KNOWLEDGE OF THE RISING SUN

It could be violent images, or it could be a f**king shopping list.  Paranoia or depression. Fear of shouting insults into loved one’s faces or blowing a lie into Little One’s ear.  “I f**king hate you.” No more than a whisper, but solid like a blow from a steel hammer. Last night I imagined killing myself, and leaving a note for Little One, telling her that I didn’t love her, and never have.  I’d write a letter to everyone who might attend the funeral. It would inform them that my relationship with Little One was a fraud. I imagined them sneering at the back of her head as my coffin was lowered into the furnace.  I tried to forget such OCD b**lshit, but the feeling of dread and shame wouldn’t leave me. Even when my thoughts became jumbled and I couldn’t remember what I’d been thinking about, the dread lay heavy on my shoulders, like hearing a loved one had gone missing at sea – a weight that was constantly there, punching me in the ribs, the back of my head, low blows and kidney shots slamming in from every angle.

How did I get rid of this particular intrusive thought?  I imagined Little One hanging herself, ending the pain with a cold snap of her neck, and all of a sudden, like a squirrel bolting up a tree, (or a crow flying off my shoulder,) the dread subsided – it felt like I was swimming in space.  My PlayStation had been on pause for two hours as I battled those intrusive thoughts, and I crawled into bed before other demons came knocking. A butterfly had replaced the elephant in my head, but I knew it could mutate back at any moment.

How odd that thoughts of my loved one committing suicide had shooed the crow from the fence.  Bleak as it may be, reminding myself that in a hundred and fifty years time, nobody living on the planet today will be alive helps to put things into perspective.  I don’t want any of us to die, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. In the year 2170, we’ll all be a second hand memory, an anecdote, a chapter in a book, videos on the internet, a photo on a great grandchild’s wall.  But none of us will be around to worry about it, even if we lived to be a hundred and twenty. So why should I worry about dying, about what I may or may not do? Every one of us will be dust blowing on the breeze. In my mind’s eye, giant cockroaches climb out of smoking piles of rubble, a cloud of gas passing over what was once London/New York/Istanbul. One day, visualising a team of iridescent unicorns may work, but for the time being, all I’ve got is the knowledge of inevitable annihilation. Swallowing these bitter pills fails to keep the demons from my door, but denies them access to the room.

It doesn’t mean I strive to not care about anything.  I’m merely attempting to teach my brain the ability to let things go, to stop dwelling on what may or may not happen.  The Spanish Inquisition. Despot rulers. Medieval torture chambers. The Coronavirus. You just have to listen to the news to see that life is a series of painful experiences – hopefully separated by long bouts of contentment.  But OCD forgets about the good times. It sinks its claws into painful memories and rips them out of your brain, thrusting them in front of your eyes. 

“Look what I found in your head!”

My job, if I want to keep my sanity, is to remind myself that I’ll be spending eternity not existing anyway, so why not leave a few things in the closet.  Stop asking myself how it would affect Little One if I killed myself in front of her? Stop trying to second guess how such terrible things would feel, because I don’t know the answer, and anyway, the sun is still going to rise in the morning, whether I’m around to see it or not.

THE WORLD EATS EVERYONE

A teenage boy shuffled past me in the supermarket today, ghostly white, looking like he was about to explode.  The woman with him had an angry twitch in her eye, p**sed off with the world and everyone in it. She nearly trampled over my foot with her shopping trolley.  Of course, it was all my fault.

“If looks could kill, you’d be choking to death right now,” said Crow.  “The world is full of hatred, all right.”

“And love,” I said.

“Is it really?  Is that what you believe?”

“Not really,” I admitted, and felt like someone had punched me in the stomach.  Why couldn’t I imagine something nice, for once.

I tried to imagine what that teenage boy might be going through, relating to my own issues but realising it could be anything in the world.  I wanted to tell him everything would be OK, but that’s not practical – besides, it might not be OK. At his age I was struggling with the world too, drowning in a sea of anxiety but convincing myself I’d reach the shore one day – I’m still struggling, still splashing around in cold water.

When I was diagnosed with OCD, I still wouldn’t talk about it, would force my issues back into my stomach, until they spilled over at the weekend and someone punched me in the face.  I only played the victim when I was drunk – in those days I didn’t realise that the world eats everyone.

A few years ago, outside a train station late one Saturday night, I was hit by a snow plough.  Or at least it felt like it. It was a fight and I lost. An angry hamster had challenged three wolverines to a duel, and not surprisingly the hamster got mauled, quite badly as it turned out.  Stumbling home, I caught my reflection in a shop window – my head looked like a piece of fruit that had been kicked around a car park. It was my own fault. I’d gone out on a drinking binge while my head was full of particularly cruel intrusive thoughts.  I should have spoken to a friend about my issues, not try to cram them into the basement of my mind. Within a few hours I was drunk, and the battering, repulsive thoughts kicked the cellar door wide open. I assumed the role of the aggressive idiot, looking for easy laughs but becoming irate at a sudden turn of a head, a roll of the eyes, a misinterpreted snarl on the face of the barman.  It was my fault the fight had started, but to this day I can’t remember a single fist punching my face, just my skin feeling tight around my head, and then a police van pulling over to see what all the fuss was about. Had I called out to the boys in blue?

The next day I took a taxi to my parent’s house, breaking down in tears when they asked me what had happened, why I looked like I’d been hit by a bus.  I caught a train to York a few days later. My dad explained the situation to my boss, while I began another pub crawl. In the two weeks I was away, my bruises healed but my OCD remained just as intense.  It was good of work to give me time off, although my girlfriend at the time wasn’t so lenient, and packed her bags to live with her parents on the other side of the country. I don’t blame her. She’d seen me get myself into a lot of trouble.  We were never on the same page about much, anyway. I just wish I hadn’t needed such a harsh beating to bring the relationship to a conclusion.

I returned home, and on the first day back at the factory, my boss invited me into the canteen for a talk.

“Your father explained a few things about your mental health,” he said.  “It surprised me. I thought you were intelligent.”

I didn’t know what to say.  So I just laughed, and said yes, I had some issues.  To this day I regret not educating him on the fundamentals of a mental illness.  Suffering from any illness is nothing to be ashamed of, and certainly doesn’t suggest a lack of intelligence.  It was my former boss that was showing his ignorance, I was just too young to call him out on it. If I had a time machine, yes, I’d go back and assassinate Hitler, but first I’d take a detour to my old workplace and give my younger self a quick briefing on how to handle such a pillock.

There was however, a silver lining.  The butterfly had flapped its wings, and a week after the conversation over that crumb ridden canteen table, I decided to go travelling.  Or rather, to run away and hope my problems didn’t follow. They did of course.

Nowadays these issues should be easier to talk about.  Quite hypocritical of me really, as some of my best friends don’t have a clue what I go through on a daily basis.  But that’s not because I’m ashamed of what I have, just that I prefer to talk about something else. Besides, I have Little One to confide in when the spikes are falling from the sky.  An OCD sufferer often obsesses over horrific images and I once told her that I was struggling with the thought of frying her face on the electric hob. She took it quite well. I explained it was because I loved her so much that Crow was trying to convince me that I wanted to hurt her.

Yes, I have problems.  And it’s good to talk. But everybody has their own demons.  And everyone, at some point, thinks the universe is picking them out of a crowd.

Why me?  some say.

Why not? replies Crow.

The truth is nothing to be ashamed of.  Some exaggerate their problems, all mouth and violins, while others sit alone in darkness, holding their issues close, hoping to drag them to their grave.  There’s not always a right or wrong, but if there was, surely talking about your mental health would be the right thing to do. You wouldn’t try and hide a cracked fibula, limping to the shops, dragging your broken leg behind you.

“Morning, Barry.  I’m fine, it’s just a sprain…”

There were times as a young man when I sat on my hands, fearing I may plunge a knife into a loved one’s stomach.  Yet as soon as I was diagnosed with OCD, and I’d accepted that the diagnosis was correct, it made the thoughts of reckless violence not quite so terrifying.  It wasn’t the devil in my head, it was OCD, and it was trying to ruin me from the inside out. However, other than my immediate family, I refused to share my diagnosis because I was ashamed of it.  Everyone has dark thoughts, how could I not switch them off like everybody else? I feel such a fool now. Did I think I was too cool to have OCD?

Sometimes talking about your pain isn’t the problem.  Its finding someone who gives enough of a shit to listen.  My advice is simple – if you find someone who cares, put your feet up and let them into your inner world.  Just don’t forget to ask them about their own problems. Because the world eats everyone.

There’s no shame in being ill.  No shame in being a little broken.  And certainly no shame talking about it.

TOO MANY TEETH IN THE TOOTH FACTORY

I live in the shadow of a colossal factory, its thirteen chimneys spewing black smoke into the troposphere.  Wherever I go in the world, I smell its toxins polluting the space around me, the thirteen brick towers casting their gloom over my sagging shoulders.  Inside the great construction, a lengthy conveyor belt loops around the foundry floor, collecting spikes from robotic claws and dropping them onto my lap at the end of the line.

To help me cope, to understand what is happening in my mind, I have used many metaphors over the years.  Often I think of these spikes, these intrusive thoughts, as teeth. Each fear is a fang, and sometimes I am bitten by one tooth, sometimes by an entire row.  I usually obsess over one intrusive thought until I can bury it, often in a shallow grave in the woods, but occasionally somewhere more permanent, like deep in the foundations of a city new build, or Mafioso style, thrown into the sea with concrete boots.

A while ago now, at the end of one particularly cruel day, I counted that I had struggled with thirteen intrusive thoughts – thirteen yellow teeth biting into my bones, puncturing thirteen holes in my marrow.  It was mid-March, seventy-seven days into the year. I calculated that another two and a half months like today would mean being mauled, potentially, by a thousand teeth in less than six months. It was a mortifying prospect.  So far that year I’d done absolutely nothing, not a plan made or a dream realised since January the first. No memories but a list of terrible maybes, and not a single one of them had come true. But still, I worried.

As panic incapacitated me two considerable things happened.  First, I realised that I had to do something, anything, before I died choking on splinters, having achieved nothing in my life.  And second, but more importantly, a new thinking process began to kick its feet. As my condition worsened over the years, those multiple attacks began to have a bizarre calming effect.  The more teeth that punctured me meant more rituals, more time touching wood or imagining blinding sheets of white lightning, sweating on my bed, howling at the wall and wishing I was in a coma – but something else was occurring too.  My brain felt like it was vibrating, stressed under the flashing red lights and plumes of smoke from the overworked cogs and dials. One especially bleak day of ruminating ridiculous events, pinned to my bed and pulling out my hair strand by strand, I experienced a type of shut-down.  The factory had produced excess items and the conveyor belt was jammed as it meandered through the various machinery, or there were too many teeth in the attack dog’s mouth and it was unable to gain a proper purchase, or Crow’s beak was blunted with the excessive pecking, like a reused nail hammered into a piece of wood one too many times.  It didn’t matter what metaphor I chose, the important thing was that I rode a wave of euphoria that lasted two or three days.

It’s strange, but I learned the more Crow flexes his wings, or the dog bares his teeth, or when extra spikes roll off the production line, the greater peace I feel because of my resignation to the cold fact that I simply cannot handle the ferocity of the attacks.  For a moment I forget the lies the Crow has whispered in my ear because on such formidable days he has talked too much; the factory warehouse misplaces its stock in the towering jungle of boxes; the pain from the bite wound on my leg eclipses the pounding from the lacerations on my arm, which dulls the throb from the bruise on my ribs.  The irony is laughable, the more spikes that puncture my mind, the more I can heal.

“Too many cooks spoil the broth,” sneers Crow.

Of course, the crow remains in the sky, the dog still bites and the factory continues to produce spikes, but when that invisible line is crossed, there becomes much less ruffle to those feathers, a slackening in the jaws and far less pollution in the river.  More is less or something like that.

 

I’m still in Greece waiting to be relieved of house-sitting duties.  The cat is still alive, and I’ve not stabbed myself to death or died of a brain tumour or been burnt alive by angry villagers in a giant wicker man.  Since I’ve been here the factory has produced these exact fears, and lots more besides. Or, depending on my metaphor, the Crow has whispered them in my ear, or gnashing teeth have gnawed them into my skin.  But the factory is rusting, and the Crow is getting old because his feathers are starting to fall out and his peck (on good days) struggles to break my skin.

At this moment, peeling a lemon with my free hand, I have no idea where my next destination will be.  However, I do know there’ll be a factory close by, and a crow, turning slightly grey, circling in the sky.

CHEWING FEATHERS

By far, the most enjoyable part of my travelling has not been what I’ve seen but who I’ve met along the way.  If I had stayed in my hometown in England I’d never have shared a joint and a few cheeky lines with inmates in a cell during a prison visit in Ecuador, or had a conversation with a freight-hopping Brooklyn vagabond in the alleyways of New York City, or played a thousand hands of cards with an eccentric Panamanian hostel manager who’d drank Las Vegas dry and escaped the US owing thousands of dollars in medical bills.  From drinks with a ’60s Slovenian pop star to a night in Thailand with a Hawaiian pot dealer, for sure, it’s all about the people.

It’s just a shame that I’ve either had to cut the meetings short, (I should have gone to the golf club in Ljubljana), or missed the bones of an interesting conversation (what was the moral of the homeless man’s tale again?)  If I hadn’t had the Crow flapping in my ears, maybe I’d have learned and experienced more than I have. But then again, if it wasn’t for OCD, I probably wouldn’t have sold my home in England – I wouldn’t be here, house-sitting in Greece, watching the distant fishing boats idle on the calm blue sea.

I often lament those split conversations, the times when you find yourself talking to someone in the real world, but you’re also busy trying to talk sense to yourself somewhere in the chaotic disco in your head.  Dissecting a thought, you realise you’ve taken too long answering a question, there’s an awkward silence, maybe you didn’t quite catch what was said. You ask the person to repeat their query, just as another spiked cannonball roars from the Howitzer.  You’ve missed the real-world conversation AGAIN! You’re standing face to face with a man you met yesterday on the train, and you’re listening but struggling to hear a single word he’s spoken all morning. A third time, and yes, you hear what’s being said but it makes no sense because you missed the previous three minutes of dialogue.

You smile apologetically, “Sorry Lorenzo, I was miles away.”  You blame a late night, say you’re a prolific daydreamer, or, “that joint has really hit me hard.”  You certainly can’t mention the screeching bird in your cerebrum. “Sorry mate, I was talking to a crow,” is not an option.

The problem is not only missing keywords but also, when you know precisely what’s being said, your stomach can feel so full of lead that you don’t have the mental strength to join in, or expand the question, or debate it, or anything at all because you’ve got the black feathered Prince of Doubt pecking holes in the side of your head.  Words spill from your mouth but it’s more of a ramble than a discussion. I’ve missed a million punchlines this way. Maybe I’ve had the answer to life explained to me in glorious detail but was too busy thinking about killing myself in front of my grandmother to heed the advice. (Did he say forty-two or forty-three?)

How I would love it to work the other way around.  “Sorry Crow, I was talking to my friend, you’ll have to wait.  Stand in line or come back tomorrow.”

The greatest problem with OCD, for me, is that big fat O – Obsessional thoughts that fight for my absolute attention the moment I’m semi-conscious.  The alarm sounds and I open my eyes, and there’s my breakfast on the bedside table, six-inch nails on toast. Of course, most people experience dark thoughts every day, but for me, with Crow for company, and for the millions of other sufferers with imps, monkeys, and demons perched on their shoulders, it’s not just every day, but every second of every minute of every hour of every day.  It’s not surprising that we miss things. We just have to make the most of the conversations we do have control over. Crow circles me a little higher these days and I’m able to reflect on all the discussions that I’ve had to cut short.

But believe me, I can talk.  At school I tried to fill every silence with noise.  I didn’t absorb crucial information, was only interested in things that made me laugh.  I messed around and talked nonsense and tried to laugh loudly because it was the only way to keep the crow out of my personal space.  My mouth was the farmer’s gun but indiscriminate like an AK47 – my sense of humour, a twisted scarecrow in a field. My classmates must have thought I was an idiot.

I took these tactics into adulthood.  I was quite loud when I was with friends because it was the only way not to dwell on the questions buzzing around my head.  It was at home that I was quiet, lying upstairs ruminating for hours, pretending to be on my computer. One evening in my late teens, my parents came with me to the local pub.  “I can’t believe how loud you are,” said Mum. She had never witnessed my coping methods while I was out socialising before. “You’re the loudest person in here,” she noted. And it was a busy night.

I still talk a great deal but it’s less to silence the crow, more because I want to.  Another difference is I also listen these days – at least sometimes.

The Art of Stopping

I really need to learn how to stop.  I must learn to put things on hold and not just the things I don’t like doing.  Too much of anything is a bad thing. I should probably turn off my PlayStation a little earlier when I’m at home, and maybe not smoke so much marijuana.  But stopping something can be difficult, it can take years to grind to a halt on certain roads.

I’m not talking about cutting things out for good, just pausing enough for reflection, stemming a negative flow – like switching off the television when you’ve got a headache; closing the fridge door when you know you’ve already eaten too much.

I wish I could stop thinking – like in my younger years pretending to be upstairs on my computer when I was actually lying on my bed, facing the wall, worrying, ruminating, obsessing over AIDS, paranoid that a boy at school wanted to stab me to death – are those heart murmurs in my chest?  I should have stopped watching those television shows about modern medicine because by the time the credits were rolling, I had diagnosed myself with Leukaemia and Parkinson’s disease and three types of lung infection.

I’d like to stop drinking so much – like waking up in a homestay in Havana, Cuba, mottled in vomit.  Apologising to the old woman whose room we were renting, taking the sheets to the launderette, humiliated when they refused to wash them.  “Too dirty to clean,” they said. Oh, the irony. Our new Cuban friend, Alex, had shown us the particulars of local life, cheap bars, and hole-in-the-wall eateries, and nicknamed me ‘El Dragón’ the previous night, because of the noises I was making, the roars and facial tics, as he and his friend helped me home along the Malecón.  It had been a hard few days, spikes-a-plenty me hearties, and I was trying to drown a crow in a barrel of rum. I was drunk, ecstatic that the crow was silenced, but I didn’t know when to stop, the cheerful haze mutating to a red mist the more I drank, angry at myself that I didn’t feel like this all of the time. That f**king crow!  And then the roars and facial churns as the two Cuban men helped me to my homestay through the dawn-lit Havana streets.

I should stop joking so much too – at school I tried to keep the OCDemon at bay by laughing loudly, the class fool, taking the jokes too far, forcing them out when inside I was afraid of everything in the world.  Silent moments between antics spent analysing various ways I could die, how unless I thought things through to their conclusion, I was going to have my house set on fire by school bullies, with my parents still inside, or worse, maybe I would lose control, pouring the petrol and striking the match myself.  F**k silence, my education, a chance to be someone. Be silly instead, force out those crappy jokes because when the class is laughing, Crow is sobbing in a bucket. God, how I wish I’d stopped and learned something useful. But struggling in that classroom all those years ago it was impossible to absorb any information other than how I could draw blood, or ruin lives, or shock old people to death by screaming in their ears.  I must not be too hard on myself, and I’m not – I don’t cut myself anymore for being plagued by these insidious thoughts.

The list goes on.  Stop worrying, stop whining, stop taking those tablets that turn me into the walking dead, shuffling around the room searching for my lost libido.  Stop watching adult movies when I’m not taking those tablets, stop fooling around like life is a f**king TV show, STOP WRITING – when I’ve said enough for the day because thinking of Crow and his squadron of flies is making me sad, know when to close the laptop.

Machine Guns in the Mist

It’s not all bad news.  I’ve been fortunate enough to see quite a lot of the world, zigzagging up and down and all around, and for the first few years, aside from Crow, the stowaway in my backpack, I did it on my own.  These days I’m fortunate to travel with the person I love most in this world – my girlfriend, Kristina, aka, Little One.

I’m writing this post while house-sitting and keeping a cat alive on a beautiful Greek island, having begun this trip in Israel and the Palestinian Territories in early December.  From there, our rambling, improvised travel itinerary has seen us visit Rome for Christmas, before crossing a stormy Adriatic Sea to Albania, travelling up through Montenegro, Serbia, and Hungary, before finally catching a cheap flight here, to Greece, residing in a rustic house halfway up a hill.  We’ve been here for three weeks.

The village is small and half of its populous seem to have fled to the mainland for the winter months.  It is quiet, our average day consisting of cooking pasta, baking bread, and hiking to the small shop at the top of the hill to buy a bottle or two of cheap local wine.  In the evening we play cards, watch movies and drink those bottles of cheap local wine. And feed the cat of course. There’s not much life in the streets, day or night – it’s like a town on horse tranquillisers.  I like it a lot. Today on the steep stone steps on our way to the grocery store we passed an old man leading a donkey loaded with firewood, and a mangy looking cat eyeballing me from a pile of black bin bags. This was a busy day. Yesterday the most exciting event was a lemon falling off a tree.

I am experienced enough to appreciate these times, a handful of years ago my OCD would have filled these tranquil hours with imagined scenes of torture – murder on a loop.  Or tried to convince me that I had a terminal illness, or that Little One was having an affair. This afternoon, sipping cold juice in a garden overlooking a glorious blue sea, and grateful for the peace, I regressed to less placid days…

 

…I was in Uganda, scratching swollen red insect bites on my arms, watching a creeping mist curl across the forest canopy like an army of ghosts swallowing the world.  My memory took me inside its white belly, wet foliage scraping across my face, and I remembered the thoughts that accompanied me on my trek through that sodden rain-forest – anxiety dragging me down with moist hands, a bag of ball-bearings slung across my shoulders.

Those horrible, persistent images swarmed like mosquitoes.  I had told myself that I was getting better, all I had to do was throw these intrusive thoughts away and stop thinking about them – they were supposed to get weaker and fade to nothing.  I tried to ignore them, but Crow was picking at my membrane, and they flashed back, bloodier than before.

I wasn’t counting but it must have been over twenty times.

Twenty bullets exploding into her face.

Twenty pools of blood.

Twenty pieces of brain sliding down the wall.

I tried to appreciate my surroundings; the mountains, the rain forest, the village at the end of a winding road.  But I couldn’t get enthusiastic about anything – the image of my girlfriend getting shot point-blank in the face by a Ugandan soldier was contaminating everything.

It was this damn gorilla trek that had triggered it, the march through the Ugandan rainforest with the trackers and the two soldiers with AK47s.  The unwanted image had flashed into my mind the moment my eyes lingered on the battered magazine clip. I’d fired one of those guns – twice. Once in Vietnam, once in Cambodia.  It was the time in Cambodia that had damaged me the most. In Vietnam, the gun had been fixed to a bracket; in Cambodia, once I’d paid for the clip, the soldier had simply dropped the gun into my hands and pointed to the target against the wall.

“You could turn around and shoot everyone in the room,” squawked Crow.  My girlfriend had been there too; that was the first time I’d pictured her getting blown apart by an assault rifle.

Back to Uganda, when we’d finally come face to face with a gorilla troop in its natural habitat (literally five feet in front of our party of eight), I’d been mesmerised for a whole minute, but then I remembered the gun, and what it could do, and what that would look like.  Another thought had briefly interrupted this, that I could push the man standing next to me into the arms of the silverback, busy scratching its backside. However, the gun fantasy seemed much more horrific, so Crow stuck with it, dismissing the image of dismemberment by Gorilla as a silly footnote.  “A lesser of evils, Yan! Not worth my time!”

The trek to find the gorillas had been through the forest at sunrise.  Standing on a hilltop, watching that ghostly mist float across the rich canopy beneath me, and knowing what I was soon to witness, I felt like I was an extra in a David Attenborough wildlife documentary.  Here I was in the Bwindi Impregnable Forest, on the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and all I could think about was one of the soldiers, there to protect us against border-hopping FDLR rebels, unloading his clip into the handful of tourists unlucky enough to be there on the day he lost his mind.  If I didn’t think about it, it was like a heavy weight was strapped across my shoulders, a wriggling sickness in my stomach like I’d swallowed tiny snakes – it was making the trek through the lush forest seem like a ruthless grind up the North face of Mount Everest. So, I thought about it, because if I managed to think it out of my head, to get that ‘right’ feeling, then maybe I could enjoy what should be a highlight of my African adventure.

“Go on,” teased the crow.  “Think about it one more time, and I promise I’ll fly away.”  Of course, every-time I pictured the scene, it wasn’t quite what the crow had in mind.  “Try a little more realism,” he smirked.

The trek had been blighted by a horrendous spike, (intrusive thought); the silverback glancing at me over his shoulder, the baby gorilla waddling out of the bushes and hugging my leg, all those experiences were events I would remember forever, but the crow had been cawing in my ear all day, and he’d done his best to defile it.  If it was five years prior, he’d have succeeded, but that day I’d managed to squeeze half a glass of goodness out of that bitter lemon. The memory of the Gorilla trek stays with me, tainted by the imagined sounds of gunfire, but not ruined.

…My thoughts are back in Greece now, rueing the Crows influence, frustrated that OCD has tarnished many of my adventures, but appreciating the donkey I passed on the stone steps earlier in the day – because he wasn’t surrounded by imaginary dead people.  It is the evening as I finish this post, and a headache looms over my left eye. I blame the cheap local wine but reliving my Ugandan gorilla trek has probably played its part. Beneath the dull pain, I am appreciative that the assault rifle that once promised to kill my girlfriend sits on a soldier’s lap over two and a half thousand miles away.

Crow and the Bowl of Cereal

Before I begin I must say a big thank you to my nan for buying me a children’s atlas when I was nine years old.  I remember clearly the picture of the boy picking fruit in a field in Botswana and the list of international flags at the back of the book.  I slowly became obsessed…but in a good way.

I must also state that I wrote this blog to help myself.  Of course, if somebody else does benefit from even a single sentence, then I may indulge in a quick fist pump, or a poorly executed moonwalk across the room.  I suppose this is my disclaimer; that if what I have done to battle the Crow doesn’t work for you, then I apologise but I’m neither a doctor nor a packet of Clomipramine.   If it helps, then great, but if it doesn’t, please continue with your medication, or not – whatever the case may be. This is an account of my own demon, and my attempts to drown it in the bathtub.  If anything, this is a book dedicated to my teenage self, telling that terrified, awkward shell that it was worth sticking around after all. 

I’m sitting on a pebbled beach on a beautiful Greek Island as I write this.  There’s a dull thud in the back of my mind like a crow is stirring, trapped beneath wooden floorboards.  He is present, but at the moment contained. I would have chopped off my hand for peace like this ten years ago.  Arguably the Crow attacks me as frequently as he ever did, but now he has those floorboards to get through before he can hurt me, or his beak is bound with duct-tape, or I manage to bat him away before his claws sink too deep into my skin.  He is an old enemy and we know each other well. I can sometimes predict his tactics, smashing him with a pre-emptive strike, some days he’s just a pathetic black smudge on the horizon – although on bad days he’s a pterodactyl with talons dipped in anthrax. I watch the gentle waves breaking on the stones, thinking back to an earlier time in my life, not Crow’s first visit but certainly one I remember quite clearly…

…With my tenth birthday looming, while eating breakfast at the kitchen table, a sudden realisation emerged in my head that I had the option, the opportunity, to pour the milk and cereal over my father’s head.  It would take half a second, I thought. It wouldn’t be a nice thing to do, I’d be in a lot of trouble, but if I went into the lounge, I could easily tip the entire bowl over his head. What is it that’s stopping me, I wondered?  I stood up from the table and walked through the hallway to the lounge door, where I paused, my body hot and clammy, my insides tied up in knots. I pictured the milk and cereal oozing through my father’s hair, dripping down his face onto his shirt, pooling on his lap.  I imagined his shock rapidly turning to fury, the scolding that would inevitably follow, but worse than that, I imagined his disappointment, upset that his son had done such a thing…I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach? The dread of this potential consequence was strong in my head, focusing all my attention on the likely chaos that would come if I performed this act, and after fifteen minutes fantasising outside the lounge door, it began to feel that I had actually followed through with this unfamiliar urge.  Had I imagined it so clearly that I’d tricked my brain into thinking I’d witnessed first-hand the worst of what could happen?

The fear of doing it finally subsided, my intestines untying, my heart no longer pumping blood quite so fast around my body.  I felt odd that I should have had such a thought, but I was barely ten, and so finished my breakfast and moved on with my day.

I didn’t realise at the time but pouring a bowl of cereal over my father’s head would be one of Crow’s tamest attacks.

He got a lot darker with age…

 

My thoughts shuffle back to the present, to this beautiful beach in Greece, and I notice I am turning a smooth pebble over in my hand.

“F**k you, Crow,” I mumble, picturing him drowned in a shallow rock-pool.  He floats motionless, face down in the salty water. I have taken advantage of his silence, and punched the first draft of my first blog post into my phone.