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 when it’s one of my f*cking 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 thoughts go 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. Dark stuff, claws in bone deep, a heavy duty spike driven into my eyeball like a stake through a vampires heart. It killed me on the spot.
We were packed onto the rooftop, nowhere to hide, and a group of Irish girls sipped from plastic bottles in their day packs. They sat around me, and 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 my new friends. One of the girls offered me her canteen.
I can’t even remember what the intrusive thought was now, but Crow delivered his usual threats into my ear. I couldn’t face the day like this. 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 of the head.
“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, f*cking off 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.
So I settled down, spread out on the metal roof, pretending to be hungover, closing my eyes and ruminating 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.
For me, looking back 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, bobble and turn on the surface – a renewed lease of life to haunt me all over again, a dead hand rising from the grave.
I was watching the TV and an actor reminded me of my old factory supervisor. I hear the rubbing of leather as a black gloved finger gently squeezes on 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 leap sideways, stuffing my supervisor into a cupboard and wedging a chair in front of the door. But my thoughts are active…I’m a young Yan Baskets and Oasis are on the radio and I remember all the time I spent in bed, scratching the wall paper, trying to squeeze giant crow-shaped thoughts into tiny square boxes, sweating beneath the bedsheets in the clothes that I was too lethargic to take off the previous night. An old chicken burger festered 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 foetus position all day. I wasted days like this and now I’m angry at myself and that stupid crow.
I look deeper in the cauldron…
Another turn of the spoon and I’m further back in time, memories focusing on those confusing years in school, dark thoughts, like mangy wolves, howling inside my head as the teacher explained photosynthesis, thoughts turning over and over like a knife in a spin-dryer. Heart-pounding dilemmas that look so 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 of 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 as that in those days), would encourage me to chew and mutilate anything that tempted him. I’d do it too, and so I worried that I would carry out darker deeds that the crow whispered into my ear. I scribbled on drawings I was pleased with, or scrunched up the paper into tiny balls, because my OCDemon said that I could, and when the fear or urges got violent I was terrified that I would act upon them, like I did the drawings, and I would remember biting the hands off of my toy soldiers and think “what if I grabbed the knife and…”
Another peek into that stinking broth and a rotting fear 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 worrying again? Is it current in today’s market? I twitch 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.
So 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. And it’s the only time I dare reminisce.
Christmas is over and here we all are. I suppose I’ll be on a plane again soon. 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, I’ll stick a pin in a map and all the rest of the cliches 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 trigger on the grassy knoll.
I don’t look back; I don’t look forward, only sideways into space.