I wake up several years ago – I’m fifteen and terrified of life. Immediately I feel a weight upon my body, a pillow over my face. There is a tingle in the back of my mind, something stirs in my consciousness, a struggle from the night before that I don’t quite remember but feel is coming back to haunt me – an intrusive thought knocking at the door or twitching at the foot of the bed like a dog stirring from a deep sleep. Thirty seconds tick by. Dragging on my socks, memory claps me on the back and I’m sucked into a whirlpool.
Messing around with my friend we walk through the school gates, fighting to keep the gnashing thoughts at bay, at least until my first lesson, where I’ll stare into my textbook, pretending to work, but concentrating on trying to dismiss these absurd ideas. That first lesson is maths – how I hate numbers, always having to recount and ‘make sure’ and ‘did I carry the three over?’ It’s a minefield, so I don’t even try in my final year at school, just sit at the back of the class, dwelling on jumbled thoughts.
I fingered a girl six months ago. A rumour began that last year she slept with a guy who was HIV Positive. I’ve convinced myself I bit my nails after the event and now I have the virus. I don’t yet realise that the fear is nonsensical, that won’t be for another four years when I’ll ring the National AIDS helpline and they’ll tell me that the virus doesn’t work like that – it would be near impossible for me to have contracted the disease this way. But that’s in the future, at this moment in time I’ve convinced myself I’m going to catch a cold that will kill me before I reach sixteen. In those days there’s no Google for me to check how the virus is spread. Just that f**king leaflet posted through the front door. ‘Don’t die of ignorance,’ it stated in bold letters.
I ritualise in my head, although I don’t know yet that’s what I’m doing. I won’t find out that I have OCD for over ten years. The younger Yan Baskets thinks that everyone ruminates as much as I do – only they’re much better at it. I manage to push ‘Death by AIDS’ into a dark room somewhere in the back of my mind. There is a four-minute respite where I manage to look forward to an event at the weekend – a hundred and eighty tranquil seconds. And then a pupil in the year above passes by the window. He glances in, eyes loitering on mine for no more than a second. But that’s all it takes. At first, I think he just doesn’t like me. Slowly I convince myself he wants to punch me in the throat. Eventually, by tea-time, in front of the TV, I’ll be ninety-nine percent sure that he wants to stick a knife in my stomach, slaughtering my family as a side note.
Later that night, drumming my fingers a hundred times on the small red Bible on my bedside table, I find peace of mind, enough to see me through to tomorrow morning at least. But it has come at a cost. It takes me three-quarters of an hour to appease my inner demon, tapping the cover of the Bible, mumbling words to God, picturing a blinding white light that is never quite white enough. I turn to face the wall, trying not to think about AIDS.
Did I sleep that night? Yes, I did. I was ruminating and ritualising from the moment I awoke, to the moment I withdrew my hand from the Bible and closed my eyes – so yes, I was shattered, and I slept.
My alarm buzzes beside me…
I wake up. Immediately I feel a weight upon my body, a pillow over my face. There is a tingle in the back of my mind, something stirs in my consciousness, a struggle from the night before that I don’t quite remember but feel is coming back to haunt me…
I don’t know how I got through those school years. I learned next to nothing, barely enough education to survive. But I did survive. I’m still here, and if I got through it, so can anybody, because I’m not special like the mental health posts on Instagram tell me.
Crow perches on my shoulder and nibbles my ear. “Look, everyone, Yan has a mental illness.” I try to brush him away. “Keep going, Yan. You’re brilliant. You’re sooooo strooooong. You’re amazing because it’s been written on a post-it note and plastered all over social media.” He cackles and shits on my neck.
No, I’m really not special at all.
I know I’m no less of a person for suffering from a mental illness, but it doesn’t make me a hero either. All life is awesome, just look at us, we’re on a rock spinning through space! So yes, I’m amazing, but so is a tapeworm. Am I special for suffering like this? I haven’t cured cancer. I haven’t sacrificed an arm to save the human race. I don’t even play a musical instrument. I suffer and live with extreme OCD and depression, but I don’t think that makes me awesome. If becoming awesome is simply not killing yourself then I think we need to raise the bar.
Sometimes we need a few messages saying that it’s OK to be average, that fighting for mediocrity is fine. There are a lot of people suffering from mental health issues who are horrible bastards, and it has nothing to do with their illness. If Jimmy Savile had suffered from a mental illness, and maybe he did, he’d still have died a monster “You’re bipolar, Jim,” sings Crow. “Apparently that makes you a winner!”
I’m not a bad person but am I great? Cynical as it may sound, I find it condescending when I’m told that I am. You don’t f**king know me. I want to say, “Yeah, I’m in torment, but that doesn’t make me a better person.” I guess I’m tougher than a lot of people think because of my internal battle, but what are my other options? Slip a noose around my neck and die hanging from a tree?
Having said that, embracing social media, reading the hardships of fellow sufferers on Twitter and Instagram confirmed that I am not battling this alone. It made me feel part of a tribe. But peel back the post-it note and you notice the smear on the fridge door. Telling ourselves we are OK is not always the best option. Sometimes it’s better to say, “Of course I’m not going to give in but I still feel f**ked!”
“It’s pathetic,” says Crow. And the danger is, although extreme, he could be ‘a little bit’ right. Yes, his belly is full of lies, but he once told me that someone wanted to do me harm, and the next time I saw that person, I was set upon and assaulted.
Although, thinking about it, I probably deserved it.
“You’re being paranoid,” I had chanted to the gaunt face avoiding shadows in the mirror.
“I told you he was gonna hurt you,” said Crow.
I wasn’t dismembered with an axe, but my fear was correct up to a point. Two days earlier I’d read on a post-it note someone declaring that everything OCD says is a lie.
“But I’ve told you the truth before, Yan,” whispers Crow. “I mix my lies with semi-truths. It’s the beauty of OCD. One percent is all it takes. You listen to a thousand slurs and have to accept them all!”
“Or tell them all to f**k off!” says a frustrated voice at the back of my mind. Sometimes bad things will happen and guess what, we’ve just gotta roll with it. Not deny it or worry about if it’s the truth or not. Stick a post on Instagram and tell the world you’ll deal with it.
Crow is the reflection distorted in the puddle. The hooded figure spreading disinformation from the shadows. But telling me everything it says is a lie, is itself dishonest. That’s why OCD and other mental illnesses are such dangerous foes. They match their hosts toe to toe. They are as clever as we are. As dark as we can become.
I suffer from OCD, and it has moulded me and caused me great distress which in turn has led me down paths I would otherwise not have trodden. It has influenced my decisions and opinions, propelled me into certain action I may not have necessarily taken had a crow not been screaming murder in my ear. It’s been tough to deal with, but am I great? I genuinely don’t think that I am. Maybe I could have been, but we’ll never know. Am I fine with this? Yes. Because I’ve got other things to worry about.
Personally, when I’m fighting Crow, honesty is my sharpest sword. He ruined my education, that is a cold fact, but I probably would have failed Maths anyway.