No. 5: Crooked right angles
It started in primary school. I would align my ink and lead-filled daggers together at the corner of my table – not too far from either edge. My standard issue laces would be tied identically. The black white and red hangman’s noose dangling from my neck would be positioned just-so. If any child breached no man’s land, and left the point of their elbow as a lone invader in my territory, I would push it back with strong resistance.
In high school I had developed a tremor. I would be filled with thoughts that clouded my mind, and would tense my whole body to resist them. It left me visibly shaking – yet only slightly – as the turmoil inside of me grew. My thoughts were clouded, but my hearing was not. As the pin dropped in a loud room I heard its final cry, “Is he shaking?”
That was it. I had learned my limits, and I operated within them from that day on. I never understood this part of me, yet it had been my own since before I could remember. The walking along paving without stepping on cracks. The immediate correction of others’ grammar and spelling. The urge for ‘evenness’. This last one has endured me the longest. It is woven through my being and, try as I might, it will not depart willingly.
This need for order stemmed from the inner turmoil (what I have called my tornado). In the days when I was bullied, I would bury my head in the sand reading about mythology and fantasy – anything outside of this world and my life. It shut out the bullies, but it left my mind paralysed. With no external stimulus you are left with your own thoughts. For me this was a terrifying prospect. Each day would be the same cycle as the previous. Wake. Wash. Eat. Drink. Dress. Leave. School. Bully. Shrink. Class. Bully. Recede. Class. Bully. Retract. Lunch. Retreat. Shutdown… Turmoil.
Growing older gave me nil added strength; no amount of discipline aided in my repair; never did this turmoil go away. The moments when it wreaked havoc with my life were the moments when my mental fortitude had abandoned me. I had given in to the monster inside, and it made merry with my demise. Eventually I reached the most difficult decision of my life before or since. I would speak to a doctor.
Our family doctor was a partner in his small cottage practice. It lay in the middle of a poor district. A brick-built monument to ill health. As a toddler my height would be charted against a giraffe. As the years fell away, my partner in crime became less giant more dwarf. In my adult years he remained, a silent companion to my family doctor – same office, same beard, same smile. I let loose.
He made comment on my obsessive thoughts, and the compulsions which would follow. He stated that there was a diagnosis for this which he would like confirmed. He made a referral and further suggested I should look online for its symptoms. Should I find if any other of my mannerisms tallied with the recognised symptoms that it might give me some comfort. It did. The list was without end. As my eyes scanned the page I felt a shudder of excitement rise in me. This was the opening of Tutankhamun’s crypt. The unanswered question in my soul finally had an answer: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I rejoiced to know that my obsessions were another part of me – a contorted limb that was to be amputated. As if a physical entity, mental health problems are seldom characterised by the subject’s internal struggle. People only find significance in external appearance. In my case, the turmoil would interrogate me. His questions were always out of paranoia and never in logic:
What if the bus crashes and I have no seat belt on?
Don’t worry about it. It hasn’t crashed before.
What if I lose the money from my pocket and can’t eat?
I have my money still, I just checked.
What if people see my ticks and think me a freak?
I have hidden them my entire life – why would I stop now?
This doesn’t feel right, what if I’m gay?
I’m not attracted to men, so that’s out of the question.
It still doesn’t feel right, what if I’m a paedophile?
A little far-fetched considering I’m not into children, or a pervert.
What if my friends or family find out?
This one I had no answer to but to confront it. I informed my family and friends, and explained my behaviour for the past years. They wretched their faces in disgust, pulled their pitchforks and- …oh. They’re hugging me. This isn’t disgust, it’s support. Why didn’t I do this sooner? I saw the therapist who gave me no quick answers. My therapy was to talk it through. 6 sessions at 1 hour a go did nothing to calm the storm. I was on my own.
Years of struggle culminated in a final push for survival. I could see the paranoia taking hold and it wanted a blood sacrifice – suicide. This would not do. I fought back, stumbling at every hurdle. The turmoil increased. Its beginning as a tornado became hurricane Colin. He wreaked havoc, but his kindly nature and sweet name tried to usher me back to its grasp. I knew that should I let it take me in that it would consume me once and for all.
When trying to fight it my ticks and mannerisms became visible. Open. Public. My workmates at yet another clothes store wanted nothing to do with Colin and I. They had no words of support and no tolerance to my ‘attention seeking’. In time my mental exhaustion led to motivation. Motivation led to determination. Determination led to success! I had calmed the storm and put him in a jar even Pandora would not dare open.
This was the proudest moment of my life, and something which I felt needed commemorating. In the spirit of Pandora I picked a greek myth. It was a symbol of rebirth from destruction. A demise which led to all out splendour. The Phoenix. It lies on my skin as a reminder. Will-power and determination pulled me from the dark and into the future. It lies on my skin as a prison cell. My turmoil will never again see the light of day. It lies on my skin as a symbol of hope. Should I ever find myself at a dead end, and should the light from around me fade, I know that I will find a way through. Mythology may be its origin, but its strength is my reality.