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 – although I’m still fiercely bitter that intrusive thoughts and the knock-on effects destroyed my lust for life, and crushed 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 they 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 now.

A few days ago, driving down the narrow country lane that connects the house to the main road, 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 deer 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, 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 harshness of life, this would do it.  Little One blasted the car horn, startling the dog, ceasing it’s assault long enough for the apologetic owner to catch up, puffing and panting, and drag it, jaws salivating, from the doomed animal.  I went away thinking 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 it happens every day. I know I shouldn’t have dwelled on it – but I did.  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 mental pain?

Yes, life is 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 stereo.

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

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

I’m still not jumping into the 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 in the garden of the house we’re looking after and also quite a lot of freelance writing.  The remaining hours are spent with a cold can of beer while relaxing in the lush countryside. Another reason I’m never going to choose to enter that void.  There are no rolling hills inside. Just a whole lot of nothing.

Today we’re off for a walk through the woods, revisiting 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 on a joint, hypnotherapy, yoga, hyperventilating techniques, cutting myself, headbutting walls, psychotherapy, CBT, EMDR, ERP therapy?  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 sweat that poured down my face. I can’t go on, I thought, stumbling past a scrawny cow, children playing cricket with crushed 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 guys and girls.  I don’t know how but it just does. Maybe one day it will disappear altogether.  The whole gang exploding in a puff of pink smoke: The Crow, the Gorgon and that f*cking Crimson Knight – anxiety and depression gaining mass, the yellow river, and the black gas, spinning in a circle and getting sucked into that void.  I strive to never again think of that blackness until old age dangles me over its wispy lip.

I think the image will haunt me yet, 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.

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A BRIDGE, THREE COWS AND A MILLION BUTTERFLIES

 

Today we conversed with cows.  Myself and Little One making friends over a wire fence.  We’re on the move again.  We’ve dusted down our backpacks, locked the front door and put the keys through the letterbox.  It didn’t involve flying halfway around the world this time – in fact, we didn’t have to get on a plane at all.  Not even a boat, just got in our car and drove south for four hours.  We’re housesitting in East Sussex, a beautiful part of the world, and similar to Norfolk, our home county, only with rolling hills, and fields of roaming cows instead of inactive sugar beet.  We were supposed to be housesitting in Hungary three weeks ago, but after terrible news we had to cancel and make alternate plans – so here we are, watching the sunset over lurching hills, gossiping with cattle.

I spoke last entry of how Crow, my OCD avatar, went missing after we received that horrific news.  Sadly, he’s been trying to sneak back into my life, and presented himself as a clamouring crackpot yesterday on the M25, when he suggested that I open the passenger door and fling myself onto the busy road.  I beat him back with a blank refusal to listen to his fiendish ramblings. It was tough, and during the battle, I lost myself in a fog of depression, which worked in my favour, as I fell onto the cold blade of sadness rather than the machine gun fire of intrusive thought.  Oh, lucky me, suffocating in a black bin liner instead of walking into the spray of an AK47 on full automatic fire.  I remember the old saying, how the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

We crossed the Dartmouth Bridge – such an amazing structure, and a testament to what the human race can achieve.  “You also cut each other’s heads off for conflicting religious beliefs,” smirked Crow. And I had to agree with him.

He’s made other appearances this week, but I fought him off with a returning compulsion of blinking my eyes at set intervals, and other daft rebuffs that for one reason or another give me moments of peace away from those flapping wings.

I’ve met new people, which can be hard for me – approached them with a firm handshake and a nudge in the back of my brain, a careful reminder that no-one lives forever.  F*ck feeling awkward at new relationships; who cares if these well-spoken locals think I’m less of a human being, or a gibbering moron, a babbling lunatic even?  All three if they choose – although I’ll be the first to concede that they’re probably not thinking these things at all…they actually seem rather nice.

I smile because we’re all going to be gone in a blink of the Universe’s eye anyway.

When I meet new people, they get one of three Yans.  On a good day, they get Yan the Optimist.  He is confident, hopefully pleasant, probably talkative, eyes focused on the positive.  Often courageous, sometimes fearless, this fleeting figure is unfortunately scarce, almost limited, and I feel lucky when I step into his shoes.

On a bad day – a typical day – they get one of the other, not so user-friendly versions.  There’s Yan the Furtive – doubtful, forgetful, stammering, red-faced as he looks for an exit to leave the immediate area.  You will frequently find this Yan laying on his bed, or in the corner of the room pretending to read a book.

And then there’s Yan the Berserker, existing only when there are other people in the room, like the sound of a tree falling in the forest.  He is restless, looking to flood the dark alleyways with water from a gushing river.  Obliterating awkward silence with any available noise.  Dead inside, but outside painting his walls with an electric brush doused with metallic, glowing paint. He is a blazing ball of red light – the worse he feels, the brighter he burns.  He is a hungry wind, a foghorn in the mist, a manic clown juggling sticks of dynamite.  “Yan’s a character, isn’t he?” I hear them say.  “He mustn’t have a care in the world…”

A few people peer through my mask like it was made of glass.  It’s usually the fellow sufferers of depression, anxiety or blasting intrusive thoughts.  It takes one to know one I suppose.

I’ve said it before but I think the clever ones, or the ones with great social skills, are able to hide their pain better than others.  They have louder, more detailed masks because they don’t want to be a burden – which of course they’re not.  They know how to apply the makeup, and sometimes recognise the mask on other people too.  I’m not one of the clever ones, by the way, I just don’t like being the reason for people to stress or worry, so I cover up my woes with strips of colourful wallpaper.  Time and experience have made me quite the handyman – I have friends who think I’m the happiest person on the planet.

I often wonder what my world would have been like living as Yan the Optimist.  Using my time to create a better life, planning for the future instead of years spent dwelling on Crow’s cruel whispers.  Today would have been a different day indeed.  Although let’s face it, I could be dead.  Sliding doors and all that.  I’d simply be on another path, and maybe I wouldn’t have met Little One, and that would be unthinkable.

There are a thousand forks in every road, each leading to a new destination – another fork.  A man who is killed on his way to the shop would still be alive if he’d had his newspaper delivered to his doorstep.  Tiny things create mighty waves.  Butterflies and flapping wings.

Back to the here and now, and those cows have shuffled over to the other side of the field.  Was it something I said?

There are sights to see and adventures to be had, even this close to home.  Things to do in this little corner of the world.  A new road.  Norfolk with bumps.  I’m watching a crow perched on a telephone wire.  I point it out to Little One and we both smile.  That f*cker follows me everywhere.

“He’s part of you,” says Little One.

It’s cooler now, time for a hot drink, followed by a cold beer.  I’m closing the conservatory door as well as the laptop.

Speak soon,

Yan Baskets  

A HOLE IN THE SKY

I don’t exclusively visualise my OCD as that b*stard crow.  Last month my OCD felt like a wall crawling with ants; recently it’s been a black cloud the size of a continent, drifting over a world in a corner of a cosmos created somewhere within the sparking wires of my mind.

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 hell into a loved one’s ears, remarks to 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 the Crow, and I lost two days ruminating over what that blemish could mean.  Of course, when the 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 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 in a television screen, imagining a well-groomed man, with a smile like a knife slash in pigskin, pointing to a weather map in a familiar television studio.  A 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 north-western continent,” he said through that wicked smile – cracking across his face like a splitting 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.

I was suddenly an old man coughing up blood in a long corridor.  In 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, and 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 hallways.

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, Yan.

I fought against some, I capitulated to others – on my knees and following orders over the trench wall like a frontline 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. 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 the cloud and it was black like a bucket of coal.

“What are you going to do, cloud?  F*cking rain on me? Your threats are useless! I’ve just come from the Critical Care Unit!”

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 worry about? Can I save myself from incurable illness by repeating certain words in my head?  But what is it you can actually do right now? Send me to Hell? I’m already here, Crow.”

Black feathers stirred in distant skies.

“You can stop this situation,” I imagined him taunt.

I broke once.  I almost upheld a desired policy of zero tolerance, but not quite.  And it didn’t help. The news was bad.

 

I’m home now.  The OCD cloud is still thankfully dispersed, 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 neatly dressed weatherman with the sinister smile.  He points to the video map projected over his shoulder, but the world spins in semi-darkness. “However, anomalies continue to blot out the sun.”

I purposely picture him 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 with nuisance on his mind.

 

Yes, I thought I was going to die from a horrendous disease.

I ritualised and I lived.

But someone I loved did die from a medical condition.

I only had a couple of OCD attacks, 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 I should have.

Terrible things will happen, whether you surrender to your compulsions or not.  It can be hard to convince ourselves that we have no control over certain things – over most things, in fact.

 

The Crow will be flying my way soon.

I know he’s coming.

And I’ll be waiting.

 

THE ANXIETY SOCIETY: A COMRADE’S STORY

I want to go shopping.  I need to go shopping.  My shoes are on and I’ve got my coat in my hand.   An old man shuffles past the window.

I look into the hallway mirror.  “For f**k’s sake, Yan. Get out there.”  My eyes are sad; my shoulders are slumped like my anxiety has mass, hanging down my back and dragging.

So I open the door, slipping into my coat as I stride through the gate.  “Confidence is looking the dragon in its eyes, Yan. It doesn’t matter that you’re scared.  Everybody gets scared sometimes.”

Anxiety is not my biggest issue.  My bane is a double-headed axe – cruel, intrusive thoughts and sweeping depression.  If Crow is my OCD, constantly in my skies, then my anxiety is a jack-in-a-box, wound up and tense, seven days or seven seconds away from leaping out and pouncing. 123456712345671234567…

When she comes she casts a vast shadow, raking her nails down a blackboard.  “The whole world is watching, Mr. Baskets.  And they’re not impressed.”

I look into the hallway mirror.  At those shadows under my eyes.

“I’m fine,” I whisper, more in hope than confirmation.

“No, you’re not, you’re useless,” sniggers Crow.

“I’ve done OK with the hand I’ve been dealt.”  I cringe inside; how I hate those cliches.

“This is not a game of cards, Yan.”

“I know, it’s a metaphor.”

“OK, so if life’s a game of poker, you should have bluffed.”

“I bluff every day.”

“Should’ve tried harder, Yan my man!”

“But you’re a worthy opponent.”

“I cheat!” shouts Crow, and pulls out the ace of clubs from his beneath his wings.  “Those that succeed in life have to be ruthless, or lucky. And you’re neither.”

Whatever I do or say, it’s never enough; Crow tells me that I’m ugly and weak and too thin and too fat and not funny and too silly and people are watching me and they know I’m useless and I know this is stupid but Crow’s claws are wringing out my nerves like a wet tea towel.

I get hot and angry, frustrated at my weakness.  I often head back home before my task is over, slump into a chair and wish I was asleep in a room in a castle underground.  Lock the doors and crawl into the cellar, head in my hands, listening to that jack in the box swinging on its springs – devious in the candlelight.

I recently went to a local music festival, and when I spoke with people I knew in the crowd, I saw myself from above – a crow’s-eye view – hands gesticulating, fake laughs in fits and spurts – like the crack of sniper-fire in the mountains.  Did those people suspect I was burning up inside? The bead of sweat running down my cheek was a subtle clue, but they were looking right through me.

“I think he was on drugs,” I imagined them saying when I lost myself in the throng.  Head looking down, constantly rethinking, avoiding eye contact, scalp itching like it was on fire.  Why did I come here? Because if I didn’t do these things, what would be the point? I’ve already wasted a lifetime in bed or hiding in plain sight on the couch.  “I’ve got a headache, I think I’ll stay here today.”

I got drunk at the festival, and the evening was easier to negotiate, but I often ask myself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Crow hops into my knee, but I already know the answer before he spits his poison onto my lap.

“I could die!” I snap.  “Or something could happen that would result in my death.”

Crow nods his head in agreement.

“So fuck it! Let’s go.  I’ve already put in motion the first steps of my death.  It’s the butterfly effect.” Every decision I make nudges me closer to my dying breath.  Just sitting here on the couch is a decision in itself. The fact that I’m here and not over there is proof of a chosen path.  And whichever path we choose leads to our inevitable extinction. Certain decisions may enable us to live longer, but relative to the age of the universe, it is infinitesimal.  The final destination is the same for us all, it’s just how we choose to get there.

So I choose to venture outside and sweat it out some days, whereas other times I lay in bed and lose myself in a loop of thought.  There are days when I force myself out, mumbling under my breath that I’m going to die anyway so it may as well be today, in the local supermarket, squeezing avocados or filling my bags at the cash register.   I admit this may not seem ideal, but it does get me out of the house. It has enabled me to travel across the world, daydreaming of my demise on a dusty bus through Honduras, looking at my reflection in a dirty window, uttering ‘f**k it,’ under my breath, or slumped in the back of a crowded Toyota Hilux, scrutinised by strangers, as it grinds across the Sahara desert in the dead of night – it’s hard to explain the sickness I feel in my stomach when I’m on these trips.  I guess I’m a glutton for punishment.

 

In a thousand years we’ll all be dead, anyway, and that goes for you too, Crow.

 

“LET’S KILL ALL THE FISH!”

Achieving anything under the influence of OCD is like having to climb over a sheer concrete wall with rocks in your boots.  I find the same with depression; the black dog sinking its fangs into your calf, snarling, head shaking from side to side, dragging you down to the ground like a convict in spotlights.  I look at my OCD as a crow, but I’ve heard others describe their own demon as a goblin, a monkey, a swarm of flies. I’ve been scolded by a psychologist for giving OCD a face but, like I told the doctor at the time, it helps me to fight it, and you don’t suffer with it, so thanks for the advice but…

Either way, mental illness is a bag of lead ingots, slung across your back.

“Ok,” says the Crow, with mischief on his mind.  “Let’s see how far up the wall you can get today!”

So I fight it.

But it’s tough to fight an opponent who knows your every move.  It’s like playing poker with yourself and trying to bluff your hand.

“You’re wasting your life, make a decision and do something,” some might say.

I am doing something, I tell them.  I’m wrestling an electric eel every second of every day.  The fact that I’m not banging my head against that concrete wall is a huge achievement for me.

They say they understand, but I don’t think ‘THEY’ actually do.  And I don’t blame them, because I don’t know much about the other hundred thousand illnesses and disorders that I don’t suffer with.  In fact, there are legions of diseases out there, killing people every day, that I don’t even realise exist. It doesn’t mean I disrespect those afflicted by them.

I read many tweets, facebook messages and social media comments jovially describing OCD as an eccentric distraction.  “I’m so OCD because I group all my clothes by colour,” wrote a former work colleague on his facebook wall last year. Huddled under the bed sheets, I yelled my disdain but soon went back to fighting my own irrational thoughts before they ruined another day for me.  There was no need to get aggressive with him for an off-the-cuff comment, to troll him and vilify him and bite and scratch and kick him into a corner; it wouldn’t help my condition one bit. If you want a fight, then take on ISIS, or the bully at work, or the drunk causing aggro at the bar.  But go easy with the miseducated teenager arranging her shampoo’s by the colour of the bottle-caps.

I hear people complain, “They don’t understand my condition.”  Well educate them, and if they still don’t agree, or lack empathy, then that’s their prerogative.  Bosses at work come under fire for not allowing someone with depression take six months off every year.  I struggled at work in factories for years, the last thing I expected was to take a day off every time I battled a spike.  I’d never have worked a day in my life.  I knew someone who was paralysed from the waist down, and the first thing he admitted to me was that he’d never be a fireman!  Imagine if he argued that the fire service should invest and create a special ladder that could winch him up a tree to rescue the old ladies cat.  Of course, I agree with sick days, but I think that if you need to take every other day off work, then you need to find a new career.  If a restaurant owner employed six staff, all suffering from a mental illness, and each employee took half the week off sick, that person wouldn’t be in the restaurant business for very long.  The bank would send in the bailiffs and come Monday, there would be seven depressed people filing into the unemployment office instead of six.

Cancer isn’t pleasant either, or AIDS, or Spina Bifida, or Schizophrenia, or acne, or war, or racism, or homophobia, or… the world isn’t fair, it’s full of creatures – from dogs to human beings – struggling to survive.  And we fight the injustice as much as we can, but essentially, no-one owes us anything. There are over seven billion people on the planet. SEVEN BILLION! And I’d bet my thumbs that not many of those seven billion live a perfect life.  Every one of us has a list of problems, obstacles lined up like gravestones, vultures perched on telephone wires, shadows under our eyes from restless nights worrying about money, injustice, death. Maybe one in three will get Cancer, and one in four might suffer mental health issues during a life raising children who will also suffer the consequences of being born.  Every one of them will know grief and pity and envy and will be a victim of someone else at some point in their life. Because that’s what life is, a series of problems, of walls to scale, of paths to tread with backpacks full of lead, with black dogs snapping at our heels.

Of course, I would like everyone to understand my daily plight.  Of course, it would make life a little easier for me if everyone were able to empathise with my disorder.  Yes, I roll my eyes when I hear someone say that depression is all in your head! – Oh the irony! – Of course, I try to educate people when they say “Isn’t OCD that thing when you can’t stop hovering?”  But I won’t be angry, because I don’t know much about Alpha 1-Antitrypsin Deficiency…do you?

 

 

It’s another problem in a world of f*****g problems. And ideally, everyone should know everything about everything.  And I understand that we have to continually educate ourselves and others, and constantly push forward with mental health awareness, but we shouldn’t get angry with those that don’t quite get it yet – let’s not vilify them like they are the next Ted Bundy or Chairman Mao.  Yes, of course, it is ignorance, but there’s a lot of things in this world I’m ignorant of. I wouldn’t have been able to write a paragraph on OCD if I didn’t suffer so badly from it myself. Why would I? I don’t know much about cerebral palsy either, or world trade, or basketball, or athlete’s foot.  If someone makes the comment, “I’m so OCD because I’m always rearranging my shoe closet,” then instead of screaming at them like you’ve stumbled across a dead body in the woods, educate them – politely – and don’t tie them to a railway track.  When my OCDemon is thrashing drums in my head, I couldn’t care less if a friend thinks he’s OCD because he can’t wear odd socks on weekdays.  He may not have OCD, but for sure, he’ll have other problems in his life.  He might have a voice telling him to jump off the church roof.  He might be waiting for test results at the hospital, or owe twice his wages to his landlord, or have to visit a terminally ill relative at a hospice later in the day.  Why the hell would they be learning about OCD?  If nothing bad is going on in their life right now, be happy for them.  By all means, reveal your issues to people, but know they’ll have issues of their own.  Punching and spitting won’t get the monkey off your back.  It’s too easy to vent our frustration at a soft target rather than the beast itself.  If the scourge of the ocean is too cunning and strong, don’t take your frustration out on the sardines.

“They don’t understand the trouble the Kraken causes us, I hate those fucking sardines! Let’s kill all the fish!”

The world is a tough place to live in.  To fit into.  To negotiate.  Every person you pass on the street has their own circling crow.  I know it can be irritating but let’s not be spiteful to those that don’t understand.  You can’t beat ignorance with hate.  (Trust me, they’ll just hate you back.)  It’s love we need to load into our guns, or we’ll all suffer the consequences.

 

 

SPLASHES OF LIGHT

 

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 hunter’s 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 every day in the face, you finally learn to roll with the blows.  It 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 a 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.

INFINITE ROOMS

Life’s default position is not set on ‘fair.’  People struggle, and if there was a master designer, which I doubt, then he, or she, has made it this difficult on purpose.

“It’s supposed to be hard,” says the omniscient being, sharpening thunder-bolts on a cloud.

The injustice is not singularly mine, or ours, it belongs to billions of people around the world.  We share the pain, and there’s a lot of it to go around.

“Never feel alone in your agony,” sneers the Devil, lighting a cigarette and blowing the smoke into a puppy’s eyes.

I’ve been in a stupor for the last two days, ruminating over unhealthy fears, trying to figure out if certain events actually happened, or if Crow has thrown a handful of false memories into the pot.  I was fighting him at one point, had him trapped in the corner, unleashing my punches, focusing on the body, but then I got caught with a sucker-punch, and suddenly I was down on one knee, gloves on the canvas, crushed lungs gasping for air.  Clambering to my feet, I lifted my guard, changing tactics in the hope I would make it to the end of the round.

In other words, I followed Crow into the woods, or rather, decided to let the Horror Movie’ play out in my head, didn’t interact or turn away, watched it through to the end with heavy eyes.  I saw terrible things but left my seat only as the credits rolled, kicking the exit door open, sending it crashing against the wall with such force that it came back at me in a painful flash, colliding with the bridge of my nose, knocking me back into the empty cinema.  More thoughts flooded my mind as I fell onto a heap of warm bodies, rolling off onto the carpeted floor which was wet and sticky.  I didn’t have to look, it was blood and I knew it.  I needed to get out of there before the next feature-film began, and this time I eased the door open, walking out into the hot summer’s day, across the empty car park and into the desert beyond.  White light poured through a crack in the sky, soon everything was doused in the brilliant light, my own hands disappearing into the ‘blinding’ in front of my face, and then I was back home, sitting on the couch in the lounge, glaring at an empty space on the wall.

I left bodies in that rancid cinema.  I did terrible things and had terrible things done to me.  It sickened me but I went through the motions in my head anyway.  ‘But it was the OCD, Yan,’ and no one was hurt other than a little bit of me, mentally, emotionally, a paper cut would leave more of a physical scar.  I abandoned the Crimson Knight flicking popcorn into his helmet somewhere on the back row, and I know that if I hadn’t imagined those tortures, I wouldn’t have left the house.  It’s my OCD, and the next attack sees me going over old enemy lines.  It’s to do with Little One, something irrelevant but I have to make it ‘right’ in my mind.  I know it’s stupid, but it’s not me I have to satisfy, it’s the Crow that needs to be convinced.  I accept it’s a wicked, tricky illness, a magician in a hall of mirrors, but decided today to treat it as it presented itself.  Sometimes it can be easier this way, regurgitating old conversations in a holding cell in my mind.  Some thoughts are wonderfully vivid, and interaction is made easier, others are akin to kicking a dead horse across a ditch.

It used to scare me, but I’ve accepted it now.

I do fight it, I’ve sliced it in half, and half again, but the fears are still there, and I continue to imagine not only terrible things but ridiculous scenarios too.  And it works both ways, because I’ve beaten Crow with the stupidest of reasoning – laid a pair of jokers and scooped the entire pot while Crow flies off mumbling obscenities, with four aces up his sleeve.

I accepted I had OCD almost the instant I was diagnosed, but I have been taught different techniques on how to control it, with varying degrees of failure and success.  I suppose the doctors learn new things every day, and what works for Patient One might send Patient Two belly-flopping into a lake of boiling oil – the comfort blanket becomes a death shroud.

A building as high as the sky blinks into my mind.  Snow falls in heavy clumps restricting my vision but I know this place.  The ‘Seven Continents’ hotel is a looming structure of infinite floors.  A placard hangs above the gothic entrance, three faded blue stars on a yellowed background.  To me it was always more of a prison than a hotel, but with room service and cable tv.

“Think of somewhere you can put your intrusive thoughts and lock them away,” said the psychologist, flipping through her notes.

I pictured a coffin six feet under the wet earth.

“Put all of them in there and walk away.  When they poke at you, ignore them. Tell them that you will come back later in the day, or maybe tomorrow, and deal with them then.  Whenever you get another intrusive thought, send it there too.”

‘I’m gonna need a bigger coffin,’ I smiled.

So I thought of an alternative place to send them, and the Seven Continents hotel was constructed in my mind, a behemoth of structures I imagined bursting from the snow, deep within the arctic circle.  A million rooms, corridors that thinned to a pinprick at the end of my eyeline.  Snow lashed at the glass, “No f*cker’s going outside in this,” I said, gazing out over the Arctic Tundra.

And so I stuck Crows ‘guests’ in the rooms of this titanic hotel.

“When you’re ready, you can visit them and work with them, figure them out, and when they’re ready to go, send them home,” said the expert, slurping on her mug of tea.

However, the problems I sent to the Seven Continents Hotel simply festered in their rooms, metamorphosing into things far worse.  It may be a harmless old man knocking at the door in the dead of night, but if you don’t check, it might as well be a serial killer tapping an axehead on the porch.

Oh, I’ve been told to write my fears down. I’ve been told to NEVER write them down.  Tactics change, especially with mental illness.  It’s whatever works for the individual I guess.

The Seven Continents was only in operation for four or five months.  The guests ended up rampaging through the corridors like frenzied devils, trading in their prodding sticks for roaring chainsaws.  Thinking of it now has stirred up a thought or two.  A fist bangs on the inside of a cupboard door, an old lady coughs in one of the locked rooms.

“They’re just ghosts, Yan.  Harmless if you don’t look at them, dangerously mesmerising if you do.”  It’s Uncle Jack, and he takes my hand and leads me through the snow, away from the defunct hotel.

I flick through my big blue folder of notes on my lap, leaflets, and spreadsheets, my collection of OCD learnings.  Sometimes I practice the exposure technique, the philosophy that you face your fears, place your own finger on the ‘trigger’ and look into the mirror, call the gorgon out and glare directly into those green eyes and her head of writhing snakes.

Words in black ink and capital letters scream from a sheet of paper in the file.  Horrible fears that I used to believe would happen if I didn’t do this, or say that, or walk under a doorway twenty-nine times.  I read a sentence aloud, and get apprehensive, a ball tightening in my chest.  I close the large folder but refuse to ritualise, deciding that tonight I will expose myself to current, more relevant fears.  F*ck the Blinding, I’ll imagine a black tide enveloping me in bed.  I’ll sleep in shadows, not shade, (yeah, Crow, I just wrote that!)  The word ‘Shadow’ used to be a trigger word for me, used to send me into a spinning oblivion of physical and mental rituals.  ‘Shadows! Shadows! Shadows! Like cancer on the lung.  Cancer, Aids, burst arteries spraying infected blood all over the wall, death by germs and machetes and rabies and…..’

I’d have struggled to write these words ten years ago.  The world feels heavy around me even now, but I refuse to think of the ‘Blinding’ or touch my forehead or neutralise in any way the weight on my shoulders.

Crow cocks his head, watching from the coffee table, teasing me an inch out of reach.

“You’ll regret this,” he snides.

“I regret you!” I yell in my head.

But the tacks and nails in my belly are melting like marshmallows over a flame.  I’m comfortable again.

I wasn’t going to read through my old notes but I’m glad that I did.  There may be no time for travel plans this week, but maybe enough for a face-off with Crow and his cronies in a disused hotel.  Clutching my blue folder like a book of spells I peer out of the window, as a neighbour walks his dog across the road, a frown on his face signalling his own bag of problems.

“The price of life,” says Uncle Jack, and suddenly I’m a little less bitter.

Life’s default position is set on ‘tough.’  No-one has it easy, and that makes the injustice a pinch more bearable.

SCALDING CAULDRON: THE WITCH’S POT

 

OCD is like a hungry dog with a bone.  It’s just not letting go.  And people telling me to ignore it doesn’t help.  Especially when it’s one of my f*cking bones.

“So what have you learned from all your travels, Yan?” I’ve been asked more than once.

‘That you can’t outrun a mental illness,’ is my instinctive answer.

“The world is getting smaller,” I say instead.  Or something along those lines.

“You’ve been to Ecuador haven’t you? How was it?”

And my thoughts go back several years…

I was riding on the roof of a train in Ecuador.  Although it sounds like something out of a Hollywood adventure film, it wasn’t.  The locals rode in the carriages, the tourists, me and thirty other backpackers, took the opportunity to sit on top, just because we could.  Besides, it was in the Lonely Planet so…

The problem was that crow was being a devil that morning.  Dark stuff, claws in bone deep, a heavy duty spike driven into my eyeball like a stake through a vampires heart.  It killed me on the spot.

We were packed onto the rooftop, nowhere to hide, and a group of Irish girls sipped from plastic bottles in their day packs.  They sat around me, and we joked while they knocked back vodka and whiskey and aguardiente.  It was early, crow was swearing in my head, and I was looking down the barrel of a five hour journey with my new friends.  One of the girls offered me her canteen.

I can’t even remember what the intrusive thought was now, but Crow delivered his usual threats into my ear.  I couldn’t face the day like this.  There was nowhere to run!

A well-used excuse flashed into my mind like an old friend showing up on my doorstep.

‘Long time no see,’ I thought, as a figure in a long black mac slipped past me with a wink and a nod of the head.

“Cheers,” I said, holding up my hand and rejecting the alcohol, “But I had a late one last night and I’m suffering for it.”

And there went my day, f*cking off over the horizon with a skip and a leap.  It left behind a stinking present in a black plastic bag.  I kicked it off the train.

So I settled down, spread out on the metal roof, pretending to be hungover, closing my eyes and ruminating over a stupid thought as Ecuador sped past, whistling in my ears.  I glimpsed the Dragon’s Nose, or whatever mountain it was the train was headed for, between heavy eyelids and over the shoulder of giggling Irish girls.

“Yeah, Ecuador was fine,” I say.

But don’t look back in anger.

In fact, just don’t look back.

For me, looking back is like peering into a witch’s cauldron.  An old bony hand stirring the bubbling broth; disturbing the liquid until the memories and old thoughts, the rats’ tails and sheep’s eyes, bobble and turn on the surface – a renewed lease of life to haunt me all over again, a dead hand rising from the grave.

I was watching the TV and an actor reminded me of my old factory supervisor.  I hear the rubbing of leather as a black gloved finger gently squeezes on a trigger – Crow the assassin on a grassy knoll.  I try to forget those bad days; it’s like tap dancing in a minefield, limbs and shattered bones scattered on the grass as the Crimson Knight watches astride his braying horse, smoking a fat cigar and shouting, “‘tis but a flesh wound!”  I leap sideways, stuffing my supervisor into a cupboard and wedging a chair in front of the door.  But my thoughts are active…I’m a young Yan Baskets and Oasis are on the radio and I remember all the time I spent in bed, scratching the wall paper, trying to squeeze giant crow-shaped thoughts into tiny square boxes, sweating beneath the bedsheets in the clothes that I was too lethargic to take off the previous night.  An old chicken burger festered in its greasy box, balanced on a chair stacked to the ceiling with dirty jeans and t-shirts.  Whenever I heard my brother’s key in the front door, I’d jump out of bed, shuffle downstairs and pretend everything was normal, no problem, I haven’t been curled up in the foetus position all day.  I wasted days like this and now I’m angry at myself and that stupid crow.

I look deeper in the cauldron…

Another turn of the spoon and I’m further back in time, memories focusing on those confusing years in school, dark thoughts, like mangy wolves, howling inside my head as the teacher explained photosynthesis, thoughts turning over and over like a knife in a spin-dryer.  Heart-pounding dilemmas that look so silly now, why did I spend those lessons torturing myself over such ridiculous distortions of the truth?

I was told OCD sufferers rarely act on their ‘urges.’  But I remember as a child biting the hands off of my toy soldiers, or nibbling on their plastic guns.  I’d hold a tiny figurine between thumb and finger, and Crow (although I didn’t know him as that in those days), would encourage me to chew and mutilate anything that tempted him.  I’d do it too, and so I worried that I would carry out darker deeds that the crow whispered into my ear.  I scribbled on drawings I was pleased with, or scrunched up the paper into tiny balls, because my OCDemon said that I could, and when the fear or urges got violent I was terrified that I would act upon them, like I did the drawings, and I would remember biting the hands off of my toy soldiers and think “what if I grabbed the knife and…”

Another peek into that stinking broth and a rotting fear resurfaces, hot liquid scalding my face.  I had a month of trouble with this particular spike in the bad ol’ days – paranoia burned a hole and left a scar.  But did I ever get it ‘sorted’ in my thoughts? Or did it slip through the net? Should I be worrying again?  Is it current in today’s market? I twitch it away, and Little One asks me what I just said, quickly realising I was wrestling Crow and turning back to the TV.  She’s good like that.

So I rarely look back.  Even on the good times, because bad things are always lurking nearby.  Writing this blog often nudges old fears to life, but in the long run it helps.  Or it feels like it does.  And it’s the only time I dare reminisce.

Christmas is over and here we all are.  I suppose I’ll be on a plane again soon.  Of all the places I’ve been, because I tend not to look back, it sometimes feels like I’ve never been anywhere at all.  It’s a return to the drawing board I guess, I’ll stick a pin in a map and all the rest of the cliches I regurgitate when people ask me where I’m going next.

I recline on the sofa, ignoring the television, losing myself in the cosmos as I distance myself from the trigger on the grassy knoll.

I don’t look back; I don’t look forward, only sideways into space.

 

 

The Chicken and the Crow

 

Moldova, Transnistria and Belarus have flashed past my window like car headlights, fierce and bright and then nothing as my eyes refocus on where I am today.

I woke up at home this morning with the last three months in Eastern Europe twitching like roadkill in my rear-view mirror.  Before me is an ominous fog.  My future, all our futures, are behind that swirling cloud.

F*cking clouds.

In my worst days I feel like I’m constantly falling through them.  A conversation is lost as  I tumble towards gravity’s mouth – that gaping maw, sucking me down, shouts fading to whispers a thousand feet above me; thoughts too drop out of my pockets and flap about in the turbulent flurry.  I get tired.  I could sleep for a century.  And as I spin head-over-heels, or plummet in a graceless belly-flop, or spiral like a broken rocket ship closer to the ground, another important ingredient tears off of me, tossed into the roaring wind, spinning away into the rushing oblivion.

I lost my confidence in Moldova.

My confidence is bi-polar.  It either fires me high into the sky, or leaves me stranded on a plank of wood, drifting towards the edge of the world.  When it circles around me like a guardian lion, tail swishing against my legs, I think it’s going to keep me company forever – but my confidence is really a cocky pigeon dressed in dragon scales, and it’s never a permanent feature.  (Like a friend popping round for a cup of tea).

Negotiating foreign lands; fumbling on google translate for the simplest of words; pretending not to be afraid of the drunken group of Georgian lads behind me; eyeball to eyeball with a raging motorist on the streets in Malawi; it all requires confidence, and even when I’m faking it, I remember its scent, what it feels like, and I emulate it until I’m away from compromising predicaments.  But when confidence has fled on a horse, bolting for the woods, leaving a trail of yellow swirling smoke in its wake, it takes with it its smells, its taste – its essence scattered in horse-shit in the direction of those trees.

I had nothing to give these last two weeks, avoiding all confrontation like the world had rabies.  The Crow was his usual charming self, pecking and scratching and cawing in my face.  But he wasn’t any worse than he had been.  My confidence simply decided to run off and have a holiday, take the next train or bus out of town, stranding me at the station.

For these weeks I was a knight without a sword or shield.  Vulnerable in a field as my horse dragged my banner through the mire – ‘I might as well be naked,’ I remember thinking recently, on more than one occasion.

“Cowardice is a chicken dipped in yellow paint,” is something Uncle Jack might have said.  And I feel like the chicken I watched being sacrificed in a church on the outskirts of San Cristobal – helpless, occasionally struggling against the old woman’s strong, bony hands.  She snapped its neck, and I switched my eye-line to the straw covered stone-floor.  It’s what they do there, and I had gone to watch it happen, in that strange church in Mexico.  I have been that chicken these last few days, meek in my voice and posture.  I felt my own neck could have been easily snapped by an old woman in a blue dress on a cold church floor.

I’m seeing friends and family now.  I must not complain.  There are seeds of dread in my stomach but I could be dying alone at the foot of a mountain.  Or starving in a field.  Or freezing in a cardboard box under a bridge in a wet city.  It’s all OK.  My family and good friends are here – although a crow with red eyes is pecking at the mistletoe…

Merry Christmas one and all, happy holidays, joy and all that stuff, not just in this season of good will, but always and forever..

 

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 marshmallows 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 into the floorboards.  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 marshrutka 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…