrons of fighter jets blackened my skies. I shot some down with reason. Others flew around in loops. I should have poured another shot of whiskey, but I can’t rely on drugs and booze to send me to sleep. Not every night.

Those embarrassing memories swiftly turned to darker notions.

Crow, my OCD in stereo, tried to tell me that war with Iran or North Korea was inevitable.  He told me we had a year left at the very most.

Would that be such a bad thing, Crow?

North Korea, huh?  I remembered my time in South Korea, and a trip to the Demilitarised Zone and the Joint Security Area.  At the JSA, a simple concrete strip was all there was of a demarcation line between North and South. We were able to cross it while inside one of the famous blue huts, a building where generals from both armies continue to meet, bickering and picking at each others’ ideologies under the looming threat of radioactive mushroom clouds.

We signed a disclaimer before we were allowed into bullet range – given strict orders of what we could and couldn’t do.  No pointing at the North Korean guard in the big hat, no taking the p*ss, only very specific places to take photographs, and DO NOT cross that line outside of the big blue hut.

“Or you won’t be coming back,” said the American soldier in thick black sunglasses.

Back outside, and standing before the concrete line, Crow suggested that I leap across it, run at the North Korean Guard the U.S soldiers had nicknamed Bob. I imagined being manhandled into the tall grey building opposite, angry North Korean soldiers pointing guns in my face.  Crow turned his attention to Little One.

“Push her across,” he said and, in my mind, I shoved my girlfriend into North Korean territory.  An image of Little One being escorted to a labour camp haunted my thoughts. In fact, the entire tour was interrupted by intrusive thoughts of how I could cause an international incident.

“You could start World War Three!” squawked Crow, snapping at my face.  OCD had taken the potential for a good day and drowned it in a bath of uranium.  Kim Jong-un would kill for that stuff, and does – allegedly…

 

An elbow nudged me gently in the ribs – I’d been making noises in my quest for sleep.  Little One asked if I was OK.

I pushed the thoughts away.  Turned onto my side and tried to think of the latest football results.

“What are the first signs of Cancer…?”

F**k off, Crow.

“Who will be the next person to die that you love?”

I’m not playing this game.

“If it’s you, how will your family take the news?”

They’d cope.  We’re all going to die anyway.

“Who does Little One want to f**k in your bed?”

Really, Crow?

“You’ll soon be leaving East Sussex.  Do you know how many people think you’re a waste of space in your home town?”

They don’t know my situation.

“Doesn’t matter, all that matters is that they think you’re a loser.”

I am a loser.

My home town festival was on last week.  I’m still house-sitting but I could have gone home for the weekend.  Unfortunately, my OCD has been working overtime lately, putting doubts into my head whenever I think of returning to Norfolk.  But deep down do I really care what people think? He changed tack again…

“You could throw boiling coffee in Little One’s face.”

Or I could choose not to.

“Bad things are coming.  Think of that blinding light and I’ll go away and let you sleep.”

I balled my fists and pictured a black space instead, but felt guilty that someone might die because of it.  I flashed white across my mind. Miraculously, it worked first time and Crow flew off to watch me from his perch in Hell.  I turned over with a sigh of relief, but couldn’t help thinking that with all my previous tossing and turning, I’d already lost the battle.

But I woke up this morning, which meant that I must have slept.

“Good morning, world,”  I stretched and yawned. Could have done with an extra hour in bed, and that’s why I have a whiskey nightcap or smoke a joint in the garden before I turn in – it puts me to sleep before the Devil slips between the sheets.

As always, from the moment I woke, negative thoughts spilled into my mind, congregating like safari animals around a watering hole.  I sat and watched the Springboks. They looked harmless enough, but Crow is the hunter in the silly hat, shooting beasts and dragging them back to camp for detailed dissection.

I toyed with rummaging through my old box of medication.  I’ve kept it for a while. The meds are out of date but I was tempted to swallow some anyway.  They lose power over time, so what’s the worst that could happen? They don’t work as they should?  I only need a little bit of respite, full powered tablets would glue me to the sofa all day. On full power, I struggle to operate an electric toothbrush, and I don’t want to go there again.  Muscles wasting to nothing in front of daytime TV – so many recipes, beauty tips and breakfast cereal commercials. Not a great way to go, drowning in a bathtub of uranium is much more rock ‘n roll!

Today, I decided against the out of date medication, although a litre bottle of whiskey sits on the kitchen worktop.

Tonight, I’m going to sleep like a lion.

VAMPIRE MOUTH

Welcome to the fun house.  Don’t get too excited, it’s really more like an abattoir.  Sometimes it can feel like being locked in a hall of mirrors with an axe wielding clown.  If life is a series of theme parks, you may want to skip OCD World. 

So what does having OCD feel like?  For me it’s not about washing my hands a hundred times a day or worrying that the back door is locked whenever I leave the house.  Although, for some sufferers, it might be. There is a lot of stigma towards OCD, I’m forever hearing people misinterpreting the disorder and the issues that walk beside it.  I may be contributing to this stigma myself, but everything here is written from personal experience, and if the truth hurts, well, it’s still the truth. This is my castle, in my world, and the dragons in the sky are my own demons.

I invite you into my home.  And yes, you can leave your shoes on.

 

…I’m sitting in the lounge with friends.  The conversation is free and easy, nothing profound, just lads watching television, talking about football, plans for the weekend, a brief discussion about a U.F.O somebody said they spotted hovering in the night sky almost twenty years ago.  My focus however, is elsewhere, eyes fixed and glaring at the far wall – it’s been decorated with a rich brown paint but I’m desperately trying to imagine that it’s actually a brilliant white. It’s proving to be an almost impossible task. Closing my eyes now, concentrating on not just white but the hottest, purest white imaginable – light from an atomic explosion, the heart of God.  Try it now, it’s not so easy – all I could see was the back of my eyelids. My friends stay for three hours. A weight pulsates in my skull, heavy like a bag of sand – fear swelling in my mind. “Look at the wall and imagine it white, or your family will die,” says a voice I don’t hear but feel in my bones.

…My girlfriend and I are drinking beer with friends watching the sunset over the Karoo, South Africa.  Fantastic colours splash across the sky as the sun sinks slowly into the horizon. We laugh, we talk, celebrating the end of another long day working for our African host.  It sounds hollow to me – other thoughts, less fun, are resonating in my mind. I’m obsessing again, concentrating on a single event from a thousand miles away – shadows from another lifetime.  A smile dominates my face but inside I’m crying, frustrated at the intrusion of such a stupid concept expanding like a mini universe. Holding down a conversation with the German couple next to me but screaming in my head, “F*******k!!!!”

…Knives glisten on the kitchen worktop – I picture myself grabbing the plastic handle and stabbing the blade into my best friend’s neck.  Watch his eyes bulge in disbelief, horror distorting those familiar features, crying as he dies. Just a second away, I’ve literally got the power in my trembling hands.  A swift movement and a gentle push, I can stick it into anything. Need to make the fear dissipate. Luckily, there are things I can do to push it away. I become a cleric burning candles on the floor.  Ritualise and ritualise again. Step away from the knife, Yan.

…Unwrapping Christmas presents now.  People looking at my face for a reaction to the gifts they’ve bought.  Got to put on a show, don’t want to disappoint. What if I throw the box at the wall and tell them how fat they all are?  Odd this one, because not a single person in the room is overweight. “But they’ll think they are if you tell them!” Biting my lip and shaking inside I smile and say thank you.  Get me out of this room!

…Feeling happy.  But not for long. Apparently my girlfriend is f**king everyone in the entire town.  Of course, she isn’t, but OCD doesn’t concern itself with facts – performing mental rituals will make the doubt fade away, but nothing else, certainly not the truth.  Distrust spreads like a virus, sickness in my belly like I’ve swallowed bleach. Maybe I should swallow bleach? There’s a bottle under the sink. How easy it would be to unscrew the cap and chug it down like cola from the fridge.  Maybe run into the lounge and die in front of my partner. That’ll teach her for f**king everyone she looks at. Or, should that be, that’ll teach her for fucking everyone that I look at?

…Glaring at my face in the mirror.  Searching for signs of dying while cursing my reflection.  Something moves in my gut – I feel nauseous again. Could it be Cancer?  Was that abrasion there last week? Last year? Lights flashing, sirens in my mind, a head of snakes hissing over my shoulder.  Meet those flashing red eyes and turn to stone.

…Do I want to go for a drink in town?  Do I Hell. Too busy trying to pick myself up off the couch.  Feeling guilty wasting away in front of the TV – volume down so I can concentrate on all the bulls**t buzzing around my brain like flies feasting on a pig’s corpse.  Promise myself I’ll try harder tomorrow. It’ll be different in the morning – but of course it never is.

“This time it’s the real deal,” whispers Crow, creating bizarre shadows on the wall.

I ball my hands into fists.  “I’m NOT ritualising today. No rumination.  No blinding white light behind my eyes.” My head feels heavy at the prospect, a hot flush prickling through my body.

“Then you’ll carry that weight in your head all day!”

…Got to keep these intrusive thoughts at bay.  Fantasising I have razor teeth, I imagine eating my own legs – gruesome concepts harming myself so that I don’t obsess on what I could potentially do to those around me.  Surrounded by imaginary trees I howl at an illusory moon, hypnotised and drooling, two fangs now, Nosferatu climbing the stairs. Keeping reason in a box I waste my night desperately chewing on intrusive thoughts, an explosion in my head like hydrogen bombs colliding.  No time to read, converse, or even play a round of cards. Just lay on my bed and wait for sleep to whisk me away. Thoughts pounding – upsetting, unrelenting, a continuous river of useless information. Some of it, probably true, the rest, a ball of lies spinning in my brain, collecting more untruths, growing like a snowball rolling down a hill.

Go anywhere, just not here.  Do anything, just not that. Be anyone, just not me.

 

You’ll have to go now, all this reminiscing has given me more things to think about.

And it’s harder to concentrate when you’re around…

BIRD BONES

That was a tough week.  I’ve not stared at walls like that for over ten years.  I thought I’d worn a hole in the brickwork.

“What the hell am I doing?” I asked myself as I twiddled and pulled out my hair.  But I didn’t panic, because staring at the wall and pulling out my hair is what I do best – the usual behaviour of a person lost in thought.  Yielding to the ridiculous is standard practice. It would be odd NOT to stare at the paintwork.

I know I’ve asked this question a thousand times, but how much of me has been shaped by OCD? Eighty, ninety percent?  If I stuck a hand down my throat and pulled out Crow, wrung his neck and threw him on the fire, what would be left of me?  Who is Yan Baskets? It would be like separating conjoined twins with a laser beam. The siblings would become ‘other’ people, perhaps not better, but certainly different.  Like having a coffee with a version of yourself who’d been living on the other side of the world for the last twenty years. The difference would be more than an exotic accent.  I imagine what it would be like to go to the bathroom without the Gorgon spitting at me in the mirror. To wake up and not roll over onto a horse’s head. No, definitely not just the accent.

I was talking to Little One yesterday.  My OCD had sent me spiralling into a puddle of despair, obsessing on the ridiculous, ritualising in my head – a thousand screaming shamans convulsing around a fire.  I referred to Crow, said he’d been particularly savage lately. Little One said she wished he’d fly away and die. I agreed but knew that it wouldn’t be happening any time soon.  That it would probably never happen. He isn’t a monkey on my back that I can chase off, rather a parasite in my blood swimming in the ventricles of my heart. He is part of me – a section of my brain, an extra bone in my body.  If I could remove him, I would, but it would be like cutting out a portion of ME. What would be torn out with him? What would grow in his place?

“He’s not going anywhere,” I conceded.  He’s been with me far too long. We opened our eyes simultaneously at the beginning, only he went back to sleep for eight or nine years.

Crow is part of me, but I am ALL of Crow.  I am the Crimson Knight, the Gorgon snarling in the mirror is my own reflection – it was my hand that held the razor blade, the snakeskin on the pillow came from my own scalp.  It’s been easy for me to give them faces, but essentially, they look identical and answer to the same name. Yan Baskets, pleased to meet you.

Bird bones or not, our house-sitting assignment will one day come to an end.  We’ve been discussing what to do next. We talked of leaving the U.K again, but where would we go?  I’m growing tired of feeling ill in strange places. All those thoughts and unwanted images swirling at the forefront of my mind.  Sweating in a heap in a corner of a room in Kathmandu or staring at the grass in a park in Moscow. I’m getting too old for nervous breakdowns on foreign soil.  But what else for me is there? I flashback to the breakdown I had in Mauritania, in a tent deep in the Sahara Desert. It was a camel that was the straw that broke its own back – snapped like vertebrae in a vice.  I’d been struggling with a horrendous image all week and suddenly the sight of the camel flashed another terrible concept into my mind. I pictured large yellow teeth chewing my girlfriends face off, and sank into the sand. Little One didn’t know what to do with me.  She told me later that she’d panicked and was close to a meltdown herself – I felt sick with remorse. She’s watched me break a million times, and whenever I put myself in her shoes, look out of her eyes, I feel insects wriggling in my stomach. How would I react to watching Little One crack like that?

“I like the worms in your belly,” states Crow.  And he sounds exactly like me. Because he is me.

Forget travelling, for the time being, I owe Little One some security.

But should we rent a house or buy a caravan?

No idea.

“You’ve got to do something, mate,” someone not long ago said to me.  “You’re not getting any younger.” Would they say that if I had a physical illness?  Something they could see. I very much doubt it. I know I said that I don’t want sympathy – I know people don’t understand all the details of my issues, but it’s frustrating when somebody you’ve known all your life appears to forget that you actually have a chronic illness.  Would they forget my ailments if I were on crutches? Maybe I should wear a black bag on my head, or a bell around my neck.

“Yan loves to travel.  He just left one day and never looked back.”  Are you kidding me? Never looked back? My neck is forever craned over my shoulder, fixating on where I went wrong.  Surely they meant never looked forward?

The phantom memory of somebody else now.  “I bet you can’t wait to get away again, Yan.”

I don’t think about it until I’m on the plane.  I have almost no plans when I board that aircraft.  Never had an itinerary in my life.

It’s taken me sixteen years to admit to myself that I’m not as interested in travelling as I pretended that I was.  It was just a means of escape. It gave me an excuse to be a real person in the real world.

“Look, everyone, I’m not wasting away in a paint factory.  I’m riding a bus through Bolivia!”

Pathetic really. But at least it got me out.

JUST ENOUGH EDUCATION TO SURVIVE

I wake up several years ago – I’m fifteen and terrified of life.  Immediately I feel a weight upon my body, a pillow over my face. There is a tingle in the back of my mind, something stirs in my consciousness, a struggle from the night before that I don’t quite remember but feel is coming back to haunt me – an intrusive thought knocking at the door or twitching at the foot of the bed like a dog stirring from a deep sleep.  Thirty seconds tick by. Dragging on my socks, memory claps me on the back and I’m sucked into a whirlpool.

Messing around with my friend we walk through the school gates, fighting to keep the gnashing thoughts at bay, at least until my first lesson, where I’ll stare into my textbook, pretending to work, but concentrating on trying to dismiss these absurd ideas.  That first lesson is maths – how I hate numbers, always having to recount and ‘make sure’ and ‘did I carry the three over?’ It’s a minefield, so I don’t even try in my final year at school, just sit at the back of the class, dwelling on jumbled thoughts.

I was with a girl six months ago.  We never even kissed but she did allow my hands up her skirt, my fingers into her knickers.  A rumour began that last year she slept with a guy who was HIV Positive.  I’ve convinced myself I bit my nails after the event and now I have the virus.  I don’t yet realise that the fear is nonsensical, that won’t be for another four years when I’ll ring the National AIDS helpline and they’ll tell me that the virus doesn’t work like that – it would be near impossible for me to have contracted the disease this way.  But that’s in the future, at this moment in time I’ve convinced myself I’m going to catch a cold that will kill me before I reach sixteen. In those days there’s no Google for me to check how the virus is spread. Just that f**king leaflet posted through the front door.  ‘Don’t die of ignorance,’ it stated in bold letters.

I ritualise in my head, although I don’t know yet that’s what I’m doing.  I won’t find out that I have OCD for over ten years. The younger Yan Baskets thinks that everyone ruminates as much as I do – only they’re much better at it.  I manage to push ‘Death by AIDS’ into a dark room somewhere in the back of my mind. There is a four-minute respite where I manage to look forward to an event at the weekend – a hundred and eighty tranquil seconds.  And then a pupil in the year above passes by the window. He glances in, eyes loitering on mine for no more than a second. But that’s all it takes. At first, I think he just doesn’t like me. Slowly I convince myself he wants to punch me in the throat.  Eventually, by tea-time, in front of the TV, I’ll be ninety-nine percent sure that he wants to stick a knife in my stomach, slaughtering my family as a side note.

Later that night, drumming my fingers a hundred times on the small red Bible on my bedside table, I find peace of mind, enough to see me through to tomorrow morning at least.  But it has come at a cost. It takes me three-quarters of an hour to appease my inner demon, tapping the cover of the Bible, mumbling words to God, picturing a blinding white light that is never quite white enough.  I turn to face the wall, trying not to think about AIDS.

Do I sleep that night?  Yes, I do. I’ve been ruminating and ritualising from the moment I awoke, to the moment I withdraw my hand from the Bible and close my eyes – so yes, I am shattered, and I sleep.

My alarm buzzes beside me…

I wake up.  Immediately I feel a weight upon my body, a pillow over my face.  There is a tingle in the back of my mind, something stirs in my consciousness, a struggle from the night before that I don’t quite remember but feel is coming back to haunt me…

 

I don’t know how I got through those school years.  I learned next to nothing, barely enough education to survive.  But I did survive. I’m still here, and if I got through it, so can anybody, because I’m not special like the mental health posts on Instagram tell me.

Crow perches on my shoulder and nibbles my ear.  “Look, everyone, Yan has a mental illness.” I try to brush him away.  “Keep going, Yan. You’re brilliant. You’re sooooo strooooong. You’re amazing because it’s been written on a post-it note and plastered all over social media.”  He cackles and shits on my neck.

No, I’m really not special at all.

I know I’m no less of a person for suffering from a mental illness, but it doesn’t make me a hero either.  All life is awesome, just look at us, we’re on a rock spinning through space! So yes, I’m amazing, but so is a tapeworm.  Am I special for suffering like this? I haven’t cured cancer. I haven’t sacrificed an arm to save the human race. I don’t even play a musical instrument.  I suffer and live with extreme OCD and depression, but I don’t think that makes me awesome. If becoming awesome is simply not killing yourself then I think we need to raise the bar.

Sometimes we need a few messages saying that it’s OK to be average, that fighting for mediocrity is fine.  There are a lot of people suffering from mental health issues who are horrible bastards, and it has nothing to do with their illness.  If Jimmy Savile had suffered from a mental illness, and maybe he did, he’d still have died a monster “You’re bipolar, Jim,” sings Crow.  “Apparently that makes you a winner!”

I’m not a bad person but am I great?  Cynical as it may sound, I find it condescending when I’m told that I am.  You don’t f**king know me. I want to say, “Yeah, I’m in torment, but that doesn’t make me a better person.”  I guess I’m tougher than a lot of people think because of my internal battle, but what are my other options? Slip a noose around my neck and die hanging from a tree?

Having said that, embracing social media, reading the hardships of fellow sufferers on Twitter and Instagram confirmed that I am not battling this alone.  It made me feel part of a tribe. But peel back the post-it note and you notice the smear on the fridge door. Telling ourselves we are OK is not always the best option.  Sometimes it’s better to say, “Of course I’m not going to give in but I still feel f**ked!”

“It’s pathetic,” says Crow.  And the danger is, although extreme, he could be ‘a little bit’ right.  Yes, his belly is full of lies, but he once told me that someone wanted to do me harm, and the next time I saw that person, I was set upon and assaulted.

Although, thinking about it, I probably deserved it.

“You’re being paranoid,” I had chanted to the gaunt face avoiding shadows in the mirror.

“I told you he was gonna hurt you,” said Crow.

I wasn’t dismembered with an axe, but my fear was correct up to a point.  Two days earlier I’d read on a post-it note someone declaring that everything OCD says is a lie.

“But I’ve told you the truth before, Yan,” whispers Crow.  “I mix my lies with semi-truths. It’s the beauty of OCD. One percent is all it takes.  You listen to a thousand slurs and have to accept them all!”

“Or tell them all to f**k off!” says a frustrated voice at the back of my mind.  Sometimes bad things will happen and guess what, we’ve just gotta roll with it. Not deny it or worry whether it’s true or not.  Stick a post on Instagram and tell the world you’ll deal with it.  

Crow is the reflection distorted in the puddle.  The hooded figure spreading disinformation from the shadows.  But telling me everything it says is a lie, is itself dishonest.  That’s why OCD and other mental illnesses are such dangerous foes.  They match their hosts toe to toe. They are as clever as we are. As dark as we can become.

I suffer from OCD, and it has moulded me and caused me great distress which in turn has led me down paths I would otherwise not have trodden.  It has influenced my decisions and opinions, propelled me into certain action I may not have necessarily taken had a crow not been screaming murder in my ear.  It’s been tough to deal with, but am I great? I genuinely don’t think that I am. Maybe I could have been, but we’ll never know. Am I fine with this? Yes. Because I’ve got other things to worry about.

Personally, when I’m fighting Crow, honesty is my sharpest sword.  He ruined my education, that is a cold fact, but I probably would have failed Maths anyway.

A Fear Not An Urge

OCD is not just washing your hands.

OCD is ruminating on all the ways you can die.  All the ways you can kill your family.

OCD is not just protecting yourself from germs.

OCD is doubting your own sanity.  Losing yourself in the darkest corridors of your mind.

OCD is not just arranging the ornaments on the shelf.

OCD is living alongside your greatest fears.  The key to room 101.

 

I am caught in a tangle of loops.  The most recent was envisioning the humiliation of someone I dearly love.  I’m an OCD veteran, and I should have put up a better fight, yet no matter how hard I tried, I just could not leave that terrible circle.  That f**king abhorrent loop.

I’m back house sitting in East Sussex and the quality of life is good here, but good things attract the OCD sharks – bad thoughts are insects, good times are a candle in the dark; pleasure is a magnet pulling metal teeth.

I listened to the lies and slander, the cawing of the crow.  I wasted a lot of time ruminating; obsessing; throwing myself against walls.  I was hopelessly distressed, performing countless rituals in my head. I had fallen into the familiar trap and was trying to climb out the usual way – upside down, inside out, with my eyes looking into the back of my skull.  I had temporarily accepted the twisted reasoning that if I had thought it, I must obviously want to go through with it. I had forgotten my own mantra – that it’s a fear, not an urge.

My stomach was in knots.  I was spiralling toward catatonia.  Then I got lucky with a mental compulsion, the ‘feeling’ snapping into place, and I managed to pull myself out.  I was thankful for my lucky break, yet disappointed that I had returned to such cheap tactics. Smaller, bothersome thoughts continued to buzz around my brain – they’re always there – and that night I stared into the mirror, reminding myself that I would never be free of this suffering.  It’s true that I’ve known this for a long time, but that doesn’t make it go away.

“Indeed, Yan,” says the crow.  “A fireproof jacket won’t save you when you fall into the mouth of the volcano.”

The triggers are out there, landmines on every road, in every possible direction, waiting for my footfall like exploding snakes sleeping in the grass.  Immobilising me for the day, maybe two, longer if the thought resonates – digs deep. I flashback to the bad old days, cringing at my slumped body on a messy bed, ritualising until I collapsed into a deep sleep.  Those spikes were long, stretching into the sky for a hundred miles. The crow was a Tyrannosaurus Rex with wings, swallowing months of my life with every bite.

It isn’t always violent images or gloomy pessimism, fear of deadly diseases or paranoia with Little One.  Sometimes it can be the power of words, the fear of saying hurtful things to someone close to my heart or a stranger in the street.  How easy it would be to open my mouth and utter such hateful, repulsive comments – poison dripping from my lips in strands of yellow ooze.  We have the power to ruin someone’s day so easily and I find it terrifying that the people we love are undeniably more exposed. I imagine familiar eyes glazed with tears as noxious words fly from my mouth like fighter jets.  “How could you say those things, Yan?” Like a surprise punch to the stomach from your grandad.

Recently, as one particularly nasty thought subsided, I thought that maybe I should tell the person beside me how close I was to spitting vile words into their face?  Prepare them for future offensives. But if I chose this strategy, should I warn everyone I love about the sickening comments I often think to shout? Tell them not to worry if I ever open up with a barrage of oral abuse, because I don’t actually mean it.  Should I Inform them all of the finer details of my OCD? Maybe I should come clean, hand them binoculars and point them to the crow in the sky.

I had a meltdown during my last week in Spain.  I was spinning in a loop, tired and frustrated, getting nowhere but back to the beginning.  I lost an evening but thought I’d seized the next morning until something failed to click into place and I broke again.  Little One hadn’t deserved what she’d witnessed the previous evening, and that morning, as we returned from feeding the pig, I lost control again and ended up running from the car into the wilderness, screaming as I fled.  The attack didn’t last long, and I managed to pull myself together, but I was ashamed that I’d entertained Crow like that, inviting him into the kitchen, serving him flesh from my own thigh. My head hung low as I returned to the house.  I was full of apologies and self-hate, face glowing red like the setting sun.

I’d been doing so well.

Crippled with anxiety the rolling hills had been nothing but a smear on the window.  If England had won the world cup, or I had won the lottery, if aliens introduced themselves on live TV, it wouldn’t have mattered.  My eyes were looking inward, focused on the insects scuttling inside, laying eggs in my brain. It could have rained diamonds and I wouldn’t have wanted to know.

Every day Crow whispers murder in my ear.  But the day I realised it was fear and not an urge was a giant leap in the right direction.  Crow doesn’t want me to be happy, so focuses on situations that I dread the most. Many people get these thoughts – OCD sufferers struggle to shake them off.  As I said before, one of my first fears was to bite the ends off the guns of my plastic toy soldiers. Of course, this was never a matter of life or death or any great horror, so I would do it, and spit the bits of plastic into the bin.  When the fears became much darker, I’d say to myself, “No way, Yan, I’m not doing that…it’ll kill me, or him, or her.”

“But you ruined your toy soldiers,” came the voice from within.  “And if you did that, then you’ll do this. Go on, Yan, kick her in the shins.  Imagine the expression on your Grandmother’s face when she realises you’re not going to stop?”

I wouldn’t be able to think of anything else.

The only way to get the image out of my head was to mentally ritualise, to think about every bone-crunching blow in meticulous detail.  Scrutinising those phantom bruises under a microscope. It could take days, weeks if it was a deep spike, obsessing over the same gruesome act until I could actually smell the violence in the room.  I use this tactic today, but if the horror is not out of my head after an hour or so, I’ll focus on the consequences instead. What would happen after the event?

I answer as truthfully as I can.  “He or she would die horribly, and I would go to jail, or kill myself.”  I picture myself plunging off a cliff, and continue with my day. Unfortunately, when I think that I’ve got an incurable illness, or that someone wants to do me harm, or a myriad of similar delusions, I cannot turn my back so easily, and it may take weeks to distance myself from the obsession.  I keep telling myself what it is, an obsessional thought and hope that a relevant part of me listens, or that other tactics reinforce my struggling rationality.

Another way I fight the fear is to try to come to terms with death.  Seeking to accept the fact that everybody in the world is going to die.  Some peacefully, others more brutally – annihilation is inevitable, there’s nothing anyone can do to prevent it.  Certainly, I still fear death, but not as much as I once did. I recall performing countless rituals attempting to keep my loved ones alive.  But people continued to die, because tapping my forehead while mumbling a mantra doesn’t stall the Reaper, even for a second. My rituals never saved a single soul, but certainly killed many hours.

Routines I performed over the years to stop cancer or AIDS varied from imagining blinding white lights to drumming my fingers on my forehead to walking back and forth through doorways.  But nobody lives forever, and coming to terms with this indisputable fact was beneficial in my fight against OCD. Five hundred years ago, my chances of dying were a lot larger than today.  Smallpox; malnutrition; butchered by a warrior’s axe fighting a barbaric war across Europe. Death by Cholera at thirty-one? Not me. I was drinking rum in Ecuador with new friends from around the world.  I was lucky, I was born in an affluent country in affluent times. But nothing lasts forever.

Admittedly, the fears or spikes seem infinite, falling from above like acid rain, or rising from the ground like hands of the undead.  But, as I’ve said before, acknowledging this can sometimes have a positive impact on my life. Occasionally, the number of intrusive thoughts vibrating in my head becomes so great that the tooth factory spewing out all the negativity shuts down – somebody presses the ‘stop’ button and suddenly I’m in the eye of the storm, three cows and a tractor spiralling about me.

“There are just too many thoughts; this is ridiculous,” says the line manager, and throws his spreadsheets on the floor, hurls his spanner into the guts of the machine.  In a way, I’ve created OCD walls that actually protect me.

I suppose in this chapter I’m trying to reaffirm to people that I’m not dangerous or lazy, incompetent or a waste of space.  Yes, physically I may be staring at the wall, but mentally I’m wrestling a f**king Grizzly Bear. But it’s a fear not an urge – although no easier to negotiate.  Fighting bears is demanding, and although OCD doesn’t define me, it has certainly led me to this field in England.

 

OCD is not just looking for patterns, doing things in threes.

OCD is a constant battering of the senses.  Encouraging you to f*ck everything up.

OCD is not just checking that the front door is locked.

OCD is the worm that burrows deep into your bones.  An unscratched itch in the back of your eye. Ceaseless in its pettiness.  Cruel in its intentions.

OCD is never “JUST” OCD.

Same Game, Different Rules

The world is too much.  The world is not enough.  One day I want everything in it, the next, I want to let it all go.  Am I greedy to want everything and nothing at the same time?  Is this bitterness because I let years of my life slip through my fingers?  What would I have become if I hadn’t been tossed and flung and sucked beneath the OCD ocean?

Maybe nothing.

It is certainly possible that I could have settled for much less.  Would I have even known what was out there? Have I seen more of the world BECAUSE of the leash around my neck?  Did I push myself further with the dragon on my back? Were those bitter pills the reason I eventually escaped the smoking industrial estates?  Of course, I’ll never know, only that the multiverse is full of Yan Baskets’ festering in bed, staring at the wall.

I suppose it doesn’t matter.  I’m here, you’re over there, what has already happened is floating further down the river.  We’ve just lost some of our potential, the what-could-have-beens leaking out of our pockets.  In twenty years’ time, I may regret what I didn’t do today, and depending on where I am in twenty years, I guess that’s inevitable.

I don’t believe in a higher supernatural power, in my opinion, life is not a gift from God, but I believe we are lucky to be here, nonetheless.  Out of all those millions of sperm cells, the chance of our conception is a mixture of a billion lucky breaks, and like great comedy, perfect timing.  Yet I must never forget this weight in my bones, this cawing crow. Not wielding it as an excuse, but as a valid reason that some things were inevitably made more difficult.  Just because something is invisible doesn’t mean it’s not there. You can’t see the wind, only the leaning trees and tumbling leaves – the path it batters. Yet a strong wind can knock down a forest, and like the wind, a mental illness breaks and shatters and can easily push us off the edge of the world.  Sometimes I want to stand up and turn to the people looking out of their windows and shout, “I’m over here and bending like this because the wind is blowing me this way.”

I imagine a woman beckoning me over, inviting me into her house.

“I can’t get there,” I yell.  “The wind is too strong!” But she doesn’t hear me, simply shakes her head, turning to the person beside her, who glances up, puts his arm around her shoulders and leads her further into the room.

“It’s the wind,” I say, but my words are carried away into the sky.

But I know what I’ve suffered.  What I’ve been through. The acid in my belly.  I know the full force of the wind even if others do not.  And that’s all that matters.

Suffering, one way or another, is part of life, and life isn’t fair – it’s a mentally unhealthy universe.  And that’s good to know but knowing doesn’t change the rules.

I could be living under a bridge, or dead in the ground, or yes, I concede, a multi-billionaire sipping cocktails on a yacht.

OCD AWAY DAYS – EL CUERVO and OTHER ANIMALS

I’ve been awake for less than thirty minutes and I’m tossing a bucket of corn over a stone wall to feed a ravenous pig.  Three rams peer over a crooked fence, next in line to receive breakfast, twisted horns like the Devil’s fingers.

“Morning, friends,” I holler over the howling wind.  But it should really be ‘Buenos Dias, amigos,’ as I’m in Spain – or Catalonia if you want to get political.  We’re house sitting again, but this time we have four horses, three rams, a pig, and a large German Shepherd to keep alive.

The last three months moved fast.  Seems like I blinked and suddenly I’m here, in Catalan, filling the three amigos’ trough with water.  All going well, we should be returning to the house in East Sussex in February, but first, we have the small task of staying alive in Spain.  Could be tougher than it sounds, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

I reminisce about that house on a hill in such a picturesque part of England.  I remember the walk through the woods to reach the village pub, the savage garden that needed taming, and then the drive back home for Christmas, Crow telling me to jump out of the car as it sped along the motorway – I pictured losing my face on the asphalt surface over a hundred times.  A handful of Christmas presents later and Little One and I were sleeping on the cold floor at Barcelona airport, waiting for the train ticket office to open – to catch a train to a town close to the border of France, and make our way into the Spanish countryside to a converted mill house, with solar panels and a noisy electric generator – just in case.  We really are in the middle of nowhere again.

It’s a clear day if a little cold.  The blue sky above us reminds me of calm water – like I could turn the world upside down and sink into its frigid depths.  I visualise the serotonin pouring into my brain but my mind is still in East Sussex, and our day trip to Beachy Head where Little One and I saw a poor woman on the edge of the crumbling cliff, behind her a team of psychologists, police officers and coast guards, attempting to talk her out of performing what would be her final act.  Maybe we had passed her on the street last week, or she’d served us a burger meal in a fast food restaurant or jumped ahead of us at the supermarket check-out. So many people with demons on their minds – so many crows perched on hunched shoulders. A policeman tells us we must detour from the path we’re walking, and we silently wish her well as we turn away.

Hoping that she didn’t jump, my thoughts return to the here and now, as I stride up a slight incline towards a stone barn and the three dishevelled rams.  Of course, Crow tells me that she did take the plunge – then whispers that maybe I should leap off one of the mountains on the jagged horizon.

“Shut your face, Crow.”  I throw a slice of alfalfa over that crooked fence.  The three rams lock horns. S**t, I must remember to separate their feed into three equal handfuls.  One of them could lose an eye.

My gaze returns to the blue sky, the surrounding hills, the scattered rocks and the grunting pig feasting on the corn.  I should be more excited than this. To appreciate where I am a little more, in this beautifully renovated mill house on the side of a Spanish hill. I really feel that I’m starting to get over this travelling bug, although it’s taken a good few years to drip from my system.  Maybe I’m tired of running away. Perhaps I should stay and fight Crow on home soil? My first trip, a year backpacking around the world, seems like a lifetime ago. And it is a lifetime. Sixteen years and counting. Crow promised me I’d be dead by now.

On the one hand, it’s worrying that I’m not excited to be here.  On the other, I see it as a positive that I want to return home. A black cloud begins to crawl across the distant Pyrenees mountain range; dark thoughts and the rumblings of a heavy stomach – depression is Nosferatu’s shadow creeping up the stairs.  Got to keep my mind busy, but not with anything that will trigger an attack. Above all, I want to keep my OCD at a healthy distance – which would be buried in a dry lake bed on Mars if I had my way. Yes, I think I’m going to have a lot of time to think out here.

“You’re f**ked,” says Crow.

“You’ve been saying that since I was nine,” I reply.

 

It’s the next day; everything was going so well.  But I must remain vigilant because I’m typing this with a gash on the top of my head and my right temple swabbed and bandaged.  Antibiotics swim in my blood, my left arm aching from a tetanus jab.

The dog we’re looking after bit me last night.  I was stroking him as usual, speaking to him calmly and telling him how lovely he was when all of a sudden I had the jaws of a German Shepherd clamped around my head.  I pulled away and he sank back down on his blanket. Little One was looking at me and I saw the horror in her eyes. The right side of my face became warm. I gently touched my temple, and when I looked at my hand, blood dripped along my fingers.

We drove to the nearest hospital, where the staff was skilled and efficient – pleasant too.  They did a great job, and gave me a jab and a prescription for antibiotics, then sent me on my way, back to the house in the Spanish hills.

“He’s going to attack you the moment you open the gate,” said Crow.

He didn’t.  He wanted to be stroked.

Of course, Crow keeps telling me that I have rabies now, or a mutated dog disease that eventually turns its human victims into the walking dead.  I’m mostly ignoring him, but it can be difficult at times, even though I’m used to his macabre, twisted logic. I know it could have been much worse, and somewhere in the Multiverse, my entire face is slowly digesting in a dog’s stomach.

I was worried that the horses would cause me the most stress but, so far, they’ve been trouble-free.  They don’t really do much – which is way better than trying to bite my face off. They walk around the field.  They eat alfalfa and two buckets of horse feed a day. They stand and stare and bray and occasionally shelter from the snarling wind.  I wonder what it would be like to be a horse and suffer depression and anxiety? Distressing, I guess, no better than it is for the rest of us.

That’s it for now.  We’re in Spain and we have to keep nine animals alive, and ourselves, of course.  It’s only for a month but the dog attack was on the third day. I hear him scratching at the door as I type.  What does he want? I lean over to let him in. What could possibly go wrong?

Please don’t answer that, Crow…

The Lip of the Void

I think I’ve started to enjoy being awake more than being asleep for the first time in my life.  I’m not one hundred percent sure but I’ll take this ambiguity over the certainty that I’d prefer to spend my time unconscious under a duvet – unfortunately I’m still fiercely bitter that intrusive thoughts and the knock-on effects destroyed my lust for life, crushing all my experiences in it.  I remind myself how OCD is misrepresented in the media and shake a fist to the sky. Depression and anxiety too. No doubt every aspect of mental health. I wish certain people could have seen me standing at the edge of that black void.

It’s still there, with three stooped figures sitting on the verge of that empty pit, inviting me to join them with ill-fated, twitching gestures.  These days I smile at their pathetic attempts to draw me in – like three bloated sirens tempting sailors into the swirling currents with nothing but their toothy grins.  My waking hours are still difficult. But manageable.

A few days ago, driving down a narrow country lane, Little One had to hit the brakes to avoid a herd of deer that emerged from the bushes.  They bounded across the road, scrambling up the opposite embankment – all except one, who struggled to climb the wooded slope. The toiling animal panicked, opting instead for the easier route up the winding road.  She retreated around the corner. As we crawled down the lane, Little One came to another abrupt stop as the deer reappeared, this time hurtling towards the front of our car. A dog – husky looking and fierce – was giving chase.  There ensued a wild waltz of scampering hooves and twisting bodies. We observed the macabre ballet from the car, and when the impromptu hunt took the animals back up the country lane, we continued our journey to town. As we rounded the bend, we saw that the dance was reaching its bloody climax.

Again, we drew the car to a halt, watching the dog pin the deer to the ground by its throat.  It was a savage moment, and if I ever needed reminding of the brutality of life, this would do it.  Little One blasted the car horn, the startled dog ceasing its assault long enough for the apologetic owner to catch up, puffing and panting, and drag the canine, jaws salivating, from the doomed animal.  I went away thinking about how lucky I was that I wasn’t that deer. The blessing soon replaced with a profound sadness that an animal had been mauled close to death in front of me.

At that moment, somewhere in the world, someone fell awkwardly and broke their neck.  I didn’t see it, but averages tell me that it happened. That people fall and break their necks every day.  As I struggled with this concept, I told myself that I shouldn’t dwell on it – but of course, I did anyway.  My head was full of images of a dead deer and a dying man at the foot of the stairs.  Why can’t I think of rainbows over rolling meadows? I mused. Another question spawned in my mind.

Is life worth this misery?

Life is certainly tough, and I can leave at any moment, but it would be my final full stop, so why go now?

To kill a crow?

He can wait.

To stop the bad thoughts shredding my mind?

As I’ve just said, it can be the time of my choosing – and I don’t want to miss anything while I’m still able to function.

I turned up the car stereo.

Onto brighter skies, and we spent an afternoon at the local pub.  We arrived at happy hour, the local ale calming my nerves – we had a great time.  Yes, OCD knocked, but I didn’t let it in. In the bathroom mirror, I noticed the gorgon wiggling her hips and leering, tempting me to look at her head of squirming snakes.

“What are those shadows on your face?” she hissed.  “Is it cancer or an omen of approaching trouble, apocalyptic horses on the horizon?”

I turned away and washed my hands in the sink.  Nice try, but no cigar. I shut the door and ordered another drink – you’ve got to make the most of a happy hour in this part of the world.  That evening, The Crimson Knight, my violent trumpeter of self-harm, made one of his regular appearances, but I knocked him off his horse with a blank refusal to entertain him for any more than that first fleeting second.  He writhed on the ground, cursing.

I fell asleep quickly, with good thoughts on my mind.

Crow continues to know everything I think, counting my entire hand, every card that I draw from the pack.  But I can fight back, and today, when he blew a cloud of black smoke into my face, I looked over the surrounding hills, inhaled the cloud and blew it back out.  I’m still not jumping into that black void. Three figures turned their heads in disgust while I fought to appreciate the things that I have. The cloud didn’t disperse but I was able to waft it away.  Crow flew into a tree and knocked himself out.

I’ve been busying myself too, working hard in the garden and also quite a lot of freelance writing.  The remaining hours are spent sipping cold beer, relaxing in the lush countryside. Another reason I’m never going to choose to enter that void – there are no rolling hills inside that black pit.  Just a whole lot of nothing.

Today we’re going for a walk in the woods, we have to if we want to visit the local pub.  A few more pints of the local ale perhaps – chemical warfare against the thundering divisions of OCD tanks.  There is often a bottle of vodka in the fridge too. It probably isn’t ideal but what is? A glass of wine, a drag of a joint, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, yoga, cutting myself with razor blades, headbutting walls, CBT, EMDR, ERP?  The list is long and flaps about in the wind like a flag at half-mast. Take your pick, choose your weapon but please don’t judge one another on what we sleep with under our pillows.

The fact that I’m going for a walk through the woods today is a testament to the battle I’m surviving.  Because even that would have been a struggle a few years ago. Flashback to a room in Rajasthan, India, keeled over my bed and sweating as the world rolled by my window, hunger pains gnawing at my stomach, intrusive thoughts battering the inside of my head.  Finally forcing myself outside for some street food, head looking down, eyes stinging with the sweat that poured down my face. I can’t go on, I thought, stumbling past a scrawny cow, children playing cricket with balled up plastic bags. But I did go on, and I’m glad that I never gave up because I’m sweating a little less these days.

It can get better ladies and gentlemen.  I don’t know how but it just can. Maybe one day it will disappear altogether.  The whole gang exploding in a puff of pink smoke: Crow, the Gorgon and that f**king Crimson Knight – anxiety and depression gaining mass (the yellow river, and the black gas,) spinning in a circle and getting sucked into that void.  Or is that just wishful thinking?

I vow to never again think of that blackness until old age dangles me over its wispy lip.  But it’s a promise that I know I can’t keep. The idea will continue to haunt me, but I think it’s worth sticking around for a chance to see my demons buried six feet in the ground – before they bury me.