UTOPIA ON FIRE

OCD is the great deceiver.  A perverter of truths. When something nice happens, OCD whispers reasons not to believe it – or tells you that events and relationships will turn out bad because of it.  When something unfavourable happens, it exaggerates the fallout, misrepresenting the reasons why it happened in the first place. Bad things are magnified to awful, end of the world catastrophes – good things, suddenly distorted to not so good after all, overrated at the very least.  You could win the lottery in paradise and OCD would kick the jubilation out of your lungs and set fire to all the palm trees.

“I don’t know why I bother sometimes,” I say to an empty field.

“Because the fire consuming the city can still look pretty,” says a crow on a crooked fence post.

I live on the dark side of the moon – I always have.  As a child, if Santa Claus delivered a teddy bear, OCD would tell me it had Leukemia, and the man in the red hat was probably a rapist.  Since I can remember, positive experiences have been turned upside down and set on fire – every memory punctuated by a question mark, twisted into a dangerous riddle or littered with false memories.  “I’m sure I felt the tip of a sharp object stab into my thigh in the club last night. Could it have been a needle infected with AIDS? Was there a man in the corner of the nightclub giving me daggers? – Am I on a serial killer’s death-list?”

For me, looking back is like rolling a dice – one to five meaning my day is ruined.  Naturally, ninety-nine percent of the time I’d never choose to reminisce, but sometimes, memories jump out from the darkness like ninjas on jetpacks.

Yesterday, Ice Cube played on the radio and it took me back several years.  All of a sudden I’m walking with friends to Compton, L.A – cameras and daypacks slung across our shoulders.  A car pulled up alongside us, the face of a beautiful woman beaming from the driver’s window.

“This isn’t a place for tourists,” was her advice, and as we turned to walk away, she handed me her number scrawled on a card – “But if you guys want a private dance,” she smiled.  I never did call her. But like falling dominoes, this L.A recollection nudged into another memory from the same city. I’m with the usual friends, but this time I’m talking with a local man outside an adult entertainment shop near Hollywood Boulevard at three in the morning – eagerly awaiting his private driver after a promise of dancing girls back at his apartment.

“I’m a music producer, I’ve worked with Janet Jackson,” he told us.  A few hours later and two of us woke up groggy on his sofa, our other friend opening his eyes in an unfamiliar bedroom, to find his shirt unbuttoned to his waist and an adult movie playing on a large screen on the wall – luckily before anything too sinister could happen.

Outside, I threw up in a bush.  Two police cars screeched to a halt in front of us, cops jumping from their vehicles, yelling at us to put our hands on our heads as their fingers rested on the grips of their holstered guns.  Our drinks had been spiked. The cops said the man had done something like this before, but it was us they threatened to arrest because we were the ones threatening to kill the potential rapist – the predator had called the police on his own victims.  Back at the dormitory we lamented that it had been like a scene from a movie. Gunshots rang out later that night, seeming to confirm our analogy.

These recollections failed to pull a trigger, so I continued my journey along the corridors of my mind.  I rode a bull in New Mexico (for around ten seconds before it threw me to the ground) and stroked a great white shark as it swam past my steel cage in South Africa.  I wouldn’t do it now, I’m more aware of an animal’s right not to be touched, and although it doesn’t make up for it, I did release baby turtles into the sea in Nicaragua, so…

Fascinating people and exotic locations flashed across my mind in glorious technicolor.  From sunrises on a Fijian island to sunsets in Bagan, Burma, via coups in Mauritania and skidding off my mountain bike on the world’s most dangerous road in Bolivia.  From a local football derby in Buenos Aires to the wrestling world cup in Mexico City. From working with young Mormon missionaries in Estonia to losing motorbike cops in a crazy taxi ride through Bogota’s back roads.  I’ve taught Koreans conversational English, leaving them with a subtle Norfolk accent, and helped Hungarians prepare business proposals in a swish hotel retreat – I wonder if they got the job? OCD was with me every step of the way, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t do it.  It just meant that it hurt like Hell – like lots of things do with the Devil on your back.

“But you could have done so much more,” snides Crow.  Yes, I agree, adventures were certainly restrained because the OCD coachman was pulling hard on the reins.  Opportunities cut short or never seeing the light of day as I lay huddled and cursing on a dishevelled bed. Declining an invitation to a ceremonious stone-throwing fight in a Bolivian village resonates in my mind.  Cruel, intrusive thoughts had knocked the wind out of my lungs and I had made my excuses, but I sometimes wonder what would have happened had I accompanied those young Bolivian men on that dangerous skirmish.

Probably lost an eye!

“You’ve got another one!” squawks Crow!

All these memories make me smile, for different reasons, but yes, the recollections are always jaded – Utopia on fire.  There is always another thought poking into my membrane, a darker visual, or potential catastrophe promising to ruin all the fun.  People I’ve met along the way have regretfully become triggers too, natives and fellow travellers with whom I’ve shared great adventure.  My mental health was in particularly bad shape in India and Nepal, and whenever I think of my time there, and the people I met along the way, I twitch and cringe in gross discomfort.  I was an extra in Bollywood, I trekked across the Himalayan mountains, but every memory pulls a particular trigger and I lose the next few hours like my head’s in a cement mixer. Tambien in South America.  I made a great friend in Colombia but still feel that I somehow let him down. From Popayan to Carthahegna, Cali to Bogota, it’s all just a whir and a sweaty panic attack – even Crow needs to breathe through a paper bag to stop his wings from shaking.

Because not all fond memories start out pleasantly – there will be times we cried in fear and frustration that only now plant a smile on our face if we dare to look back.  Even if a crow was there, we still have the memories of what we’ve seen, what we’ve achieved – the apples on the tree may be bruised but they’re still partially edible, and better than eating soil, even if we prefer bananas.

Besides, somewhere in the world, there are people with OCD being water-boarded as I type this, bones snapping in half in torture chambers and depressed child labourers breaking rocks in stone quarries…

When you hear me complain, don’t feel too sorry for me, because I’ve had some fun along the way.  It’s just that everything was on fire at the time…

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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…