Lumley, Palin and Crow

I love traveling but I dislike researching where to go.  I can’t get excited until I step off the plane and put my feet on actual foreign soil. I don’t watch travel shows because they bore me; I’ve got nothing against Joanna Lumley but I really have no urge to watch her eating a bowl of mashed fava beans while she drifts lazily down the Nile on a Victorian tugboat. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to do it myself, but I wouldn’t expect people I don’t know to watch a video of me doing it – my serotonin gets released from breathing the Sahara winds, not watching it blow through Michael Palin’s hair. I switch the channel over when the title music begins to tinkle in my ear.  ‘Trekking through the Amazon on a shoestring’ is probably a wonderful programme, but it reminds me of when I was there, and didn’t I have quite a few attacks in that jungle? Crow pulls the trigger and my day is dead.

I don’t really discuss much where I’m going even when I have the ticket in my hand – I’m going to be wrestling with crow wherever I go; I simply prefer to box him on foreign soil and glimpse a beautiful mountain or two between rounds.

Travelling with OCD has its issues.  The reason I continue to push myself to leave the country, even when I am at my lowest ebb, is because if at any point Crow had ruined this, I’d have done nothing with my life – a colossal negative of mental illness is what it stops you from achieving – the younger me, cooped up in my bedroom, had struggled hourly, and the last thing on my mind was studying, or choosing a career, or figuring out how to better myself when I’d spent all day trying to drag a crow out of my eye socket.

However, these last few days, Crow has been a black spider.  Not monstrously loud like a pneumatic drill, but clickety clack, like a tap dancer with hot shoes, heel-stepping across my thoughts. Nothing to make me want to tear my eyes out, but enough to remind me that he’s still there, lurking, loitering with intent.  Catastrophes like the horrific terrorist attacks in Manchester and London put him into perspective for a few minutes, but then he uses the fear and carnage for his own twisted intentions and suddenly I’m imagining my loved ones torn asunder in those very streets.  I thank fuck it’s in my mind and I’m not experiencing what those poor victims had to go through.  The Crow is an annoying fly next to a nail bomb attack, so i fought him with added vigor this week, and who am I to complain?  It’s not ideal – Crow makes me want to puke most days, but compared to yesteryear this torture is less waterboarding, more distant tap dripping in the next room. So I take it, and avoid triggers, quick to either neutralise my fears or pull myself away from them altogether. Like a sober friend pulling away a drunk colleague from a fight outside a kebab shop on a Friday night, there’s a lot of shouting but eventually you get them into the taxi.

It’s the best year I’ve had since I can remember, so I take it, and casually flick through my atlas to decide, at the very least, the direction of my next trip – as long as that heinous parasite remains a shadow of his former self, I’ll be content to go anywhere that will have me. It’s taken years to get me thinking like this, many therapists, packets of medicine, hours of reading, relentless trial and error. I’ve been naughty, and nice, and extremely lucky. I’ve been convinced I have all kinds of illnesses, neutralised negative thoughts with a million flashes of blinding light; I’ve imagined the death of everyone I know, horrifically murdered with gruesome tools, but we’re all still here, breathing, living our lives and contemplating our next moves.

Crow is white noise. Crow is the dripping tap. Crow is the host of desert islands discs with only Marilyn Manson albums to choose from, or a single picture on my bedroom wall, painted by a psychopath – Crow the Composer, splashing the canvas of my life with blacks and reds, forty years in fifty shades of violence.  Yes, Crow is a howling storm, but he used to be a fucking machine gun, so how can I complain when children are getting blown up all over the world?

The Crow will have me headbutting the wall again, but I’m not headbutting it now and have to take that as a positive.  I can blow this spider off my shoulder all day long, so I’m content waiting here for inspiration.  Compared to sweating on a bed as imaginary worms eat my stomach, crushing spiders underfoot is relatively….ok.

So it could be the Galapagos islands, or it could be Turkey.  Iceland or Uzbekistan.  I may struggle wherever I go, but I don’t want to give up and lay down just yet. I will pack my bag, treat myself to a new toothbrush and continue to battle that malicious, squawking bird.

“I’m with you forever, Yan,” says the Crow.

I hope you like travelling, my black feathered friend.

And don’t forget your toothbrush.

 

 

A THOUSAND PLANETS

We’re back in the UK. London was the cheapest city to fly to from Greece. It was a direct flight from the neighbouring island, and considerably cheaper than a forty minute flight to Athens. We couldn’t decide where to head next, and I can say it now because everything is OK, but we also had to make an important hospital appointment. Fucking crow was ten feet tall these last few days; the bastard had me imagining enough white lights to light up the darkest hour.

He became a black beetle scurrying on the wall, then two, then four, multiplied and multiplied again. The beetles, buzzing and humming, became a black stain and then a ball of limbs and wings and pincers, forming a living cloud that hung over my head like a curse. I spent a long time in dark places, but everything turned out fine. The Results came in, and damning the good news, crow flew over the mountain.

We surprised our families on their doorsteps, and are currently re-evaluating our plans from home. I want to head to Antarctica via Argentina but it’s not cheap, so I’ve placed that dream on a shelf for the moment.

Little One wants to go to the Galápagos Islands, not cheap either but much warmer. I’m just happy here at the moment, because the crow is high in the sky, a tiny pin prick in England’s gunmetal grey clouds.

Backpacking South America is certainly an option. I have hazy memories of travelling the continent several years ago.  It was a solo trip and I spent far too long waist deep in the local vices – I tried to kill the crow but only stoked his fire.

Travelling with OCD, or anxiety in any form is an uphill trek.  Mental illness and backpacking don’t fit well together, they are from a different jigsaw puzzle entirely.  You have to stamp on the pieces to make them fit, and these last two or three weeks have been tough for me, but especially for Little One, whose appointment at the hospital it was.  The Crow has been busy bloodying his talons, and I’ve done all I could to stop myself from throwing up black beetles. I’ve neutralised a hundred and one intrusive thoughts, and when they swelled like a black sea, I regressed to the bad old days, wrestling for every ounce of control.

These days, with all that I have learned, and if I am lucky, I imagine Crow is pecking on my shoulder and that is sometimes enough – I move on, my brain able to accept that it is the OCD. It has taken many years of practice but the night before the hospital appointment I managed to shoo him away every time he made an appearance. I handled it well and the good news we received took me over the rainbow.

I was crow free for a day or two, and when the crow is away my priorities quickly change to avoiding the triggers that bring him back. I have to keep my thoughts on something else – don’t stray from the path, stay in the light, avoid certain memories, travel at light speed or as fast as a thought can take me across the universe. If I’m crow free, I visit a place a million miles away, a land that time never knew, let alone forgot.I have a thousand planets that I often visit this way, and sometimes when the crow swells to monstrous proportions, if the mood is right, I am also able to enter this safe haven – where the real world is dead or never existed at all.  No more than these past days, worrying over something so much that I had to vacate the ‘here and now’ to stop from imploding.

I have a space opera in my mind that I began twenty years ago, fantasy football teams from across Europe that compete for the champions league in my head, an imaginary planet of warring continents, dreamed up boxers with records that I used to write down on paper – I still have them in a box in a shed.  I imagine tens of thousands of soldiers charging across sweeping plains, or spacecraft zigzagging across the universe in galactic dogfights – clashing in furious battles, swords hacking off limbs, titanium hulls cut in half by laser beams.  When the Crow is high in the sky, the last thing I need is to start remembering triggers and spikes from the past. So I beam aboard an interstellar star-ship or sit ringside at Caesar’s palace or climb into the saddle of a Knight’s armoured horse. In reality I am staring at a wall, or a blank television screen in the corner of the room, or laying in a bed of course.

I’m lucky to have a pretty good imagination. Sometimes when the spikes are nailing me to the floor, although I struggle to function with a task as simple as walking to the shops, or leaving my dorm bed, as long as I am lying down, eyes closed and still, I find it possible to gain breathing space with a visit to one of my far away places. An hour imagining explosions on distant planets can create vital distance from the scattered minefields of Pure O.  It’s another weapon in my arsenal in my fight against the Crow. Another tiny tactic in my crusade for the Holy Grail – a permanent off-switch to overcome OCD.

‘Every little helps,’ says the giant supermarket chain. Begrudgingly, and especially in my fight against OCD, I have to agree with them…and I also like their sandwiches.