We’re back in the UK. London was the cheapest city to fly to from Greece. It was a direct flight from the neighbouring island, and considerably cheaper than a forty minute flight to Athens. We couldn’t decide where to head next, and I can say it now because everything is OK, but we also had to make an important hospital appointment. Fucking crow was ten feet tall these last few days; the bastard had me imagining enough blinding white explosions to light up the furthest corner in the darkest room.
He became a black beetle scurrying on the wall, then two, then four, multiplied and multiplied again. The beetles, buzzing and humming, became a black stain and then a ball of flapping wings and gnashing pincers, forming a living cloud that hung over my head like a witches curse. I spent a long time in concealed places, but everything turned out fine. The Results came in, and damning the good news, crow flew over the mountain.
We surprised our families on their doorsteps, and are currently re-evaluating our plans from home. I want to head to Antarctica via Argentina but it’s not cheap, so I’ve placed that dream on a shelf. Little One wants to go to the Galápagos Islands, not cheap either but certainly not as cold. I’m happy here at the moment, because the crow is high in the sky, a tiny pin prick in England’s gun-metal grey clouds. Backpacking South America is another option. I have hazy memories of travelling the continent several years ago. It was a solo trip and I spent far too long wading waist-deep in the local vices – I tried to kill the crow but only stoked his fire.
Travelling with OCD, or mental health issues in any form is an uphill trek. Mental illness and backpacking don’t fit together well, they’re from a different jigsaw puzzle entirely. You have to stamp on the pieces to make them fit, and these last two or three weeks have been tough for me, but especially for Little One, whose appointment at the hospital it was. The Crow has been bloodying his talons, and I’ve done all I could to stop myself from throwing up black beetles. I’ve neutralised a hundred and one intrusive thoughts, and when they swelled like a black sea, I regressed to the bad old days, wrestling for every ounce of control.
These days, with all that I have learned, (and if I am lucky,) I imagine Crow pecking on my shoulder and that is sometimes enough – I move on, my brain able to accept that it is the OCD. It has taken many years of practice but the night before the hospital appointment I managed to shoo him away every time he made an appearance. I handled it well and the good news we received took me over the rainbow.
I was crow free for a day or two, and when the crow is away my priorities quickly change to avoiding the triggers that often bring him back. I have to keep my thoughts on something else – don’t stray from the path, stay in the light, avoid certain memories, travel at light speed or as fast as a thought can take me across the universe. If I’m crow free, I visit a place a million miles away, a land that time never knew, let alone forgot. I have a thousand planets that I often visit this way, and sometimes when the crow is dangerously close to snapping me in half, I enter this safe haven to catch my breath, to hide under the bedcovers in a secret place where the real world is dead or never existed at all. Over the past few days, worrying over something so desperately, I visited these worlds to save me from imploding.
I have a space opera in my mind that I began twenty years ago, fantasy football teams from across Europe that compete for the champions league in my head, an imaginary planet of warring continents, dreamed up boxers with fight records that I used to write down on paper – I still have them in a box in my parents garage. I imagine tens of thousands of soldiers charging across sweeping plains, or spacecraft zigzagging across the universe in galactic dogfights – clashing in furious battles, swords hacking off limbs, titanium hulls cut in half by laser beams. When the Crow is high in the sky, the last thing I need is to start remembering triggers and spikes from the past. So I beam aboard an interstellar star-ship or sit ringside at Caesar’s palace or climb into the saddle of a Knight’s armoured charger. Here I am Emperor Yan the Unscathed, civilising the barbarian horde, while in the real world I am staring at a wall, or a blank television screen in the corner of the room, or lying in a bed of course.
I’m lucky to have a pretty good imagination. Sometimes, when the spikes are nailing me to the floor, or depression is smothering me with a wet blanket, although I struggle to function with a task as simple as walking to the shops, or leaving my dorm bed, or merely visiting friends, as long as I am lying down, eyes closed and still, I find it possible to gain breathing space with a jaunt to one of my far-away places. An hour imagining invasions of distant solar systems creates the space to move away from the scattered minefields of Pure O. It’s an O.C.Detour, if you like, or another weapon in the arsenal in my fight against the Crow, a tactic in my crusade for the Holy Grail – to find the chalice of reason and drink until the crow chokes on the sweet nectar and drowns in my stomach.
‘Every little helps,’ says the giant supermarket chain. Begrudgingly, and especially in my fight against OCD, I have to agree with them…and I also like their sandwiches.