A teenage boy shuffled past me in the supermarket today, ghostly white, looking like he was about to explode. The woman with him had an angry twitch in her eye, p**sed off with the world and everyone in it. She nearly trampled over my foot with her shopping trolley. Of course, it was all my fault.
“If looks could kill, you’d be choking to death right now,” said Crow. “The world is full of hatred, all right.”
“And love,” I said.
“Is it really? Is that what you believe?”
“Not really,” I admitted, and felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. Why couldn’t I imagine something nice, for once.
I tried to imagine what that teenage boy might be going through, relating to my own issues but realising it could be anything in the world. I wanted to tell him everything would be OK, but that’s not practical – besides, it might not be OK. At his age I was struggling with the world too, drowning in a sea of anxiety but convincing myself I’d reach the shore one day – I’m still struggling, still splashing around in cold water.
When I was diagnosed with OCD, I still wouldn’t talk about it, would force my issues back into my stomach, until they spilled over at the weekend and someone punched me in the face. I only played the victim when I was drunk – in those days I didn’t realise that the world eats everyone.
A few years ago, outside a train station late one Saturday night, I was hit by a snow plough. Or at least it felt like it. It was a fight and I lost. An angry hamster had challenged three wolverines to a duel, and not surprisingly the hamster got mauled, quite badly as it turned out. Stumbling home, I caught my reflection in a shop window – my head looked like a piece of fruit that had been kicked around a car park. It was my own fault. I’d gone out on a drinking binge while my head was full of particularly cruel intrusive thoughts. I should have spoken to a friend about my issues, not try to cram them into the basement of my mind. Within a few hours I was drunk, and the battering, repulsive thoughts kicked the cellar door wide open. I assumed the role of the aggressive idiot, looking for easy laughs but becoming irate at a sudden turn of a head, a roll of the eyes, a misinterpreted snarl on the face of the barman. It was my fault the fight had started, but to this day I can’t remember a single fist punching my face, just my skin feeling tight around my head, and then a police van pulling over to see what all the fuss was about. Had I called out to the boys in blue?
The next day I took a taxi to my parent’s house, breaking down in tears when they asked me what had happened, why I looked like I’d been hit by a bus. I caught a train to York a few days later. My dad explained the situation to my boss, while I began another pub crawl. In the two weeks I was away, my bruises healed but my OCD remained just as intense. It was good of work to give me time off, although my girlfriend at the time wasn’t so lenient, and packed her bags to live with her parents on the other side of the country. I don’t blame her. She’d seen me get myself into a lot of trouble. We were never on the same page about much, anyway. I just wish I hadn’t needed such a harsh beating to bring the relationship to a conclusion.
I returned home, and on the first day back at the factory, my boss invited me into the canteen for a talk.
“Your father explained a few things about your mental health,” he said. “It surprised me. I thought you were intelligent.”
I didn’t know what to say. So I just laughed, and said yes, I had some issues. To this day I regret not educating him on the fundamentals of a mental illness. Suffering from any illness is nothing to be ashamed of, and certainly doesn’t suggest a lack of intelligence. It was my former boss that was showing his ignorance, I was just too young to call him out on it. If I had a time machine, yes, I’d go back and assassinate Hitler, but first I’d take a detour to my old workplace and give my younger self a quick briefing on how to handle such a pillock.
There was however, a silver lining. The butterfly had flapped its wings, and a week after the conversation over that crumb ridden canteen table, I decided to go travelling. Or rather, to run away and hope my problems didn’t follow. They did of course.
Nowadays these issues should be easier to talk about. Quite hypocritical of me really, as some of my best friends don’t have a clue what I go through on a daily basis. But that’s not because I’m ashamed of what I have, just that I prefer to talk about something else. Besides, I have Little One to confide in when the spikes are falling from the sky. An OCD sufferer often obsesses over horrific images and I once told her that I was struggling with the thought of frying her face on the electric hob. She took it quite well. I explained it was because I loved her so much that Crow was trying to convince me that I wanted to hurt her.
Yes, I have problems. And it’s good to talk. But everybody has their own demons. And everyone, at some point, thinks the universe is picking them out of a crowd.
Why me? some say.
Why not? replies Crow.
The truth is nothing to be ashamed of. Some exaggerate their problems, all mouth and violins, while others sit alone in darkness, holding their issues close, hoping to drag them to their grave. There’s not always a right or wrong, but if there was, surely talking about your mental health would be the right thing to do. You wouldn’t try and hide a cracked fibula, limping to the shops, dragging your broken leg behind you.
“Morning, Barry. I’m fine, it’s just a sprain…”
There were times as a young man when I sat on my hands, fearing I may plunge a knife into a loved one’s stomach. Yet as soon as I was diagnosed with OCD, and I’d accepted that the diagnosis was correct, it made the thoughts of reckless violence not quite so terrifying. It wasn’t the devil in my head, it was OCD, and it was trying to ruin me from the inside out. However, other than my immediate family, I refused to share my diagnosis because I was ashamed of it. Everyone has dark thoughts, how could I not switch them off like everybody else? I feel such a fool now. Did I think I was too cool to have OCD?
Sometimes talking about your pain isn’t the problem. Its finding someone who gives enough of a shit to listen. My advice is simple – if you find someone who cares, put your feet up and let them into your inner world. Just don’t forget to ask them about their own problems. Because the world eats everyone.
There’s no shame in being ill. No shame in being a little broken. And certainly no shame talking about it.