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 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.

 

 

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WORM-EATERS

When you’ve thrown up in a bucket because a three month long intrusive thought simply WILL NOT go away, advice like, “Just don’t think about it, you’re not trying hard enough,” becomes offensive and provocative, like lashings of a stick across a bare back.

It doesn’t matter what the thought is, violent or silly – (and some are sillier than others), but the one thing they have in common is that they won’t go away.  Like a flickering ghost, it remains until you trick it into the light, or until the next fear squashes it underfoot – I imagine monsters falling off a conveyor belt.

Alcohol distorts it, usually for the worse – yes it can numb it, but it can also poke it in the eye and enrage it.  C*caine gives you a forged confidence, a cheap weapon to kill it, but it re-animates in the morning, because the sword wasn’t real, and now you’re depressed and in a sinkhole and back to being useless.  It can also fuel it, like spraying oil on a fire.  My heaviest indulgences in South America often flash back to haunt me – the times I pulled my hair out, and once threw up against a wall in a Bogota hotel because my thoughts became twisting spikes – dangerously active, like a troubled, twitching child sharpening razor blades.  I ruined friendships on that continent, all because I was embarrassed to tell those I was with why I was acting like a selfish dog.  I don’t touch the stuff anymore.

Weed can calm me, certainly more than gin, but probably because it puts me to sleep, (and I’m already good at that).  It also interrupts my line of thinking, and although that actually helps on one hand, on the other it confuses me to shambles. It offers its best advice at the end of the day, collapsed on my bed, transporting me to those other places.

When I first used LSD at sixteen years of age, (my second drug experience after alcohol), the trip hurled my problems into a washing machine, spinning them so fast they became an elongated blur, the buzz melting my perceptions like marshmallows in a microwave oven – I called for help but she was lost in space, and that suited me just fine.  But the more acid I dropped, the darker my hallucinogenic experiences became.  Visions of loved ones’ funerals were so gruesome and felt so real that I panicked in bathrooms, while downstairs friends skipped over rainbows with tap dancing armadillos – Oh, those long misshapen evenings and the carnage I imagined.

It left me in a bag for days – I was a puddle on the ground, a cigarette butt stamped on the ground.  At nineteen I promised never to touch acid again. I’ve kept that promise.

So the drugs don’t work and there is no cure, and so succeeding with a tolerable life takes time and considerable amounts of effort.  (I’m not advocating drugs nor condemning them.)  It’s a constant clash of steel on steel, fighting OCD on one flank and depression on the other. The horde is relentless, its number infinite, but to win a battle has its particular rewards, and as I mentioned in my last post, I appreciate the quiet times sometimes with nothing more than a smile.  But it feels priceless – SO IT IS PRICELESS.

We made it to Moldova; the journey in a crowded marshrutka was on slow roads through flat fields and small scattered towns, the horizon blotted out by a blanket of heavy fog.  Although I couldn’t see my surroundings further than the fence at the side of the road, I felt relatively good, happy to be on the move.  But the crow is a worm-eater, and worm-eaters pick at the ground.  I was reminded of sour times, little jabs of false memories that I worried could turn out to be true; torn banners on old battlefields rustling on sudden gusts of wind – like a mischievous God was blowing them back to life; shadows of worlds I should have left behind, wars I’ve already lost but must fight again in a mind-wracking loop.  The ground may look dead and worthless, but there are worms rotating beneath that grey soil, and therefore worm-eaters picking them to the surface.

I imagined the great field behind the white fog.  And those meek worms turning the soil, the vicious birds digging for their fill.  I was the soil AND the sky, the flesh AND the feather – I am the wriggling worm, and I am Crow, the worm-eater.

Another fear rose up like a wave.

‘Oh, F*ck you, Yan, just don’t think about it. You’re not trying hard enough..’

The bus rolled on through squeaking gears, and I clambered off in Chisinau, an austere but interesting capital.

This was a new land, and I thought back to Ukraine with a wry smile.  We had located Little One’s Ukrainian family, and as we drank vodka and ate cake around the table with her Uncle and cousins, Crow pulled on a juicy worm – yet he did not get to eat it because I barked and he scattered like it was a blast from the farmer’s shotgun.

We’d sat and watched the Opera in Lviv, and sometimes my eyes burned and it felt like I was chewing mud, but with gnashing teeth I managed to keep the crow at a tolerable distance, far enough away to enjoy the show.

I’d lumbered through some of these days with forced smiles, surviving ’til dusk, when the bottle caps flipped to the floor and forty per cent of my liquid intake aided in my recovery – but not an amount to poke the bull in the eye.  I’d also lashed out and fought the worm-eater, and gained experience and pleasure among the detritus of battle.  Like a video game villain, Crow the Usurper is king of the hill, but I’ve knocked him about for a few bloody rounds this trip.  It’s been interesting times spent in Eastern Europe so far; especially true of the land I rode out of today – so cheers to Ukraine and all who sail in her – (I’ll be back soon, anyway, because I fly to Belarus from Lviv).  Until then, ‘do pobachennya.’

So now I am in Moldova, with Transnistria on the fog-strewn horizon.  Worm-eaters circle in my smokey skies, one in particular twitching like a nibbling eel.  I form the barrel of a gun with two fingers and aim at his desperate red eyes.  Another three minute round, Crow?

“One more for the road,” I think would be his reply.

Lying b*stard.  It’s never just one more…

DEVILS IN GAS MASKS

“Life can be odd,” said the man wiping a gob of yellow paint from his face.  “You can’t get angry, because rules are rules, and the rules state that the world is chaos, bubbling in a glass jar.”  Or something like that.

I had six years in a factory mixing paint and pouring it into plastic bottles.  I looked up to the older man who probably didn’t say this, because inside I was a twitching wreck, and Uncle Jack (as I’ll call him) was calm, even when the industrial machine threw its guts up into his face.  (I later found out that it was a mask he wore, and actually at home he was a cantankerous old b*stard but…)

Odd that my happiest times this trip have been sandwiched between strangers inside a cramped bus on a rain-swept afternoon in Lviv, a tour through the Chernobyl disaster zone and surrounding towns and villages, and an afternoon spent in a Ukrainian village cemetery counting headstones.  In older days, when my OCD was a gunship and my depression a black fog that trailed it, any reprieve was multiplied to such manic proportions that when it came, I went supernova, from a hobbled, twitching creature lurking in a corner to a soaring rocket man annoying the skies with my roaring jet pack. Imagine a tin of paint dropped from the top floor of a skyscraper.  It explodes on impact with the ground and tendrils stretch across the immediate world; a tree is splattered in orange paint, a shop window, a passing car.  I wanted to be everywhere, and know everything and everyone.  My parents would never see me like this, but when I was out and Crow free, my confidence conquered a square mile, running on adrenaline; a greyhound released on a coiled spring, tail wagging, tongue slapping over my shoulder.  Drink sometimes gave me the same reprieve, only on these occasions the fireworks were louder still, but with a bigger price to pay. (Gunpowder ain’t cheap.)

These days when I’m free of Crow and his black umbrella, I’m content to celebrate with a deep breath of fresh air, tasting the day and chewing it over.  I’m not past mania, but now I’m a little afraid of where it can take me.

So we took a tour of Chernobyl, and the towns and villages the 1986 nuclear disaster had forced into non existence.  It was an interesting but rather bleak day. I was expecting it.

Drudging through the evacuated ghost town of Pripyat with the rest of the tour, I found myself lagging, and took several minutes for myself in a ruined room.  Water dripped from the flaking ceiling, a broken chair lay dislocated on the concrete floor beside a single brown shoe, and a gas mask, tactically placed by a tour guide no doubt, dangled eerily from a twisted hook – Everything, from wet concrete walls to burned plastic dolls, looked dead.  So grim and blighted were my surroundings that I prepared for a wave of depression to crush me against the cold floor.  No black tsunami came.

My demons nudged me with their crooked elbows, and breathing in the stale air, I decided to entertain them.  I looked into the smeared glass of a gas mask eye socket, and imagined a long table filled with food in the reflection – They were all there, eating their pie and cake; the Crimson Knight, the symbol of my violent self harm, devouring the apple crumble, stuffing it into his metal face-plate; the temptress Gorgon, my fear, spilling beef broth down her filthy gown; Crow himself, Lord of the entire dance, didn’t even look up from his wooden bowl as he poured hunks of wet meat into his glistening black beak.  A vast array of squabbling diners picked and pecked and pawed at the food.  It reminded me of a phrase I once wrote on a cardboard box, deep in a factory warehouse, many years ago.

‘Watch them, let them feast, but never join them at the table.’  I knew what I meant when I scribbled it in thick black marker pen all those years ago, but only now did I see who it was slobbering over the juicy platter.  It was me, or at least the ghosts of me.

And so I watched them, I let them gorge on barbecued chicken legs and gigantic hocks of roasted ham, lips smacking, knocking over jeweled goblets of red wine.  But I never sat beside them.  Never joined them in their gluttony.  And I never will, because to join them is to drop dead on the ground.

It was Chernobyl, I was expecting them here, everyone on the tour must have felt a personal demon poke a finger or two into their ribs.  But mine were quieter than usual, content almost to share stories with each other across the cluttered table.  Of course I was dodging OCD spikes every few footsteps, but I could see them breaking through the floor, or protruding through walls like slow broken traps in an old Indiana Jones set.  There were grey autumn clouds casting shadows across that ramshackle town, bloated behemoths setting the mood as lethargy thumped in my lungs and my nostrils were filled with the stench of things gone wrong; I saw Devils in gas masks, so bleak and grey and damp to the bones, this should have been a great harvest for that bastard Crow.  Yet I was fine with my desolate surroundings.

Maybe it’s the beautiful places that pull the trigger, because Crow doesn’t want me to be happy and he detects a smile further away than a shark smells a severed artery.  Maybe it’s the colourful markets in Central America that tempt his malice that little bit more – hiding in wooden crates of those succulent avocados and oranges and ripened bananas like a stowaway tarantula. Crow likes to suck away the juicy insides, until a damp husk is all that is left.  When he leaves me a slice of meat, it’s the most succulent morsel of food I’ve ever tasted, or best film I’ve watched in years, or the funniest show, the sweetest treat, the happiest hour of the entire month – so when he’s absent, even if I’m in a trench half filled with water, I remember it as a positive occasion.  Every minute without OCD breaking my toes, or depression suffocating me like a hangman’s hood thrown over my face, blows my mind every which way, just like that tin of paint dropped from the top floor of a skyscraper.

It is the ruination of a spectacular day that hurts the most, I guess.  The rancid hut looms ominously, you already know not to sleep on the p*ss-stained mattress, the roaches are already on the wall, there’s nothing that wants to jump out at you that you don’t already know about.  It’s the five star apartment you have to check for bedbugs. So Chernobyl was depressing, but it was meant to be, there were no surprises.

And today, in the cemetery beneath the gun smoke sky, searching for Little One’s Ukrainian family plot, there wasn’t a black feather in sight – but as mourners paid homage with flowers, it just wasn’t the place for celebration.

Forget another trip to Asia or South America, I could have stayed in that graveyard forever if it meant peace like this – and I suppose it will one day.

It’s an odd world indeed, Uncle Jack. An odd world indeed.

 

UTOPIA UNHINGED

It’s all a matter of perspective.  The glass is either half empty, or half full, or bubbling over with hydrochloric acid, about to topple over into your lap.

The woods are beautiful from a distance, but woe betide those who venture inside its tangled mouth.  There are wolves lurking, and snakes slithering, and Screamin’ Jean, the witch who eats children, dancing naked in the thicket.  I’m travelling the world, Little One by my side, money in our pockets, adventure never further than a bus ride away – we’ve dived with sharks, boarded down active volcanoes, jumped out of aeroplanes, but even on those days, (Jaws’ sister chewing on my heels as I tumbled through clouds,) I was spinning in space, worrying over the ridiculous, unable to do much of anything else.

The ferry to Odessa was cancelled and so we flew instead.  I smiled because Crow had been heckling me over my inadequate swimming abilities.  “You swim like a giraffe.  If the boat goes down, you’ll go down with her, and I’ll meet you at the bottom,” he promised.

“But I can’t fly either,” I said, and chased him away with a flick of my plane ticket.

I’m grateful that I’m here, and I don’t want to sob in front of violins scratching out somber tunes, because I’m not yet flirting at death’s door in a hospital for the terminally ill, and I can saunter at my own pace, hands untied, across the plains quite freely.  I don’t know what my next meal will be but I know that it’s coming, and it’ll probably be Borscht soup.

I sit inside a great theatre, a sparkling chandelier sprinkling its light upon a mesmerised crowd.  On the centre stage a man with flowing white hair works a grand piano, fingers dancing fiercely upon the ivories, humbling the congregation with his melodic skills, making them useless as they fall in love again – all slack-jawed and corkscrew-eyed, squirming like maggots in his hand.  But to some his music becomes the trigger of a gun, and my thoughts spiral downward to the gutter and brown.  I’ve taken a sideways step, a shimmy to my left, and suddenly he becomes a monster with rabies banging piano keys in a crumbling hall.  Water splashes at my feet, and I’m dragged thirteen fathoms beneath the floorboards.  But man, could that guy play.

I was born into a loving family, in a small town in England, and never went without a meal, never got a smack across the back of the legs for messing around with things I shouldn’t, never sent to clean chimneys or break stones in child labour camps.  I had everything a child could ask for, and more.  I was a rabbit gifted a field of carrots – no predator for a hundred acres.

It’s the angle you look at things I guess, and I promise that I try as hard as I can to see the positive in things, it’s just that I see the negative too – and it’s impossible to get the ink out of the water once it’s been tainted.

And sometimes things ARE pretty sh*t.  From a distance a village looks quaint in the cleavage of a green valley.  It isn’t until you get up close and enter a house, open the cupboard door that the handle falls off in your hand.  Or you put your ear to the wall and realise there are insects scuttling behind the plasterboard, maybe the river that runs through the centre of town is riddled with parasites, and squinting your eyes you see the dead man swinging from a noose beneath the bridge that spans it.  I’m well aware there are worse places, more dangerous and far filthier, with bloodier eyes to look through, but I can only describe what I see through mine.

Yet I know that I am lucky, because I’m not scrambling five miles across cracked, sun-bleached earth for drinking-water every day, and although I left school early, without furthering my education, I still learned how to read and write.  I was never molested by a drunk uncle or beaten in a filthy room by secret police.  I couldn’t have been further from poverty or famine or war-torn lands.  I always had shade from the sun, and shelter from the pouring rain, and I grimace in gut-wrenching empathy when I think of those who are in these dire predicaments AND suffering from a mental illness.  It must be the ground floor of hell, the boiler room in the devils basement, and I shudder when I try to imagine it.  What would the crow have left of me if I had been abused and fed such scraps? I’m red with guilt at the ease with which I buy bread and fresh water, and still complain that I’m not f*****g happy.  Because it doesn’t make that manic crow fly any higher, fails to silence his shrieking threats of violence and paranoia.  I still get depressed and have harmful thoughts and worry when I hear certain words, and succumb to false memories and tic and obsess and feel compelled to ritualise and imagine the blinding white light that cures all – and everything else just as ridiculous to write down or say aloud that I know my sense cannot convince my brain is harmless and untrue.  It’s not just my OCD, I get jealous and envious far too easy, I hate to be copied, and although they say it’s a compliment, I grow fangs and get psychotic and Crow would make me follow a man to the end of the world to pull his teeth out if it went too far.

But however much I moan and slump and drift in ashes, please don’t ever think I don’t know how lucky I am.  I appreciate the love I’ve been given, the amount of precious time certain people have invested in me, and the helping hands that have pulled me up mountains.

 

Punch

I didn’t see the punch, I just felt a jolt and then I was inside a cavernous dome, ears ringing, head cut off from the rest of my body.  Or maybe my head was in a fish-tank, water rushing into my ears, eyes blinking, vision blurring; was that a goldfish swimming past me? I distinctly remember swaying, as my body caught up with the power of the right cross, and then I was on the floor, blood spilling down my chin.

That was over fifteen years ago, inebriated after a night out, when my inside had burst out of my skin, like a clenched fist through wet paper.  I’d spent all day ruminating on a single intrusive thought, and then I’d drank the evening into oblivion, gaining brief respite as I drowned the crow in a barrel of beer, topped with vodka chasers and cheap red wine.  In the fresh air, on my way home, like many drunks, I began to contemplate my life story, and feeling melancholy, angry with the direction it was heading, becoming bitterly savage with my OCD, I lost my reason in a sea of red-mist.  Hatred stirred in my belly and my outside, that smiling loon, that gormless joking fool, didn’t simply leave the building, the rotting, self-loathing Yan kicked him off the roof.

My inside now had control, and I was resentful and screaming and deserved that hammer punch, and many more besides.  As the man whose fist had split my bottom lip in two calmly walked away, I remember hauling myself to my feet while complimenting him on such a perfectly delivered right hand cross.  I knew I’d been an arse; I realised that my frustrations at wasting another day, ruminating my life away, had simply broken through the surface of the water and smashed into the hull of an iron battleship.  Yet I’d relearned that same valuable lesson for the thousandth time, (which I’d forgotten by morning light) – mental illness and copious amounts of alcohol don’t mix; someone’s always going to get hurt, and thankfully it was usually me.

My OCD is not the worlds problem, it’s mine, and I never could fight but I could certainly get hit, and did, and got black eyes and bloody lips and bruised ribs and worse of all, a damaged ego as I faced certain individuals the following day.  I still beat myself up inside, every day, fantasizing that crude weapons are smashing into my body parts – like recently, on a bus travelling to the next city in Georgia.  I was looking out of the window as we pulled out of Gori, Joseph Stalin’s home town. Without provocation a three year old spike pierced my thoughts, terror curling in my stomach like a finger on a trigger; I grew hot, I worried unnecessarily, fear, sorrow and bitterness splashing around inside of me like eels in a bucket.

But I smiled at the old woman beside me, I thanked the man in the seat in front when he bought me a cold cola, laughed like an hysterical hyena at a shitty joke when all I wanted to do was scream so loud that it burst my eardrums.  I imagined shattering the bus windows, from the back row to the windshield, as I shrieked like a banshee who’d stubbed her gangrened toe on a rock – I watched in my minds-eye as the passengers were drenched in tiny glass fragments, Luciano Pavarotti singing the Marriage of Figaro as they dived for cover in classic Hollywood style slow motion, and a knight in crimson armour, with a red crow emblazoned on his shield, materialized into existence beside me, clobbering a heavy mace across the back of my head with all his might.  Frustration yelled its name in my face…but I waved at the young boy peering over his seat like my only thoughts were flowers blowing in the breeze.

I’ve been told to wear my heart on my sleeve; to be honest and open about my illness.  But I really don’t think the passengers on the bus wanted to see me cry.  It would have been an awkward experience for us all.  So I kept my inside in, lurking in the swamp as deep as I could send it; and painted my face with a beaming smile like a f*cking LSD rainbow whenever someone looked my way.

Many on the fringe who think they know me believe I’m having a great time out here; carefree and effervescent, a million miles from harmful thoughts and bouts of depression.  And of course I do enjoy myself, even without having to get drunk like when I first went away, staring at the bottom of a shot glass until Crow was blind and staggering and harmless unless the music stopped and I began to think of what he was doing to me – then of course my inside popped its head over the fence and met with a flying fist.  But even now it’s certainly no bunch of roses, and if life IS a box of chocolates, there are a lot of praline truffles in there.  And they make me gag.

Note to Mum and Dad; Of course it’s debilitating, but believe me, looking at it relatively, these days it’s not like it was – in comparison it’s like having a runny nose instead of pneumonia – snot on my sleeve instead of phlegm on my lungs.

I’m out of the factories and running, something I’d never have been able to do all those years ago.

 

 

Black Beetles, Black Beetles, Black Beetles; A Time in Azerbaijan

A genuine 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 home-stay 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, as we swerved past a packed mini bus and nearly collided with another Lada driving just as manically on the opposite of the road.  I clicked in anyway, and took the cigarette he offered me.  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.

So I smiled. Because regardless of my relentless OCD, here I was, in a town in Azerbaijan, in a Lada hurtling through the streets in the pouring rain – I was winning.

OCD ruined my education, lost me countless opportunities in life, crushed my hope, and it has left a bitter taste in the back of my throat.  When Crow reminds me of what he’s taken away from me, I choke a little, fury rising inside me like a charging wave, and all sorts of negative emotions wrestle for control.  Sometimes it takes 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 into my bloodstream.

Warp speed to yesterday evening, in Sheki, Azerbaijan – and I’m brushing off those beetles like dust from my jeans.  Our host invited us for drinks with his family, and we talked, and smoked, and drank vodka and beer around the table.  Crow nibbled at the back of my head, the intrusive thoughts knocking at the door, black beetles scuttling beneath the floorboards, but I held them off,  (the alcohol probably helped,) and again I smiled healthily, like a chimpanzee with a bag of bananas.  Yesterday we’d seen the local market; our host had driven us to a beautiful viewpoint over the city; we’d been fed tasty dishes and joked and laughed in broken English about subjects none of us fully understood, warmly accepted into their family as new friends, toasting life with the flowing vodka as Crow bit into my shoulder like a bitter, toothless, B-movie zombie.

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

I told her that inside I was always crying.  She took it as another vodka fuelled quip.  I wanted her to. It reminded me of my times at work in the noisy factories as I wore my clown mask in front of my work colleagues.  I want to be remembered as the happy joker, not the manic juggler, or the sad shadow in the corner – laughing even as the Crows talons grind my insides to shreds.  I’d had a day and an evening to remember – a slice of life in Sheki, Azerbaijan.  OCD had not taken this away from me, and the crow, although circling in the smoky room, banged into furniture like a clumsy slapstick villain, almost comical 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.  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 Crows ferocious advances, were simple, ‘Today was a good day.’

 

That B*stard Crow

We’re off to Georgia (the country in Eastern Europe, not the US state), although I hear that’s lovely too.  I’m interested in soviet history, and on my travels I’ve lost control of my mind from Russia to Kazakhstan, from Estonia to Latvia, Lithuania to Ukraine.  I’ve ruminated on the ridiculous before Statues of Vladimir Lenin; touched my forehead for luck like my fingers were manipulating a typewriter deep inside a defunct nuclear bomb shelter; imagined blinding white lights and chanted a thousand and one mantras while learning the horrors of a former Gulag or KGB headquarters. A visit to Georgia was only a matter of time, and I was fading to nothing at home so pushed myself to get back on the road.  This trip I want to visit Azerbaijan and Armenia too, and a return to Ukraine. Belarus if I’m lucky…

“Why not a beach in Thailand?” I’ve been asked. Well, I went to a beach in Thailand, where I was asked “Why not go somewhere more off of the backpacker trail?” And so it goes…

It just means that the scenery is going to change around me, not the everyday struggle.  I’ll still glare at myself in the mirror, threatening my reflection with violence when frustration sets my mind on fire.  It’ll just be a mirror hanging on a wall in a flat in Tbilisi, Georgia.

If I stayed at home I’d go through the same trials, I’d just feel worse about it, because I’d see it as wasting time, squandering my one chance of life in this vast universe.  I’ve done plenty of that already; laying in my bed, forehead banging against the wall, hiding from the world and everyone in it, sentencing myself to solitary confinement as life passes overhead on the wind.  However ill I get, however deep the Crow’s claws scratch, I will always try to push forward.

OCD is like an extra layer of skin, itching beneath the other nine; or a third arm, a useless one that grabs onto anything that will slow you down; another eye that looks in on itself, searching for terrible fabricated secrets.  OCD is a part of me, and that bastard crow is always the first of us on the plane.  He tries to ruin a trip to the local shop so of course he’ll try and ruin our time in Georgia.  I’m off and he’s coming with me, his shadow swishing around my throat like a black cloak, so get over it, Yan.  This way I’m giving it a go, easing those knots in my stomach, making me feel a little better about myself, a sense of worth hanging around me like a glowing aura.  Today, I still have no idea what we’re going to do when we get there, and that’s the adventure I guess… something I don’t want the crow to ever take away from me.

If I surrendered to the crow I’d never have met some of the great people that I have, from all over the world, whether it’s a seventy-two year old adventurer fighting cancer on the road, or a gap year student who shares the same slightly twisted sense of humour as me; I’d never have disappeared down a pot-hole mid conversation in Kampala; never bathed naked with the local village greengrocer in the onsens of Japan; I’d never have embarrassed myself dancing salsa in a Havanan bar or booed the villains at the Lucha Libre in Mexico City.  You’ve stopped me from doing many things, bastard crow, but not everything.

‘Yeah yeah yeah, you’ll eat my eyes out, you’ll shove me down the stairs, you’ll set my hair on fire, you’ll bite my fingers off, you’ll smash my face into the wall.  All these things and more if you had the chance.  Do whatever you need to do, bastard crow, but I’m going to drag you all over the world by your scrawny neck if I can.  And I hope you despise every second of it.’