I don’t exclusively visualise my OCD as that bastard crow. Last month my OCD felt like a wall crawling with ants, recently it’s been a black cloud the size of a continent – maybe tomorrow I’ll see it as a clown swallowing razor blades.
I had been suffering violent intrusive thoughts for a long stretch of time. But it wasn’t only physical harm that terrorised my world, thoughts about injuring people with abhorrent, hurtful words constantly threatened to spill from my mouth, to wash away those that I love like village huts in the path of a tsunami. I imagined whispering such dreadful things, blowing lies into a loved one’s ears, remarks that would wound and scar for life. And then one morning I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the bathroom mirror, and I noticed an abrasion on my skin.
“Here I come!” shrieked Crow, and I lost two days ruminating over what that blemish might mean. Of course, when Crow smells fear, he becomes a great white shark. Cancer was the word of the week. Cancer in my stomach, cancer on my skin, cancer in my liver, my brain, my blood. The ominous cloud was above that place in my mind where every time I looked into that cursed mirror, or felt a bruise on my flesh, or suffered a thumping headache, I imagined it was the beginning of the end of my life.
I glared at my sombre reflection on a blank television screen. I imagined a well-groomed man, a smile on his face like a knife slash in pigskin, pointing to a weather map in a familiar television studio. The world spun gently on its axis, as a dark shadow crept slowly across the globe like a noxious gas.
“This afternoon the cloud continues to cover most of the northern continent,” he said through that wicked smile, slicing across his face like a cracking sheet of ice.
My OCD can manifest itself as violent images, false memories, a need for symmetry and fear of contamination. But for two weeks my OCD cloud had cast a shadow over a patch of land that has been storm free for quite a while.
It became an old man coughing up blood in a hospital waiting room. For five days, I convinced myself I was going to die of three or four different cancers. I rang health lines and visited the doctors, and ‘Little One’ had to go for blood tests too (for different reasons) and of course, Crow convinced me of the worst possible outcome. I became a twitching mess at the bottom of a deep black sea, as well as that tired old man in slippers, shuffling down infinite corridors.
Urges to ritualise, to keep those germs away, flashed past the window like cars on a motorway fast-lane. Would picturing a blinding white light wash away my medical fears? Of course not. But I did it anyway.
I fought against some intrusive thoughts, I capitulated to others – on my knees and following orders over the trench wall like a front-line soldier.
The doctor told me I was OK.
The doctor told ‘Little One’ that she was OK.
I thought that meant that the world was going to be fine, at least for the time being.
And then we got a phone call in the middle of the night.
I’m not going into too much detail but after three days at the hospital, we lost someone very close to us.
Irrational compulsions hadn’t saved the day. We lost a piece of the world. And I think the crow knew that under such stressful circumstances he wasn’t even on the horizon.
I couldn’t see him. The world was too black.
I couldn’t hear him. The world was too loud.
I saw people I love break down in tears, and that wrenched me across the floor, crashing me into walls.
One evening, while pacing across the hospital waiting room, a shadow crept across a familiar, well-trodden field in a corner of my mind. It was a cloud, black like a bucket of coal.
“What are you going to do, cloud? Rain on me? I’ve just come from the Critical Care Unit. Your threats are useless!”
A thought rolled across my mind’s eye, a black plastic bag tumbling on a breeze – could compulsive visualisation change this situation?
I thought of Crow. “Shall I look at a spot on the back of a chair and think of a brilliant white light?”
I glared at a picture on the wall – a village church in a field. “Should I blink at the image, Crow? Is that fair trade for a miracle? Or is there anything else I should do? Can I save a life by repeating certain words in my head? And what is it you can actually do right now?
Black feathers stirred in the sky.
“You’re the one who can stop the situation,” I imagined him taunting.
I broke once. I’d almost upheld a policy of zero tolerance, but not quite. And no, it didn’t help. The news was bad.
I’m home now. The OCD cloud is floating over other fields, replaced however by a great sadness. Not a fog but a vast hole in the sky.
“It’s not known when the storm will return,” says the crisply dressed weatherman with the sinister smile. He points to the video map projected over his shoulder, where the world spins in semi-darkness. “However, anomalies continue to blot out the sun.”
I picture him being ravished by raptor dinosaurs.
Crow has been quiet all day. I imagine him sleeping in a nest of snakes. I know he’ll be back but today I’m so numb I don’t think there’s an opening for one of those OCD ants crawling up the wall, let alone a mischievous crow, the size of the sky, with nuisance on his mind.
I thought I was going to die from a horrendous disease.
I ritualised and I lived.
But someone I loved did die.
At the hospital, my OCD attacks were few and far apart, so should I have ritualised more than I did? Of course not, but somewhere down the line, I’m expecting Crow to tell me that was exactly what the situation needed.
Terrible things are going to happen throughout our lives, whether we surrender to our compulsions or not – and it’s hard to convince ourselves that we have no control over such incidents. OCD says we can change the world, and we can, but not by avoiding odd numbers or imagining shadows doused in blinding white light.
The Crow will be flying my way soon.
I know he’s coming.
And I’ll be waiting.