VAMPIRE MOUTH

OK, so you want to know what OCD is like?  Welcome to my home, do come in. I invite you.  And yes, you can leave your shoes on.

 

…I’m sitting in the lounge with friends.  The conversation is free and easy, nothing profound, just lads watching television, talking sh*t.  My focus is elsewhere, eyes glaring at the far wall – it’s been decorated with a rich brown paint but I’m desperately trying to imagine that it’s brilliant white.  It’s proving to be an almost impossible task. Closing my eyes now, concentrating on not just white but the purest white I could visualise. The heart of God. Try it now, it’s not so easy – all I could see was the back of my eyelids.  My friends stay for three hours. A weight pulsates in my skull, heavy like a bag of sand – fear swelling in my mind. “Look at the wall and imagine it white, or your family will die.” A voice that I don’t exactly hear but feel. My subconscious.  Or part of it.

…My girlfriend and I are drinking beer with friends watching the sunset over the Karoo, South Africa.  Fantastic colours splash across the sky as the sun sinks slowly into the horizon. We laugh, we talk, celebrating the end of another long day working for our host.  It sounds hollow to me – other thoughts, less fun, are resonating in my mind. I’m obsessing again. A smile dominates my face but inside I’m crying, frustrated at the intrusion of such a stupid concept expanding like a mini universe.  Holding down a conversation with the German couple next to me but screaming in my head. “F*****k!!!!”

…Knives glisten on the kitchen worktop – I picture myself grabbing the plastic handle and stabbing the blade into my friend’s neck.  Watch his eyes bulge in disbelief, horror distorting those familiar features, crying as he dies. Just a second away, I’ve got the power in my hands.  Quick movements and a gentle push, I can stick it into anything. Need to make the fear dissipate. There are things I can do to push it away. I become a cleric burning candles on the floor.  Ritualise and ritualise again. Step away from the knife, Yan.

…Unwrapping Christmas presents now.  People looking at my face for a reaction to the gifts they’ve bought.  Got to put on a show, don’t want to disappoint. What if I throw the box at the wall and tell them all how fat they are?  Odd this one, because they’re not overweight at all.

“But they’ll think they are if you tell them.”  Biting my lip and shaking inside I smile and say thank you.  Get me out of this room!

…Feeling happy.  But not for long. Apparently my girlfriend is f**king everyone in the entire town.  Of course, she isn’t, but OCD doesn’t concern itself with facts – performing mental rituals will make the doubt fade away, but nothing else, certainly not the truth.  Distrust spreads like a virus, sickness in my belly like I’ve swallowed bleach. Maybe I should swallow bleach. There’s a bottle under the sink. How easy it would be to unscrew the cap and chug it down.  Maybe run into the lounge and die in front of my partner. That’ll teach her for fucking everyone she looks at. Or, should that be, that’ll teach her for fucking everyone that I look at?

…Glaring at my face in the mirror.  Searching for signs of dying while cursing my reflection.  Something moves in my gut – I feel nauseous again. Could be Cancer, was that abrasion there last week?  Last year? Lights flashing, sirens in my mind, a head of snakes hissing over my shoulder. Meet those flashing red eyes and turn to stone.

…Do I want to go for a drink in town?  Do I Hell. Too busy trying to pick myself up off the couch.  Feeling guilty wasting away in front of the TV – volume down so I can concentrate on all the bullsh*t.  Promise myself I’ll try harder tomorrow. It’ll be different in the morning – but of course it never is.

“This time it’s the real deal,” whispers Crow, creating bizarre shadows on the wall.

I ball my hands into fists.  “I’m NOT ritualising today. No rumination.  No blinding white light behind my eyes.” My head feels heavy at the prospect, a hot flush prickling through my body.

“Then you’ll carry that weight in your head all day!”

…Got to keep these intrusive thoughts at bay.  Fantasising I have razor teeth, I imagine eating my own legs – gruesome concepts harming myself so that I don’t obsess on what I could potentially do to those around me.  Surrounded by imaginary trees I howl at an illusory moon, hypnotised and drooling, two fangs now, Nosferatu climbing the stairs. Keeping reason in a box I waste my night desperately chewing on intrusive thoughts, an explosion in my head like hydrogen bombs colliding.  No time to read, converse, or even play a round of cards. Just lay on my bed and wait for sleep to whisk me away. Thoughts pounding – upsetting, unrelenting, a continuous river of useless information. Some of it, probably true, the rest, a ball of lies spinning in my brain, collecting more untruths, growing like a snowball rolling down a hill.

Go anywhere, just not here. Do anything, just not that. Be anyone, just not me.

 

You’ll have to go now, all this reminiscing has given me more things to think about.

And it’s harder to concentrate when you’re around…

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BIRD BONES

That was a tough week.  I’ve not stared at walls like that for over ten years.  I thought I’d worn a hole in the brickwork.

“What the hell am I doing?” I asked myself as I twiddled my hair.  But I didn’t panic, because staring at the wall and pulling out my hair is what I do best.  The usual behaviour of a person lost in thought. Yielding to the ridiculous is standard practice.  It would be odd NOT to stare at the paintwork.

I know I’ve asked this question a thousand times, but how much of me has been shaped by OCD? Eighty, ninety percent?  If I stuck a hand down my throat and pulled out Crow, wrung his neck and threw him on the fire, what would be left of me?  Who is Yan Baskets? It would be like separating conjoined twins with a laser beam. The siblings would become ‘other’ people, maybe not better, but certainly different.  Like having a coffee with a version of yourself who’d been living on the other side of the world for the last twenty years. The difference would be more than an exotic accent.  I imagine what it would be like to go to the bathroom without the Gorgon spitting at me in the mirror. To wake up and not roll over onto a horses head. No, definitely not just the accent.

I was talking to Little One yesterday.  My OCD had sent me spiralling into a puddle of despair, obsessing on the ridiculous, ritualising in my head – a thousand convulsing shaman dancing around a fire.  I referred to Crow, said he’d been particularly savage lately. Little One said she wished he’d fly away and die. I agreed but knew that it wouldn’t happen. That it couldn’t happen.  He isn’t a monkey on my back that I can chase off but rather a parasite in my blood. He is part of me – a section of my brain, an extra bone in my body. If I could remove him, I would, but it would be like cutting out a portion of ‘me’.  What would be torn out with him? What would grow in his place?

“He’s not going anywhere,” I conceded.  He’s been with me far too long. We opened our eyes simultaneously at the beginning, only he went back to sleep for eight or nine years.

Crow is part of me, but I am ALL of Crow.  I am the Crimson Knight and the Gorgon snarling in the mirror is my own reflection – it was my hand that held the razor blade, and the snakeskin on the pillow came from my own head.  It’s been easy for me to give them faces, but essentially, they look identical and answer to the same name. Yan Baskets, pleased to meet you.

Bird bones or not, our house-sitting assignment will one day come to an end.  We’ve been discussing what to do next. We talked of leaving the U.K again, but where would we go?  I’m sick of feeling ill in strange places. Sweating in a heap in a corner of a room in Kathmandu or staring at the grass in a park in Moscow.  I’m getting too old for nervous breakdowns on foreign soil. But what else for me is there? I flashback to the breakdown I had in Mauritania, in a tent deep in the Sahara Desert.  It was a camel that was the straw that broke its own back – snapped like vertebrae in a vice. Little One didn’t know what to do with me. She told me later that she’d panicked and was close to a meltdown herself – I felt sick with remorse.  She’s watched me break a million times, and whenever I put myself in her shoes, I feel insects wriggling in my stomach at what she must see.

“But I like the worms,” states Crow.  And he sounds exactly like me. Because he is me.

Forget travelling, for the time being, I owe her some security.

But should we rent a house or buy a caravan?

No idea.

“You’ve got to do something, mate,” someone not long ago said to me.  “You’re not getting any younger.” Would they say that if I had a physical illness?  Something they could see. I very much doubt it. I know I said that I don’t want sympathy – I know people don’t understand all the details of my issues, but it’s frustrating when somebody you’ve known all your life appears to forget that you actually have a chronic illness.  Would they forget my ailments if I were on crutches? Maybe I should wear a black bag on my head, or a bell around my neck.

“Yan loves to travel.  He just left one day and never looked back.”  Are you kidding me? Never looked back? My neck is forever craned over my shoulder, fixating on where I went wrong.  Surely they mean never looked forward?

Somebody else now.  “I bet you can’t wait to get away again, Yan.”

I don’t think about it until I’m on the plane.  I have almost no plan when I board that aircraft.  Never had an itinerary in my life.

It’s taken me sixteen years to admit to myself that I’m not as interested in travelling as I pretended that I was.  It was just a means of escape. It gave me an excuse to be a real person in the real world.

“Look, everyone, I’m not wasting away in a paint factory.  I’m riding a bus through Bolivia!” Pathetic really. But at least it got me out.

JUST ENOUGH EDUCATION TO SURVIVE

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.