Same Game, Different Rules

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

Maybe nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“LET’S KILL ALL THE FISH!”

For someone suffering from OCD, achieving anything worthwhile can be tough.  The simplest task becomes a sheer concrete wall. Dread curdles in your stomach like spoiled milk – just the thought of leaving the house consumes enough energy to tempt you back to bed.  The same goes for depression; the black dog sinks 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 salivating dog.  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 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. Like I’ve said before, 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 the concrete wall is a huge achievement for me.

They say they understand, but I don’t think they do.  And I don’t blame them, because I don’t know much about the thousands of illnesses and disorders that I DON’T suffer from.  In fact, there are legions of diseases out there, killing people every day, that I don’t even know 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 group my socks by colour! I’m so OCD!” 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 killed another day.  There was no need to get aggressive for the off-the-cuff comment, to troll and vilify him, to 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.

I hear people complain, “They don’t understand my condition.”  So educate them, and if they still don’t agree, or lack empathy, then that’s their prerogative.  Bosses come under fire for not allowing a member of staff with depression to take six months sick leave every year.  On a personal level, I struggled working in factories for years, but the last thing I expected was my supervisor to give me a day off every time I didn’t feel well.  I would never have worked a day in my life. I know someone who is paralysed from the waist down, and he was the first to admit 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 lady’s 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 waiters, all suffering from a mental illness, and each employee took the day off sick every time they felt depressed, that restaurant would be self service within the week.  If the chefs went next, the bank would send in the bailiffs and on Monday morning, the restaurant owner would be queuing at the employment office with his former employees.

Cancer isn’t pleasant either, or AIDS, or spina bifida, or schizophrenia, or acne, or war, or racism, or homophobia.  The world isn’t fair, it’s full of life struggling to survive – from insects to human beings to fish in the sea. A good person will hopefully want to fight injustice, but essentially, no-one owes us anything.  There are over seven billion people on the planet and I bet my thumbs that every one of them has issues of their own. Even if they don’t know it yet. 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.

Last week I was on a bus with three other passengers.  One used a crutch, one struggled to walk to his seat, one sat at the back of the bus looking forlorn, running fingers through greasy hair – I could see demons dancing in his eyes.  We all suffer the consequences of being born. Every one of us will know grief and pity and envy and will be a victim of someone else’s issues at some point in our lives. 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.

Naturally, maybe even selfishly, I would like everyone to understand my daily plight.  It would certainly 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! I try to educate people when they say, “Isn’t OCD that thing when you can’t stop vacuuming?”  But I won’t be angry, because I don’t know much about Alpha 1-Antitrypsin Deficiency. Do you?

It’s another complication in a world of f**king problems. And ideally, everyone should know all there is about everything.  I understand that we must continually educate ourselves and others, and constantly push forward with mental health awareness, but we shouldn’t be angry with those that don’t quite get it yet – let’s not vilify them like they’re the next Ted Bundy or Chairman Mao.  It may be ignorance, but there are a lot of things in this world that 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 deficits, 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 the railway track. When my own demon is thrashing on drums in my head, I couldn’t care less if a friend thinks he’s OCD because he keeps his red socks separate from his blue ones.  He may not have OCD, but for sure, he’ll have other problems in his life. He might have a voice in his head telling him he’s the new messiah. He could be waiting for test results from the hospital, or owe twice his worth to his landlord, or have to visit a terminally ill relative at a hospice later in the day. Why the hell would he be learning about OCD? If nothing bad is going on in someone’s life right now, be happy for them.

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 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 f**king sardines!  Let’s kill all the fish!”

Life isn’t easy.  Every person you pass on the street has their own circling crow.  It’s irritating but I refuse to judge 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 I’ve sprouted wings, zigzagging through the sky like a beaming, wine-soaked angel.  But OCD is a bloodhound with a busy nose. 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**sing up a lamppost.

Last night I remembered Toronto, Canada.  It was my younger self, and I’m afraid to say that in this memory I was in a strip-club bathroom – when I naively felt such places were cool (strip-clubs, not bathrooms.)  So here I was, staring at shadows in a cracked mirror while strangers took their clothes off to thumping music in the next room. I glared into that glass, ritualising for over twenty minutes, blinking and imagining blinding white light, and when I slipped out of the restroom, 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 mirror above the bottle cooler.  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 no doubt pitying my misfortune. 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’s thawing light splashed onto my face. Back to the hostel for breakfast, I guess, if I could find it. No smartphones in those days; I used the CN 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 landslide.

“How was Toronto?” said somebody, 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 instead, said I got drunk and had a good time.  I genuinely can’t remember too much there, other than that strip-club and a large bus station where I bought a ticket to New York.  Oh, and the CN Tower of course.

And that’s why, other than when I’m writing this blog, I try 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 evening… spent twenty minutes glaring at my face and the shadows cast by my eyes, my cheeks, 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 its bathroom that stank of desperation and bleach.

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, the gravel road numbing the soles of my feet.  I’m still fighting howling mandrills in Hell, but these days I’ve got a stick and a tin helmet. If you get punched in the face every day, at some point you 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?”

The answer is nearly always ‘Yes, because you have OCD.’

You’ve got to grab 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? and, Why exactly am I hiking up this mountain when my OCDemon is on my back, trying to drag me back down to sea-level?  Other times it’s as simple as, 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 rehydration 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.  It was a mighty leap into the unfamiliar. At times it was torturous but when I returned home the sense of achievement was immense.  It felt like I was dancing in the ashes of my OCD and saying, “HA! I beat you. And I know you’ll be back, but so will I!”

I’ve spent my life living beneath purple clouds.  The fact that a little light is now getting through is a testament to my slow crawl towards recovery, and that encourages me to continue stumbling forward.

There are splashes of light at the end of the long, black tunnel.  And there never used to be.

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 as it’s one of my f**king 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 mind’s eye looks 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.  Heavy, dark stuff, claws in bone-deep, a rusty spike driven into my eyeball like a stake through a vampire’s heart.  It killed me on the spot.

We were packed onto the rooftop, nowhere for me to hide, sandwiched between four Irish girls sipping at plastic bottles from their day packs.  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 new friends.  One of the girls offered me her canteen.

I can’t remember what the intrusive thought was now, but Crow delivered his usual threats into my ear.  I couldn’t face the day like this. But 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.

“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, bounding 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 roof.

I settled down, spread out on the metal roof, pretending to be hungover, closed my eyes and ruminated 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 at all.

For me, looking back at past achievements 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, rise and turn on the surface – a renewed lease of life to haunt me all over again, a dead hand rising from the grave.  A wooden spoon whips the gloop into a swirling mess, like when I’m watching a TV show and one of the actors reminds me of a former factory supervisor. A faint noise carries through the air, an almost inaudible squeaking of leather as a black-gloved finger applies pressure to 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 stuffed my supervisor into a cupboard, wedging a chair in front of the door, but my thoughts are active now…I’m a young Yan Baskets and Oasis are on the radio. I recall all that precious time I wasted in bed, scratching the wallpaper, trying to squeeze giant crow-shaped thoughts into tiny square boxes, sweating beneath the bed sheets in the clothes that I was too lethargic to take off the previous night.  An old chicken burger festers 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 fetus position all day. I ruined days like this and now I’m angry at myself and that appalling crow.

I peer deeper into the cauldron…

Another turn of the spoon and I’m further back in time, memories focusing on those confused school years, dark concepts, like mangy wolves, howling inside my head as the teacher explained photosynthesis, sinister ideas turning over and over like knives in a spin-dryer.  Heart-pounding dilemmas that look 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 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 in those days), would encourage me to chew and mutilate the head, or the rifle, or the trailing leg.  I’d do it too, and as my fears became more gruesome, I worried that I would carry out darker deeds that the crow whispered into my ear. I scribbled on drawings I was proud of, or scrunched up the paper into tiny balls, because my OCDemon said that I could, and when my fears got violent I became terrified I would act upon them too, like I did the drawings, and I would remember biting the hands off my toy soldiers and think “What if I grabbed a knife and…”

Another peek into that stinking broth and a rotting dread 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 worried again? Is it current in today’s market?  I tic 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.

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.  It’s one of the only times I dare to reminisce. It’s the future I’m interested in, and I suppose I’ll be on a plane again soon.  Although, 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, sticking a pin in a map and all the rest of the clichés 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 figure on the grassy knoll.

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

Black Beetles, Black Beetles, Black Beetles: A Time in Azerbaijan

A legitimate smile split open my face the other day, like an axe through a watermelon.  I was in the passenger seat of a Lada as it sped through the streets of Sheki, Azerbaijan. The driver, a cousin of our homestay host, was obviously auditioning for the fast and the furious 17, and I think I offended him by grabbing the passenger seat belt.

“No worries, Azerbaijan is fine, no need for belt,” he said, swerving around a packed minibus, narrowly avoiding a head-on collision with another Lada moving just as erratically on the opposite side of the road.  I clicked in anyway, accepting the cigarette he offered me over his shoulder. I don’t smoke so much these days, but my heart was trying to escape through my mouth, and I thought a few drags wouldn’t hurt on the grand scale of things.

That smile crept across my face because regardless of my relentless OCD, here I was, in a town in Azerbaijan, sitting in a Lada hurtling through the streets in the pouring rain – I probably wasn’t winning, but I definitely wasn’t losing.  I refuse to surrender. OCD ruined my education, lost me countless opportunities in life, crushed my hopes, and left a bitter taste in the back of my throat. But I will not lie down and die. When Crow reminds me of what he’s stolen from me, my body temperature rises, negative emotions wrestling one another like fighters in a cage.  Sometimes it takes me a while to stop feeling so bitter, so sick in the stomach. I feel naked, helpless to a horde of black beetles scurrying over my face, into my mouth, swimming in my bloodstream. But it used to be far worse, and I was so debilitated with OCD, I’m afraid I wasn’t always a good person. That was my mistake. I didn’t realise I could fight it.

Warp speed to yesterday evening, in Sheki, Azerbaijan – and I’m brushing off those beetles like dust from my jeans.  Our hosts invited us for drinks with their family, and we talked, smoked, drank vodka and beer around the table. Crow nibbled at the back of my head, salesmen with fake gold watches knocking at the door, black beetles scuttling beneath the floorboards, but I held them off, (the alcohol definitely helped,) and I smiled like a chimpanzee with a bag of peanuts.  We visited the local market during the day; our host drove us to a beautiful viewpoint over the city; we’d eaten flavourful dishes and joked and laughed in broken English about subjects none of us fully understood, Little One and I warmly accepted into their family as new friends, toasting life with glasses of vodka and bottles of beer as Crow tried to bite into my shoulder like a spiteful, toothless, zombie.

“You are always smiling,” said Antigua, our host.

I told her that inside I was always crying.  She took it as another vodka fuelled joke. I guess I wanted her to take it that way.  It reminded me of working in the factories, wearing my clown mask in front of all my colleagues.  They thought I didn’t have a care in the world. I wanted to be remembered as the happy joker, not the manic juggler, or the sad shadow in the corner – laughing as Crow slowly drew his talons across my insides, ripping them to shreds.  It was a day and an evening to remember – a slice of life in Sheki, Azerbaijan. OCD had not taken this away from me, and Crow, although circling in the smoky room, banged into furniture like a clumsy slapstick villain, less than useless as I fought his army of gnawing beetles.

We ate, we smoked, we tipped vodka down our necks like it was putting out a fire in our bellies.  (I suppose it was for me.) We put the world to rights, agreed and disagreed, forgot that the world can be a terrible, frightening place, and I crawled into bed with a grin like a quartered watermelon.

My last coherent thoughts, regardless of that bastard crow’s ferocious advances, were simple.  ‘It had been a good day.’

A THOUSAND PLANETS

We’re back home in the UK.  Oddly enough, 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.  F**king Crow was ten feet tall these last few days; the bastard had me imagining enough blinding white explosions to light up the darkest hour of the night.

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 witch’s curse.  I spent a long time in concealed places, but everything turned out fine. The results came in and damning the good news, Crow disappeared in a puff of green smoke.

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 Galapagos 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 pinprick in England’s gun-metal grey clouds.  Backpacking the whole of 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 – trying to kill Crow but only stoking his fire.

Travelling with OCD, or mental health issues in any form is an uphill trek.  Mental illness and backpacking don’t fit well together, 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 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 am able to move on after an hour or two, my brain accepting that it is OCD, and not the end of the world.  It has taken many years of practice and 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 bring him back.  I have to keep my focus 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 bed-covers in a secret place where the real world is dead or never existed at all.  Over the past few days I’ve visited these worlds regularly 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 parent’s garage.  I imagine tens of thousands of soldiers charging across sweeping plains, or spacecraft zigzagging across the universe in galactic dogfights – swords hacking off limbs, titanium hulls cut in half by dazzling red 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.  Instead, I beam aboard an interstellar star-ship or sit ringside at Madison Square Garden or climb into the saddle of a Knight’s armoured charger. Here I am, Emperor Yan the Unscathed, civilising the barbarian hordes, while in the real world I’m staring at a wall, or a blank television screen in the corner of the room, or lying in bed of course.

I’m lucky to have a 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 bed, or merely visiting friends, as long as I am lying down, eyes closed and still, I find it possible to gain vital 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 Crow, a tactic in my crusade for the Holy Grail – to find the chalice of reason and drink from it until Crow chokes on the sweet nectar, choking to death in my stomach.

‘Every little helps,’ says the giant British supermarket chain.  Begrudgingly, and especially in my fight against OCD, I must agree with them…and I also like their sandwiches.